The London 2012 Olympics have been labelled the 'first social Games' as spectators and athletes alike took to Facebook and Twitter to talk about their memorable moments during the event.
Micro-blogging site Twitter announced that it saw more than 150 million tweets about the Olympics over the course of just 16 days. Top news, events and information during the Games were often shown first on social media platforms, spurring a constant stream of real-time interaction, information and engagement.
Some analysts say that the huge buzz surrounding the Olympics on social media platforms enabled brands that understood what was happening to successfully reach consumers and engage with them.
"This year's Games were the first Olympics where social media was truly ingrained into our everyday lives, so it has naturally been the 'social Games'," says CEO of Socialbakers, Jan Rezab.
"Brands are increasingly using social media to engage with consumers, not just solely about their brand but in conversations around currents events too," he continues. "The Olympics brought people around the world together and brands benefited from building social relationships and understanding what hot topics their customers were talking about."
Socialbakers released a report identifying the top social media campaigns by brands during the event, which revealed Nike and Adidas were among the most successful brands.
The social media and digital analytics company also revealed that from the week of 27 July to 2 August, Nike's Facebook fan base grew by a whopping 166,718 users.
Nike also performed well on Twitter with more than 16,000 tweets associating the brand with the Olympics. The company cleverly used the Games to launch a successful social campaign even though it was not an official sponsor; its fan growth was three times more than it manages in a normal week.
"There was a time when prime time slots around major sporting events were essential for maintaining position as a household name, but social media has levelled the playing field," says Rezab. "Through its savvy social strategy, Nike demonstrated that you no longer need prime time to create brand buzz."
The company developed a strategy that focused on everyday athletes in other 'Londons' across the world, and launched the campaign in 25 countries alongside the Games. Locations included East London in South Africa, London, Ohio, in the US, and Little London, Jamaica. Some critics said the campaign tested the Olympic rules on "ambush marketing".
"The idea is to simply inspire and energise everyday athletes everywhere and to celebrate their achievements," says Nike brand chief Greg Hoffman.
"They ran a brilliant campaign... that managed to skirt around the rules and put them at the top of the podium for social media," says Rezab. "They creatively showed everyday people playing sports and trying their best in replica 'Londons' all over the world and captured the audience's attention."
Nike's 'Greatness' slogans - which included "Greatness doesn't need a stadium" - were an immediate success too, and the brand attributes its campaign success to engaging on social media platforms 24/7, all year round.
"The 'Greatness' integrated digital and TV campaign currently has more than five million views on YouTube," says a Nike spokesperson. "Social media is a 24/7/365 commitment from us...we build and nurture these relationships year-round."
Adidas also had a stellar performance during the Olympics and led the way in fan growth leading up to the 2012 Games. The company was able to generate 76,632 new fans through social media platforms during the week of 22-28 June.
Before the start of the Games it hosted the first ever Twitter Q&A with David Beckham and started a Twitter relay on the eve of the opening ceremony. The company started the hashtag #takethebaton and asked people to pass on the baton across the world while mapping the users that tweeted it. This activity resulted in #takethebaton trending in the UK while generating global interest.
According to an Adidas spokesperson, the company's strategy of using the excitement prior to the Games worked well, while its flexibility and ability to react to events helped it stay relevant and brought it closer to the Olympic conversation.
"London 2012 was very successful for the Adidas brand, activating mainly through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter," says a company spokesperson. "Every Olympic Games generates conversation, but now with the rise of social media, this buzz and excitement has become even more tangible. We can connect with people across the world, share our views and comment on events, all in real-time."
While Adidas acknowledges that London 2012 created an opportune atmosphere for social media campaigns, the company is not too quick to call it the 'first social Olympics'.
"It's a bold statement to suggest London 2012 was the 'first social Olympics' as the conversation has always been there through communication technology, but simply the medium is more prominent in our lives," adds the spokesperson.
Yammer's EMEA head of customer success, Mike Grafham, agrees that this has not been the first Olympics where social media has been used. However, he acknowledges that social media conversations became a major part of how people were able to embrace Olympians and others.
"It's no surprise to anyone that social has become an increasingly integral part of our daily lives and has radically changed the way we consume and engage with content," says Grafham.
"So from a technical standpoint, this may not be the first Olympics where social media was used, and we need to remember that since the last Olympics, mobile and social technologies have exploded. But I think what we saw throughout London 2012 was a real desire for people to really embrace, engage and react to events directly with Olympians and peers."
Businesses can capitalise on the successful Olympic social media strategies used by big brands and organisations by applying the same techniques at the major events they attend. Social media experts say the key is to be creative and innovative in order to engage with fans and followers. Big occasions such as the Olympics can be a perfect time to get followers excited about a brand or service.
Understanding the specific audience you want to communicate with via social media before launching campaigns is an important prerequisite as that will make it easier to engage them.
Chinese web giant Tencent asserts that no global company looking to reach an international market, centred on a large event such as the Olympics, can afford to ignore social media and mobile platforms.
"To reach consumers effectively, international businesses must learn to navigate the digital landscape," says Jeff Han, Tencent's general marketing manager. "It is important not to look at platforms in isolation. The most effective campaigns take an integrated approach, incorporating platforms such as mobile, and this has been successful for brands who want to gain a strong presence and awareness."
Large-scale events can offer businesses an enviable platform to reach their current and new consumers. However, social media experts say to maintain trust, creditability and ultimately engagement, firms need to show their relevance to the conversation.
Transport for London (TfL) suggests experiential social media campaigns. Its 'Get ahead of the Games' received high numbers of engagement. Chris Macleod, director of group marketing for TfL, says that big organisations with a large following need to have tighter and more specified strategies.
"The thing we have to balance is that we have millions of customers every day so we have to be realistic about the type of engagement we can enter into," says Macleod.
"We're not going to be able to answer 12 million individual inquiries on Twitter each day, which would be unreasonable and unfair to followers and to us. What we can do is see on a Twitter feed if there is a recurring question or theme that has come up. We're rust rolling with it and experimenting. We are a big organisation and don't want to wake up one day with 100 twitter feeds that could get complicated for everybody."
So how can businesses keep up the engagement momentum from the Games? Experts say it is important not to abandon the conversations that have been started. Businesses will benefit from continuing to add compelling content and ensuring that someone dedicates time to helping facilitate and encourage collaboration and engagement.
"Our strategy is still the same as before the Olympic Games; remain relevant, stay fresh and always be there. Social media, like sports, is an all-day, 365-day conversation so you need to be present at all times," says the Adidas spokesperson.
Focusing on customer expectations, resources and what your company wants to generate will help create an effective plan.
"An event is a 24-7 thing and so is social media," says Macleod. "You need to have a plan, you need to be able to roll with it and you need to have crisis communications set up. It's important to be very tight around your content."
Although some social analysts are sceptical to call this year's Games the 'first social Olympics', many definitely view it as the first where social media was the major platform to interact, exchange news and thoughts while connecting with athletes.
Brands that were able to execute successful campaign strategies were the ones that focused on which audience they wanted to target, constant engagement, limitations, content and most importantly relevance.
"The most important piece of advice is to understand who you are as a brand and what is your relevance to the event," says the Adidas spokesperson. "You need to work out who you want to speak to, why you're doing it and what do you want out of it."
Social media analysts advise that brands can prepare their social media campaigns for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio by building up their fans, followers and interactions with consumers through communicating regularly and with interesting, creative content.