NBC Olympics Partnership With Twitter Shows Worst Use of Social Media

NEWS ANALYSIS: When NBC decided to make social media a major part of its 2012 Summer Olympics coverage, it had a very good idea for keeping viewers engaged. But then it tried to implement a social media policy and in the process showed how quickly a company can irritate its customers–in this case viewers of the Olympic games.

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.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...