Twitter account, monitored and updated 24 hours a day, either in
person or via an agent.
Olympic sponsors are perhaps even more active. Take Procter & Gamble, the giant producer of a range of consumer products. P.&G. has unleashed a far-ranging social media initiative, as part of a broader marketing campaign called "Thank You, Mom," which highlights the behind-the-scenes roles that mothers play in the lives of Olympic athletes -- and in the lives of lesser mortals.
While the campaign began with a television advertisement, it quickly developed into a social media phenomenon. The video of the ad has been watched 25 million times on YouTube and other online video sites, the company says; separate "momumentaries," featuring individual Olympic mothers' stories, have been viewed seven million times. A Facebook application lets people upload content and send thank-yous to their own mothers.
"For a brand that has spent shedloads of money to sponsor the Olympics, how they activate that is a critical question," said Anthony Burgess-Webb, a founder of Sociagility, an agency in London that analyzes brands' social media activities. The company has created a "London 2012 Social Scoreboard," showing how the Olympic sponsors stack up, according to a variety of marketing criteria; P.&G. has been consistently on top. "Clearly any marketer would be dumb to miss the social media piece."
All this sharing and connecting has also created some new headaches. There is grumbling, for instance, about the restrictions that the organizers of the Games have imposed on this most freewheeling of media formats.
Local Olympic organizing committees always go to great lengths to protect sponsors, who sometimes shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to associate their brands with the Games, from so-called ambush marketing by companies that try to get free rides. Sometimes, as in the case of the London Games, special legislation is enacted.
This time, the guidelines include provisions for social media, detailing what marketers may and may not do. Among the banned actions are the use of certain word combinations in social media content: Nonsponsors have been warned not to try putting, say, "twenty-twelve" and "gold" in the same tweet.
Athletes and spectators face restrictions, too. Neither will be permitted to post video footage of sporting events to online forums. Participants are allowed to post on blogs or Twitter, but the postings must be in a "first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist," the guidelines state.
"They must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons, or disclose any information which is confidential or private in relation to any other person or organization," the rules say.
Even before the Games have gotten under way, some athletes have gotten in trouble. Two Australian swimmers, Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk, were disciplined by their country's swimming team after they posted a picture on Facebook in which they posed with weapons during a visit to a gun shop in the United States. They were banned from using social media during the Olympics and were told that they would be sent home immediately after their events.
Will the organizers be able to enforce the guidelines when the Games get under way, with millions of Twitter messages, Facebook postings and other activity taking place in real time, on a global scale?
Mr. Magniant said the organizers would probably have to focus on the most blatant violations, like user-generated videos showing substantial portions of an event, thereby undermining official television coverage. They might have to turn a blind eye to some transgressions -- not least because they want to encourage fans to get involved.
"It's a difficult line to walk," he said. "It's an all-out social media effort, but it's a very controlled effort."
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