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Social Media Guide to the Olympics Part II: The Golden Rules and Other Practical Guidelines

By Rachel Boothroyd, General Counsel at eModeration



71 days and counting to the very first 'Social Olympics' here in London.  As a social media marketing professional, do you know yet what you can and can't say about the Olympics?

In last week's blog we looked at the UK legislation that social media professionals need to be aware of when tweeting/posting/blogging about this huge global event. Check it out; but don't expect enlightenment - it's complex and in practical terms is about as clear as the muddy puddles all round London right now.

In this Part II we ask 'what does this really mean?' for those of us sitting at a keyboard, creating campaigns, moderating content, creating guidelines and making those day-to-day decisions about what we can and cannot do around the 2012 Olympics.
This post suggests some practical rules to follow for social media professionals working for brands who are NOT sponsoring the 2012 Games (that's most of us, right?) who are dealing with content that is:
(i) not created by an athlete, volunteer, official or other attendee at an event; and
(ii) not created on behalf of a sponsor brand; and
(iii) not from a private individual just doing it for fun with no commercial gain.

Part I of this blog described the broad-reaching LOAR (London Olympics Association Right).  The key to not infringing the LOAR and posting legitimate Olympics-related content is not to create an association between the brand and the Olympics.  The tricky issue is how do we create a rule for this broad, subjective test?

In my view, there are two Golden Rules: (i) post only certain types of content (from the 'you can' list below or other exemptions - see Part I); and (ii) keep a check on relative quality of permitted-category social media output about the Olympics.

For most established, active social communities, to completely ignore this huge global event would be a bit odd.  But we are not permitted to create an association.  Where does the balance lie?  I suggest that to find the permitted level, simply keep a close watch on the relative quantity of output.  One tweet (in a permitted category - see below) referring to the Olympics amongst many would probably be ok.  An intensive period of tweeting about the Olympics would not.  Essentially use this rule as a quantitative guide to help you measure the subjective test of whether you at risk of breaching the LOAR and creating an association with London 2012.

A health warning here - this quantity measure is our own 'Golden Rule'.  It is not mentioned in the legislation.  Nor is it referred to in any of the LOCOG guidance.  To us it does make most sense for social media content when applying the advertising guidance from LOCOG to non-sponsor businesses.  Essentially, social media content for brands is advertising material.  And the LOCOG guidance on advertising features states : "Do provide relevant, factual information to clients and customers in a way which does not promote your business in association with the Games.  (For example, one section on the Games amongst several in a regular client bulletin or seminar)."

Do's and Don'ts

So, with this Golden Rule always in mind, here are some more general do's and don'ts regarding the content itself:

You can (if it is not completely out of context for your brand to make a comment on a sporting event):
  • give relevant, accurate, factual information;
  • report on the facts of an event (e.g. The Olympics starts today!!);
  • state when an event is taking place (e.g. 100m race in 5 minutes).  
You should:
  • moderate pictures, video or audio from events to be posted on your social media sites by applying the special rules applying to participants and attendees as you would any other potentially copyright infringing content (see part III of this blog);
  • update moderation guidelines to cater for the Olympics legislation;
  • consider re-tweets in the same way as your own tweets when applying these restrictions;
  • be cautious, moderate and appropriate when linking to any content that refers to the Olympics.  Linking rules to London2012.com have been published by LOCOG in section 5 of their terms of use
You shouldn't (unless an exemption or defence applies (see Part I) or one of the 'can do' list above):
  • use the Olympic symbols, the words 'Olympics', 'Paralympics' or any derivation of those words;
  • use the Listed Expressions (2 from List A or one from each list - for details, see Part I); 
You mustn't:
  • run a marketing campaign to get your brand associated with the Olympics;
  • encourage Olympics themed-responses from your community;
  • run a competition for Olympics tickets;
  • give specific expressions of support (e.g. "Go Team GB in London 2012!") or excitement/enthusiasm suggesting a connection with the brand (e.g. "everyone here at Brand X so excited about the Olympics!")
  • mention a specific product or service in connection with the Games (e.g. "London 2012 athletes should drink Brand X for energy") 
  • sponsor London 2012 broadcasts or reports 
Specific types of social content

Let's get even more practical and look at the nitty-gritty of what a type of social network postings we could be talking about.  Please note: the Golden Rule about relative quantity of output (so you don't create an association and infringe the LOAR) must always be applied to each one.
Re-tweeting Olympics comments from the general public This is a super-grey area in this sea of greyness.  In our view, if a brand re-tweets a consumer's tweet then it takes on responsibility for the content in that tweet as its own.  Check out our blog on the subject.  That is certainly the view of the ASA in terms of advertising compliance.  So if you would not be permitted to say that yourself, you don't get a 'free pass' as a re-tweet.

