NBC Olympics Partnership With Twitter Shows Worst Use of Social Media

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-07-31

NBC Olympics Partnership With Twitter Shows Worst Use of Social Media

By now you€™ve probably heard that the 2012 Summer Olympic Games are underway in London. No doubt you€™ve also heard that NBC has the contract to provide coverage of the Olympics in the U.S. What you may not know is that NBC, in an effort to make its coverage of the games more relevant, launched a social media marketing strategy to keep viewers engaged. That strategy has included a partnership with Twitter and a major presence on Facebook. 

Gaining a foothold in the notoriously chaotic world of social media can be difficult, especially for a large company with a very high profile such as NBC. It can be especially daunting when that profile is sure to encourage criticism of everything your company does by somebody somewhere. This isn€™t unique to NBC. As far as I know, every media entity, including eWEEK gets criticized for something on Twitter for some fault, real or imagined. 

But there are companies that embrace the social media and use it as a way to stay in touch with their customers or use it as a vehicle for providing extra services to customers, or in the case of NBC, their viewers. The idea of NBC€™s plan for the social media was to provide a value-add, so that viewers of its Olympics could share in the conversation. The company is doing this on Twitter and Facebook, and in many ways, it€™s working, but not necessarily in ways that NBC expected and not in ways it€™s happy about. 

Some companies, for example, use social media as an alternate channel for customer service. When I got on Twitter a year or two ago to complain that one of the DC area€™s premier burger places, BGR The Burger Joint seemed incapable of cooking a medium-rare burger, I was immediately contacted by the founder of the company, Mark Bucher (@BGRBurgerJoint) who offered to make it right. I€™ve had the same thing happen from time to time with other companies. 

Such a social media policy makes sense. You get immediate feedback from customers, you can correct problems just as quickly and in the process you€™ll almost certainly get positive Tweets (or Facebook entries) in return. In the long run, everyone feels good and in many cases the company stacks up a supply of good will. 

But what a social media policy can€™t do is control the social media. Unfortunately, NBC, while attempting to do the right thing, has managed to bring a huge amount of ire on itself and on the Olympics. To some extent this is to be expected.  

Social Media Isn’t Easy to Control


Covering something as sprawling as the Olympics in a way that will satisfy everyone is practically impossible. There€™s so much happening that you can€™t cover everything in the way that pleases everyone. There are going to be complaints. 

But the complaints aren€™t the problem. The problem comes when instead of trying to turn those complaints into a positive experience, you perceive them as attacks, and try to prevent them, or failing that, try to insult the complainers for having the nerve to complain. Worst of all is when you take complaints and use those as a base for a counter-attack instead of a solution. This has been NBC€™s downfall in the network€™s attempt at leveraging the social media. 

For example, on the first day of the Olympics, both the International Olympic Committee and NBC tried to convince people not to Tweet the results of games or medals won, apparently as a way to protect the network€™s prime-time lineup. This isn€™t surprising in regards to the IOC, which is legendary in its attempts to prevent the free flow of information. With NBC, it€™s a little surprising. But more surprising yet was NBC€™s successful attempt to get Twitter to pull the account of a journalist who was complaining about the network€™s policy of using tape delays in televising significant events. 

In this case, the network got Twitter to shut off the account of Guy Adams of the Independent for publishing the public corporate e-mail address of Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics. This is the same address that is on the company€™s Website. 

NBC could have turned this into a win if the person in charge of the company€™s social media efforts, Vivian Schiller, had responded with an offer to try to have that changed, but she didn€™t. Instead Schiller (@vivianschiller) took to Twitter herself to demean people for complaining, such as suggesting that one Twitter follower should get a medal for Olympic whining. 

The positive note is that NBC has shown that one well-worn saying I€™d heard for years was true€“that there€™s always someone who€™s best use is as a bad example. If there has been a bad example of how to create and implement a social media strategy, then surely it€™s NBC. If you want to know how bad, just search for the hashtag #nbcfail and you€™ll see dozens of tweets stream by every second. By now, one must wonder if @vivianschiller has recognized that maybe this wasn€™t the best way to leverage the social media. 

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