Face Water, Medals, Eyeballs: How Twitter Took the Gold in Sochi

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The social media platform Twitter played a special role in disseminating information in real time from Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Journalists, athletes, and spectators used tweets to showcase both the high and low points of the Sochi experience.

Because Twitter limits posts to 140 characters (with a bit of leeway given for URLs), the posts from the Olympics have been pithy, engaging, and informative.

From the moment journalists began arriving in Sochi, they shared observations and photos of their questionable hotel accommodations and public facilities. Many of these tweets point out a lack of preparation and inadequate infrastructure for the games. The hashtag #SochiProblems has emerged as a way for Twitter users to join this particular conversation.

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Storify has a robust collection of #SochiProblems tweets that include photos of non-private toilets, peach-colored tap water (forcing people to use bottled water to wash their faces), and uncovered manholes on sidewalks. People around the world read and shared these tweets on mobile devices, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers, causing them to earn the coveted “viral status.”

The list of tweets on Storify, mostly from journalists and an account called @SochiProblems, also highlights ongoing infrastructure work near the Olympics venues. One other dubious tribute to the behind the scenes problems at the Olympics came from @SochiProblems in a tweet showing broadcaster Bob Costas with visibly red eyeballs and the question, “Did you not listen to us and drink water?”

Event Coverage

Tweets from Sochi weren’t focused exclusively on the problems. One of the most popular tweets (based on the number of people who retweeted it) is a triumphant photo of Team USA waving as they enter the opening ceremonies. They’re wearing the elaborate Team USA sweaters, white pants, and toboggans. Their smiles and enthusiasm are on full display.

To encourage the sharing of photos from Sochi, Twitter created collages that are interactive using the most popular (i.e. most shared) photos from the previous day. Because it’s interactive, the collage is clickable, allowing users to take a closer look at individual photos and tweets. In addition, Twitter makes it possible to find and view the most shared images from six countries. Among the images that have made Twitter’s collage are photos with Olympic messaging from Visa, athletes’ own images and tweets, and action shots from some of the events.

Fans on Twitter

Many fans used Twitter to show their support for their favorite athletes during the games. One example of this is the support sent via the social network platform to skier Jackie Chamoun of Lebanon. Chamoun is receiving a bit of heat for a barely clothed photo of her that appeared in a ski calendar three years ago. A video from the shoot has also gone viral with the start of the Olympics. Fans are using the hashtag #StripforJackie to promote photos of themselves baring midriff in solidarity with one of their favorite athletes.

Athletes on Twitter

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While many athletes used Twitter during the games to tell their behind-the-scenes stories, a few are receiving extra attention courtesy of their colorful tweets. For example, Sage Kotsenburg sent his followers a photo of the food he ate the night before his event: five onion rings arranged in the same pattern as the Olympic rings with the hashtag #OlympicOnionRings. His slacker language-fueled tweets combined with his gold medal in slopestyle snowboarding has earned him an onslaught of new followers.

T.J. Oshie saw his followers jump from around 88,000 to north of 244,000. He earned appreciation and all the additional followers after he and Team USA bested Russia in men’s ice hockey. Kaitlyn Farrington also saw a nearly 50 percent increase in followers after she nabbed the gold medal in the halfpipe snowboarding competition. A gold medal also boosted the number of people following Joss Christensen, the winner for men’s slopestyle skiing.

While it’s documenting the winners (athletes) and losers (inadequate facilities in Sochi) of these games, Twitter itself is racking up accolades for its nimbleness as a social media platform. Its ability to tell the stories of the games in quick, brief snapshots, phrases, and hashtags earns Twitter a gold medal for relevance.

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