Re-tweeting @London2012 comments

Linking to Olympics-related blogs
Links to blogs can be see as an incorporation of that blog.  And if it is an Olympic-related blog that does not comply with the rules above, don't do it.

Factual information about the events


Expressions of support for athletes

Avoid.  LOCOG has specifically given the example of "BRAND X supports our team at the Olympics" as a forbidden message.  So a post on a brand's social media platform expressing support (e.g. "Go Team GB!") could be interpreted as having the same impact. 

Expressions of enthusiasm about the events
OK with caution so long as not specific (see Part III of this blog) and not suggesting a connection with the brand (e.g. "Olympics opening ceremony was awesome!  Well done @London2012")

Running commentary on an event

In theory OK but likely to be difficult to follow the Golden Rule due to the intensive period of posts.  Ideally avoid.

Encouraging participation/comments/discussion around Olympic events/participants from your community
We think this would be likely to be seen as an attempt to create an association.  Avoid.

Pictures of London/stadia/crowds/events around the Olympics
Avoid if possible and if used, then apply enormous caution.  We know this means the Pinterest options are limited.  But LOCOG has said that even a picture of a runner in outline carrying something that looks similar to a torch against a silhouette of London landmarks would infringe the LOAR by creating an association.  Essentially avoid any image that suggests an association with the London Olympics.

Posts (words) on your site/Facebook page/Pinterest page other forum from your community about or from the Olympics
This one is subject to debate!   Does UGC on your site or Facebook page become a marketing communication for your brand?  One of the issues here is re-purposing.  If you select an image from a user and pin it as a brand image on, say, your Facebook or Pinterest page, you are repurposing the image as marketing material for the brand and thus bringing it within the restrictions.  This is something we've considered in our blog before.

For content posted by users but not 'repurposed by the brand', a cautious approach would be to remove this type of content just in case.  A more 'commercial' approach would perhaps be to allow the conversation to happen but not to participate in it on the part of the brand.   Keep the content under review and if it starts to take over your site/forum or Facebook page then consider removing on the basis that if it becomes too dominant it could start to create an association between the brand and the Olympics i.e. even if it is not content originated by the brand, keep applying the Golden Rules.

Posts (video, audio, pictures) your site/Facebook page/Pinterest page other forum from your community from the Olympics
This is likely to be infringing content - suggestions as to how to assess this will be in Part III of this blog.  As such, it should be treated the same as your  brand would treat any other intellectual property right infringing content and be removed.

Campaigns about sporting excellence 
If there is no reference to the Olympics in words or pictures, no reference to London but just a reference to sporting excellence, winning, running fast etc.  this is likely to be ok.   Remember to keep a watch out for use of the Listed Expressions.

Patriotic campaigns
Never have there been so many British flags featured in campaigns (or so it feels right now).  OK we have the Queen's Jubilee and Wimbledon, but the Olympics certainly contributes significantly to this flag-waving spirit.  Despite all the restrictions, participating in the general mood of patriotism that can surround the Olympics does not breach the legislation -  provided that there is no subtle suggestion or link to the Olympics.  Remember to keep a watch out for use of the the Listed Expressions.

Other than that, wave your (social) flags and enjoy!  

In the final part of this series of posts on the Olympics rules (which we aim to post next week), we will look at content from athletes, volunteers, attendees and officials.  There are actual social media guidelines on this and the penalties for mis-use for those involved could be severe.  We will also examine the enforcement regime and look at how these restrictions apply internationally.  

Join The Conversation

  • emoderation's picture
    Jun 18 Posted 5 years ago emoderation

    Hi Maria - yes, the regulations are from the International Olympic Committee so essentially apply to any country participating in the Olympics. 

  • Jun 18 Posted 5 years ago Maria Saracino

    what about overseas brands, as italian or french ones? does this law refer also to them? is it international?

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