How Social Media Has Changed the 2018 Winter Olympic Games for Marketers

Opinion: Not taking advantage of advertising opportunities will put your brand in last place

Increased interest in the Olympic Games continues to be fueled by social media
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In the decades before the internet, smartphones and social networks, the Olympic Games were only available through television screens, and this meant that the conversation ended at the edge of the swimming pool.

The evolution of social media has since opened up previously inaccessible topics—behind-the-scenes politics, Olympic Village conditions and other topics of interest that play out off-camera.

At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, athletes and journalists took to social media to expose the city’s subpar facilities, starting the trending hashtag #SochiProblems. Unfinished hotel rooms, stray dogs and inedible food dominated social conversations that otherwise would have been focused on medal counts and top athletes.

Before the 2016 Summer Olympics even began, host country Brazil was already making headlines for political instability and environmental and safety concerns. These concerns, combined with the athletic events, generated more than 53 million mentions of the Rio Olympics on social media.

This year, there is apprehension about the upcoming 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in part due to its proximity to North Korea. Interest in attending this year’s Games is unusually low, with only 30 percent of the tickets sold as of December.

It was recently announced that 22 North Korean athletes will be participating in the Games, however, marching alongside South Korea’s athletes under a single flag during the opening ceremony. This decision represents a significant shift in relations between the two countries and a push toward a smooth Olympics experience.

All of the pre-Games social buzz about Sochi, Rio and Pyeongchang represents a new age for the Olympics, where viewer interest extends beyond the athletic contests themselves.

In addition to opening up new avenues of critique and conversation, social media has also opened the Olympics up to brands and advertisers that may not choose to run TV commercials. The more interest and talk there is about the Games, the more room there is for brands to join the conversation, especially on social media. And conversation around the Olympics can’t be missed.

Here are a few ways to approach the 2018 Winter Olympics and engage interested users using the new angles introduced by social:

Partnering with competing athletes on social is the most natural way to tap into the interest around behind-the-scenes content. Social has brought fans closer to the action, as athletes use their platforms to connect with their followers and promote the brands sponsoring them.

Because more athletes than ever before are accessible via social media, brands have more partnership options than just the highly sought-after gold medalists. Pick an athlete or team that aligns with your brand identity, and then run campaigns targeting their fans and fans of their events on social. Being mentioned by a particular athlete can introduce your brand to new audiences you never knew fit your profile.

If you are already partnering with an athlete or influencer for TV or organic social campaigns, be sure to maximize the impact of that relationship by extending it with paid social. Marketers often view influencers as an organic tool, but with organic reach diminishing across social platforms, brands who do not put paid promotion behind influencer campaigns won’t reap the full benefits.

Maintaining an always-on strategy is also a key element in Olympics advertising strategies. The Games last for two weeks, giving advertisers ample opportunity to reach consumers several times during the action. Lock in your ads in advance by setting your campaigns at a fixed cost with predictable frequency to reach your target audience. Reaching your audience two or three times over the course of the Olympics can help increase ad recall and purchase intent.

Deploying your social campaigns around popular events will put your brand on the radar during a time when users are most likely to turn to social to discuss their favorite sports. According to Sports Illustrated, the most-anticipated Winter Olympic events are the snowboard halfpipe, four-man bobsled and womens’ figure skating. Whichever sport aligns most closely with your core demographic’s interests is your best bet for engaging users. Personalize your messaging and creative to a particular sport or competing athlete to resonate with fans.