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What can brands learn from the social media stars of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games?

The Drum Social is a weekly column from The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston covering the latest social media trends, strategies and insights. Follow Amy @AmyCLHouston and join in the conversation #TheDrumSocial

What can brands learn from Team GB’s social strategy?

The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston speaks to Ed Jones, digital strategy lead at British Olympic Association, about Team GB’s social strategy during Tokyo 2020 and what brands can learn from the campaign.

The Olympic torch was extinguished last Sunday as Tokyo waved ‘sayonara’ to one of the most hotly-anticipated Games in recent times. After a one-year delay, the Olympics marked an exciting couple of weeks in the post-lockdown calendar, but with many regulations still in place, the event did feel a little bit unusual. With accessibility restrictions and a lack of crowds, many athletes took to social media to give viewers at home a glimpse at life in the Olympic Village and insight into their experience, subsequently becoming the online stars of #Tokyo2020.

The official TikTok account of Team GB has amassed 239k followers and over 2m likes, while its Twitter account boasts close to 1 million followers. “Engage fans and inspire new ones to be the best-supported team,” Jones tells me about their overall social strategy. Building an engaged audience is vital to brands on social media, and it’s not something that happens overnight.

Being consistent with your storytelling and listening to your audience’s wants and needs is so important. Having a “clear vision” so that communication doesn’t seem disingenuous to your community and putting focus on where you will have “greatest impact” are two great tips Jones shares with me.

Community lies at the heart of social, and quality truly does come before quantity. People have gravitated towards the athletes’ personal social accounts because they are honest, raw and often funny mementos of their time in Tokyo. Brands that can adopt this level of relatability will always come out on top.

Australian Olympic diver Sam Fricker has been one of the breakout sports stars on social this summer, with 1.2 million followers on TikTok. His daily videos showcase everything from his workout regimes and food in the Olympic Village to doing his laundry, which have surpassed 44m likes. Being creative and having fun are such important aspects of social media marketing, and according to Jones there “have been some unexpected moments of humor that have certainly captured the imagination” during the Games.

Team GB has also relied on the personalities of its athletes to drum up excitement online, but Jones also noted that “when it comes to Games time, we build excitement by sharing how fans are getting behind the team”. Planning specific campaigns for this throughout the year is beneficial. One way that Team GB made fans feel included was through its #SupportIsWhatMakesUs, which connects to its long-running ‘This Is What Makes Us’ campaign to “celebrate the multitude of ways fans have been getting behind the team”.

Online communities can often feel like families in a weird way, and if you want to market products there, or generate brand awareness, then it’s a good idea to showcase endorsements from your audience. Include them in your social strategy at every point – people start to lose interest if all comms are a bit narcissistic. Always assess what’s working using social listening tools and chat it through with the wider team. “We report and interrogate our performance to make sure we understand what works, what doesn’t, and how we can improve performance over time,” Jones affirms.

Working in social often means being slightly overwhelmed at the sheer number of channels and updates constantly being thrown your way. For many brands, the ‘holy trinity’ has been Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and this has been no different for Team GB as that’s where they reach the “core fanbase”, but a new wave of sports fans means that “TikTok and Snap are becoming increasingly important as they enable us to talk to the next generation”. Moving with the times is important, and it’s what keeps social exciting. Test things out but don’t deviate from your values too much, and if it’s not working then stop.

Planning your content in advance can feel like a total luxury for social teams, but let’s face it – it rarely goes that way. A huge part of this job is being reactive, especially when covering something as unpredictable as the Olympics. “Our plans have been well established for some time,” Jones tells me. “But there’s always a requirement to respond to opportunities in the moment, and that’s always something we look to do and has been most evident in the tone we’ve adopted to reflect the mood of our athletes and our fans back home through copy.”

There were a few memorable campaigns on social from Tokyo 2020, and the main takeaways that brands should incorporate into their own strategy are: be authentic, know your audience, and have a clear vision.

Which moment stood out to you? Join in the conversation using #TheDrumSocial

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