Are you familiar with the names Wenlock and Mandeville yet?
Perhaps you would be if you knew what they looked like so I'll try to explain. The official mascots for the London 2012 Olympic Games are neither animal nor alien, but rather two drops of steel used to build the Olympic Stadium with. Based off of a short story by Michael Morpurgo, Wenlock represents the 2012 Summer Olympics and Mandeville takes on the Paralympics.
With heads fashioned reflecting colors and medals specific to their games, taxi lights embedded just below the head as a nod to London's black taxis, and their one Cyclops-esque eye actually representing a camera, the pair have been described as being created "for children" and as such, have established Twitter accounts that kids are encouraged to interact with and invite Wenlock and Mandeville over for a school visit via Twitter and Facebook.
While organizers for the games intend to have these mascots connect youth with the history of the Olympic and Paralympic games, the question here is do they really even need a social media presence at all? For most company and brand mascots, I do understand the need for a social media presence as these characters are historically well established and regarded with their own built in fan base.
But for an event that only comes once every four years, does it make sense to hand the duo over their own Twitter handles? Just how effective can it be and what can be done to make these two really pull their online klout?
1) First, explain what they really are.
To the untrained eye, Wenlock and Mandeville look like one-eyed white Gumbys and share similar characteristics to the aliens Kang and Kodos from The Simpsons (minus the tentacles and world domination plans.) Explaining the history of the mascots (something not even their own website does sufficiently) is crucial to understanding just what the two plan to teach us - and with 4.9 billion scheduled to tune in to the games this year, knowing what we're even watching is going to matter to more than just the kids.
2) Engagement is Key
All eyes this year won't just be on the athletes - social media's under some severe scrutiny of its own. As described in an infographic from Social Media Delivered, Twitter users during 2008's Beijing ceremonies were at a mere 3 million. The jump at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics went up to 75 million, just two years later. And now London 2012 will feature 500 million tweeting up a storm @Olympics with a #London2012 hashtag in addition to messaging favorite athletes.
With instantaneous messages and tweets will be flung out in real time throughout the entirety of the games, it'll be important to not only engage the audience and keep them tuning in for more via Facebook and Twitter but also to respond to any troubles that should arise and even just retweet particularly complimentary tweets.
For the organizers of the games, one of the biggest challenges will be how social media perceives first impressions of the athletes in London. As reported in Reuters, 400 meters hurdles champion Kerron Clement recently voiced her upset in a tweet of getting lost on en route to the Olympic Village for four hours, stating it wasn't "a good first impression London." Keeping a constant and tight-knit social media team at the ready to address these concerns for the next two weeks is absolutely crucial.
And just because the games do have an end doesn't mean that this gives anyone the opportunity to turn all accounts obsolete. I would advise to continue engaging fans and keeping the presence well and alive online until the next winter ceremonies roll around. This doesn't mean a constant need to update on the hour, but checking in with past competitors and even Wenlock and Mandeville keeps the spirit of the games alive and well.
And speaking of those two...
3) Remember to have fun with the mascots!
Funnily enough, the kids didn't actually want their mascots for the Olympics to be animals. What they did want was a story, even if it wasn't told by a conventionally cuddly spokes product. With early designs including pigeons, an animated tea pot, and Big Ben with arms and legs, it's easy to see that the mascot wasn't being created for a grown-up audience. Wenlock and Mandeville, however odd they might look, were made for the children and as such, you can only expect to have fun with them and not take them too seriously. So let the kids enjoy tweeting at the pair online! No harm can be done in wanting to enjoy a little Olympic fun, which with social media now more than ever encases all ages and demographics to show off their voice and get rewarded for it.