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London Olympic Games Crack Down Hard On Social Media

Topic: Social Media | Author: Jeff Hasen | Date: May 4, 2012

With billion-dollar and exclusive usage rights in place, the Olympic Games have always been about big money and feverishly policed by lawyers on behalf of brands, content owners and media giants. But the advent of mobile and social — which allow us all to mash up content the way we like and share it with anyone using YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other properties — make me question whether anyone (even high-powered lawyers) can hold back the tide.

The advance of user-generated content and consumers’ assumption that they are in control of their content and experiences has huge implications for the London Games — and the brands lining up to get mileage out of the event.

Seeking to prevent guerilla tactics from non-Olympic Games’ sponsors, the International Olympic Committee has decided to restrict precisely how athletes can transmit photos and other information to networks and the wider world.

Yes, you read this right.

The IOC has introduced The Olympic Athletes’ Hub, which it says will include the verified social media feeds of more than 1,000 current and former Olympians. According to Mashable, this destination will post content directly from athletes’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, and incorporate a gamification layer incentivizing fans to interact with the site. Users will be able to access exclusive training-tips videos and gain virtual and real-world prizes according to how many athletes they like and follow online.

Significantly, athletes will not be allowed to tweet photos of themselves with products that aren’t those of the official Olympics sponsors. They are also not permitted to share photos or videos from inside the athletes’ village.

Amazingly, the restrictions don’t only apply to the athletes. Fans who are ticketholders are also barred from sharing photos and videos of themselves during Games’ action via Facebook and YouTube.

The crackdown is largely linked to a pair of new and stringent brand-protecting acts passed in the U.K. in preparation for the Games. (By way of background — and via the Guardian — the pieces of legislation are the 2006 London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act, and the 1995 Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act.)

How I See It: I have a long history with the Olympics, first as a reporter (Los Angeles 1984), and later as a brand marketer (Atlanta 1996, Nagano 1998, and Salt Lake City 2002). Traditionally, the national and international Olympic organizations have been aggressive (and successful) in seeking to prevent non-sponsors from associating with the Games. But that was before smartphones and tablets. Will these new measures stem the tide of user-generated content and activity? Don’t bet on it. Instead, expect to see ‘bootleg’ footage and content from people at the Games. And watch the Olympic lawyers come after brands and individuals who violate these new rules. The upshot? The Olympics aren’t the only games we will be watching this summer. While it might seem easier for companies (and people) to get around large sponsorship fees by harnessing user-generated content and content created by companies that are not official sponsors, be prepared for a tussle as rights owners struggle to lock down content and distribution in an age where mobile has changed the idea of ownership forever.

Mobile Spam Wrecks Mobile Marketing

A popular and often quoted report sponsored by SinglePoint (PDF) states that 97 percent of text messages are read within four minutes. It that seems astounding, keep in mind that real-life experience tells us that many messages are viewed within an even shorter time period. Either we belong to the group of people who drop everything to read a text, or we know others (family members, friends, colleagues) who automatically (even rudely) remove themselves from a conversation with us to respond to the ‘ping’ or ‘ding’ of their phones.

Beyond a lack of manners, what’s driving this behavior? Much of it has to do with the value we place on a text message. Unlike email, the vast majority of texts are personal, sent by people we know or companies with whom we have a relationship (brands, retailers, political parties) through membership in permission-based, mobile clubs and loyalty schemes.

No spam? No way. But this is changing. According to a detailed, 1,100-word story in the New York Times (NYT), spam is becoming more pervasive on mobile devices.

The NYT quotes Ferris Research, a market research firm that tracks spam, to show just how dramatic this rise is. The company reports that consumers in the U.S. received roughly 4.5 billion spam texts last year, more than double the 2.2 billion received in 2009.

Do the math, and that is 4.5 million in a year spread out over 250 million text-enabled phones.

Does this problem compare to what we see in our email inboxes? Hardly. (Or at least not yet.)

Israeli Internet security developer Commtouch reports that we receive an average of about 4.5 million spam emails on our PCs approximately every 90 minutes.

So, what are the implications when the amount of spam we receive on mobile devices doubles?

It’s bad news (and business) for every stakeholder, starting with the consumer.

If we continue down this path, then mobile subscribers will dismiss texts as an intrusion and simply ignore them. That’s not great, especially when some of those texts are linked to advertising they explicitly opted in to receive in the first place.

Which brings us to the next stakeholder: the brand marketer. Marketers who have succeeded in providing value to consumers who opt in to their mobile programs will suffer the consequences of reaching a less attentive (and potentially more annoyed) audience.

Finally, the mobile operators are also impacted through a drop in messaging revenue. A logical consequence if many consumers say ‘no’ to the text option rather than risk receiving incessant and unwanted SMS.

According to the NYT, mobile spam is illegal under two federal laws — the 2003 Can Spam Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which set up the Do Not Call Registry in 2003. Smartphone users can report numbers that spam comes from on both the Web sites of the F.T.C. and the Federal Communications Commission. The major wireless carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Bell Mobility and Verizon Wireless — all also offer ways to report the numbers on their Web sites and can block numbers.

How I See It: It is up to the carriers to enforce the laws and quickly shut down the spammers whether they are smishing (illegally seeking personal information) or marketing outside the rules. Anything less than vigilance will turn off consumers and marketers’ route to them.

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