The VPM Blog

The Phenomenon of Olympic Athletes and Social Media

Posted by Kayla Jolly on Aug 30, 2016 9:00:00 AM

Although Olympic athletes seem like super humans to ordinary people, they’re just like us when it comes to the obsession with social media. The competitors of the 2016 Summer Olympics not only gained popularity through winning gold medals, but also through their social media feeds. These athletes became household names by documenting their journey in Rio on outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.


The public encouraged athletes' social media accounts, but the United States Olympic Committee promoted them as well. Experts predicted social media would be more prominent than ever during this Olympiad and they were right. In March 2016, the USOC hosted a “media week” for all past and potential Olympic athletes in Los Angeles. During this week long event, athletes were professionally photographed, interviewed and videoed regarding their specific sport. This created the outburst of many of the thousands of videos, GIFs and photos you’ve seen of the athletes on the Team USA social media handles during the games, and leading up to them. This blitz of Olympic athletes and social media was the spark that the broadcasted games used to create an online fire.

Whether these athletes were famous before the summer games or not, their popularity skyrocketed due to the world of social media. News sources such as The Wall Street Journal and NBC published articles of who to follow during the 2016 Olympics, which automatically attracted attention to their accounts. Even the athletes that didn’t make these lists received a tremendous amount of new followers and attention.   

Not only were the athletes personal accounts recognized, but the summer games were a consistent trending topic throughout all media handles. The 2016 Olympics caused social media to go into a frenzy on several occasions. The audience was constantly taking their emotional reactions of the competitors wins/losses to Facebook and Twitter, but they were also turning to social media for more light-hearted and humorous views.

We all already know Michael Phelps, but his infamous angry glare in the ready room towards his rival, South African Chad le Clos, became an instant meme that caused Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to go into a tailspin. It seemed impossible for Phelps to draw any more attention to himself, but this social media reaction did the trick. 

Most Olympic athletes are young, which means they are technologically savvy. Even though there were moderation guidelines and rules, each individual competitor was able to show off their unique personalities through their posts. Simone Biles, a 19-year-old gymnast, practically broke the internet when she posted on Twitter about meeting her celebrity crush, Zac Efron, after winning her fourth gold medal. Tweets by British diver, Tom Daley, went viral after he posted a funny caption and picture when the Olympic diving pool unexpectedly turned green. 

Everyone enjoyed being able to see the fun-loving and down-to-earth side of these intense athletes, and that was shown throughout the new attention they received. They showed us that what they do is rare and exciting, but what also draws followers is that through that rarity, they're just like us. The Olympians' athletic ability won them their gold medals, but social media is what ultimately made many competitors household names.

If used effectively, social media has the ability to make or break a business, career or even reputation. These now well-known athletes are perfect examples of how the powerful phenomenon of social media isn’t going away anytime soon.

If you're school, college, university or business is still trying to crack the code on social media success, take a look at our FREE eBook on generating leads through social media.

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photo credit: JJ OO Rio de Janeiro 2016 via photopin (license)

Topics: Social Media

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