The London 2012 Olympics were meant to be the first truly digital Games. As Twitter reveals just how many tweets were sent over the past two weeks, we ask if social media was the real winner of the Olympic Games?

Usain Bolt 200m final
Usain Bolt's win in the 200m was the most tweeted event at the London 2012 Olympics.

These were the Games that were going to be played out on Twitter, Facebook and (no, really) Google+. People were going to tweet, Like and +1 everything from Usain Bolt's world records to questions about a certain female weightlifter looking a little too much like a male weightlifter with a padded bra.

Anyone monitoring their Twitter feed during the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Games last night, would have been left with the impression that ever twist and turn of the Games had been played out on the micro-blogging site. However, the cynicism which UK users poured forth during the three-hour closing cermeony was not representative of the Games as a whole.

The torrent of cynicism which greeted every new act in the Olympic stadium last night was not a reflection of just how integrated Twitter had become with the Olympics, but was a result of an unprecedented two-week build-up of unusually positive tweeting from UK residents, as everything went to plan - including the much-derided public transport system.

From deriding the Spice Girls (surely a pointless exercise in itself), to questioning the validity of having One Direction as one the UK's musical ambassadors, it seemed as if people couldn't bash out the tweets quick enough to put down the single low-point of the two week sporting extravaganza.


But what about the rest of the Games? To see if the London 2012 Games were indeed the Socialympics we had been promised, we need to have a look at the figures involved.

According to Twitter themselves, 150 million Olympic-related tweets were sent during the 16 days of competition. During that time, Usain Bolt winning his second gold medal in the 200m attracted the highest tweets per minute (TPM) at over 80,000.

In a mirror of his success at the Games, Bolt also occupies second place for his 100m win (74,000TPM) ahead of Andy Murray's gold medal winning performance in the men's singles (57,000TPM). Bolt was back in fourth spot with his Jamaican teammates for the 4x100m world-record relay win (52,000TPM).

According to the figures released by Twitter, 10 Olympians received over one million mentions during the Games including high profile names like Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Tom Daley, Yohan Blake, LeBron James and of course, that man again, Usain Bolt.

Back in 2008, during the Beijing Olympics, Twitter was not a significant online presence, with less than 20 million users around the world. Today there are over half a billion registered Twitter accounts, making the figure of 150 million tweets seem rather insignificant.

However, according to research by Semiocast last month, only 170 million or so of all Twitter accounts are active, with the research based on accounts posting at least one tweet over a three month period.

Social Media Boom

While the Olympic Games is certain to have attracted new Twitter users, it seems like London 2012 didn't experience the social media boom everyone was expecting. Less than one tweet per active user over the 16 days of competition is hardly a roaring success.

Consider too that many accounts, such as those belonging to newspapers, websites and TV stations would have been churning out dozens of tweets every hour of the games. This means the number of people who actively posted tweets during the Games is likely to be a lot less than 100 million.

Of course 100 million is not an insignificant figure and there are extenuating circumstances for this seemingly disappointing figure. The US is far and away the country with the most Twitter accounts, over three times as many as its closest rival at the beginning of 2012.

The exclusive broadcaster of the Games in the US was NBC, and it took the (crazy) decision to delay coverage of huge events like the opening ceremony and the men's 100m final by up to ten hours.

Given the instant nature of Twitter, this meant that millions of users would have stayed away from the social network for fear of discovering the results ahead of watching the delayed coverage on TV - a huge user base lost for Twitter.

The Social Network

What about the world's biggest social network? Well, Facebook has been a lot quieter about it's Olympic success. According to the Telegraph, Facebook has reported that Usain Bolt was the most talked about athlete during thwe Games, with US swimmer Michael Phelps second and the US gymnast Gabby Douglas coming in third.

Looking at which athletes gained the most new fans on Facebook, all-time top Olympic medal winner Phelps took the gold, adding almost 750,000 fans since the Games began, followed by Bolt (694,200) and Team GB's Jessica Ennis (621,600).

As for Google+, well there doesn't seem to be any hard data available from the search giant as of yet, but going on purely empirical evidence, the latest attempt from Google to do social had little or no impact in comparison to Facebook and Twitter.

For the UK, the Olympics was an out-and-out success. The transport systems worked, there was no major controversies and Team GB won a shedload of medals.

However, on a global scale it seems as if we may have to wait until Rio 2016 to see the first true Socialympics.