Team USA off to Olympic Winter Games on Twitter

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Through its digital sendoff for Sochi on January 23, Team USA (@USOlympic) provided an opportunity for the Olympians to interact with fans as they wished the team good luck.

The social media event, which took place less than two weeks before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games begin in Sochi, featured Twitter Q&A sessions with 11 Olympic athletes, resulting in thousands of #GoTeamUSA Tweets from people across the country including celebrities, dignitaries and other Olympians.

Sendoffs have long been a tradition for the Olympics. Communities used to come together in person to bid farewell to the athletes, according to Maura Cheeks, US Olympic Committee (USOC) manager of social media strategy. That still happens today, but the USOC decided to create an even bigger sendoff with social media.

“Part of the beauty of the Olympic Games is that athletes come from so many different parts of the country, meaning that social media is the perfect way to unite not only athletes but the fans who support them,” Cheeks said.

Here is how the day unfolded at @USOlympic’s digital sendoff.

Twitter Q&A sessions

Eleven Olympic athletes answered fan questions on Twitter. There was a three-pronged effort to get the Q&As to gain traction: Tweets from the athletes; promotion and Retweets from the main @USOlympic account; and various sport accounts, such as @USFigureSkating or @USAHockey.

Before each Q&A session, @USOlympic tweeted an announcement with details on who would be answering questions and when. Those athletes sent out Tweets with a call to action for fans to ask questions. The sport accounts followed suit, promoting their respective athletes’ Q&As on Twitter. In the case of the Q&A with figure skaters @MaiaShibutani and @AlexShibutani, @USFigureSkating tweeted the information. All the accounts reminded fans to tweet with the hashtag #GoTeamUSA.

Then the athletes responded to fan questions with informative (and often funny) Tweets, which @USOlympic retweeted.

In addition, the Q&As with each of the participating Olympians were highlighted in a social hub powered by @MassRelevance.

The purpose of the hub, which also includes a medal tracker and different filters to select specific athletes and sports to follow, is to give fans one place to check out all the Team USA content on Twitter, Cheeks said.

#SimulTweet for #GoTeamUSA

@USOlympic encouraged people to send best wishes to Team USA by tweeting with the hashtag #GoTeamUSA. To create a virtual roar of the crowd, @USOlympic asked fans around the country to tweet at the same time in what it called a #SimulTweet. This generated an influx of #GoTeamUSA Tweets at noon ET that day.

“By creating somewhat of a ‘digital wave’ through the digital sendoff,” Cheeks said, “it’s a chance for fans to directly play a role in supporting Team USA ahead of the Games.”

People who tweeted #GoTeamUSA at noon were entered to win Team USA gear. @USOlympic gave the country a five-minute warning before the #SimulTweet, and then remarked on the impressive amount of Tweets afterward.

Furthermore, @USOlympic responded with direct messages to everyone who tweeted #GoTeamUSA, thanking them for participating and encouraging them to continue taking part in the digital sendoff.

Encouragement from athletes and leaders

Thousands of influential people across the nation were tweeting #GoTeamUSA. The @WhiteHouse and First Lady Michelle Obama (@FLOTUS) wished Team USA good luck.

The sporting world was particularly active. Various teams and athletes joined in the celebration on Twitter. Likewise, athletes and teams from the Summer Olympics tweeted encouragement to their winter counterparts.

News organizations including @ENews and @TODAYshow were also in on the action. @NBCOlympics even sent this Tweet with a video message from actors, athletes and Olympians.

Cheeks said that the USOC worked with athletes, celebrities, committees and media ahead of time. “Once the hashtag began trending,” she said, “fans naturally jumped in on the action and started wishing the team luck.”

Do you know of other innovative uses of Twitter? Write to [email protected].