The Battle for the Olympic Hashtag

New this year to the Olympics – social media contenders Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook. Who will bring home the gold?

Social media is playing a larger role in the Olympics than ever before. Who will do it best?

There’s something unusual going on with the Olympics and it’s not feats of strength, rocket-like speed, or god-like endurance. It’s the battle of this summer’s games on social media platforms. With Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook going head-to-head, it’s certainly become a summer of firsts. It will be interesting to see who brings home the gold.

Who Can Use #Rio2016 and #Olympics and Who Can’t?

Before getting into how social media platforms are covering the event and what’s new on the platform for the Olympics, it’s important to talk about the forbidden Olympic hashtag. While it’s Twitter we’re speaking of, these rules apply to all social media.

If you are an individual rooting on your favorite Olympic athlete, tweet away. However, if you are an individual representing a company, or you are tweeting from a company profile, you’d better be a sponsor if you want to use them.

Guarding the Olympic brand isn’t new. There’ve been multiple bans in the past based on sponsorship agreements but this is the first summer Olympics to be held since the United States allowed hashtags to be trademarked in 2013. This year the U.S. Olympic Committee has forbidden use of the trademarked hashtags (#Rio2016 and #Olympics) by non-sponsor companies. Non-sponsor companies may not retweet the official Team USA Olympic account either.

The U.S. Olympic Committee cited its lack of government funding and support, and its sole dependency on sponsors and licensees for funding as the reason for such exclusivity. But it also goes beyond hashtags and encompasses trademarked phrases as well including:

  • Team USA
  • Let the Games Begin
  • Future Olympian
  • Olympian
  • Olympic

This applies to all non-sponsor companies with the exception of news outlets, individuals (but does apply to individuals sharing on behalf of a company), and content produced for an educational purpose.

It also doesn’t matter if the hashtag you used is used in a way that is inconsequential to the games. For instance, as an event planning company, if you show a video of yourself running around at breakneck speed preparing for an event and you joke about training for the #Olympics, you may find yourself on the losing side of a trademark infringement battle. It doesn’t matter that event planning is not an Olympic event and you are not a contender.

This is difficult for many marketers to swallow because it’s important to be able to be a part of what people are talking about on social media and these trademarks are severely limiting. Some marketers ride trending topics as part of their social media marketing strategy. Here are ten other things you need to avoid on social media during those games held in a town with a large statue on a hill.

Even Olympians (can we use that? We’re educating, aren’t we?) are limited in what they can say on social media during the games and the few days bookending them, before and after.

Oh, and for any of you hosting math events, don’t even think about referring to them as the Mathlympics.

Twitter: Moments, Emojis, and No Vines

Now that we’ve covered what you can’t say, let’s take a look at how popular social media platforms are showcasing the Olympics.


As expected Twitter added a special Olympic section to its Moments area, which showcases interesting stories and tweets in a magazine-style look.


Twitter also unveiled over 200 new emojis in celebration of the Olympics. Typing in a hashtag with the three-letter country ID will generate the flag emoji for that team. It’s important to note there are emojis for the events as well. Typing in a hashtag and the event name will get you the emoji. This means if you’re hosting a golf tournament right now, for instance, and you’re sharing pics with the hashtag #golf, you’ve just garnered the attention of people interested in Olympic golf.

GIFs and Vines

If you love these bite-sized clips, you’ll be disappointed to hear the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has banned the production of GIFs and Vines/videos of Olympic content. This is also a big deal for Twitter since it owns Periscope and Vine.

Snapchat: an Olympic First

While the games are busy limiting social media usage of trademarked words and Vines, they are allowing for a first of another kind. Snapchat, the social media platform that wasn’t even around at the last Olympics in London 2012, scored a unique arrangement with NBC this go round. Snapchat has a dedicated channel on the mobile app for Olympic clips. This is huge as it illustrates mobile social platforms finally have a place at the table.

BuzzFeed will curate behind-the-scenes and clip content on a Discover channel for two weeks during the games. Snapchat is featuring “live stories” of athletes and fans. This is the first time any game highlight distribution has occurred outside of NBC. Users can also use a filter on Snapchat that adds up-to-date metal counts to their images.

It’s clear that NBC is focusing on drawing a younger crowd when Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics says of Snapchat it “…really effectively reaches a very important demographic in the United States, and is very important to our efforts to assemble the large, massive audience that will show up to watch the Olympic Games.”

Snapchat has gone from mere obscurity to covering big-name events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars with behind-the-scenes user-submitted content. Its coverage has reached more than 30 million people. The deal covers only the United States and is unique not only in that it is the first time ever, but Snapchat also didn’t pay for the privilege. Instead, it will share a portion of the ad revenue.

Facebook: a Flag Filter and Exclusivity

As has come to be expected with Facebook and their MSQRD app, they are offering users a flag filter to add to their profile picture to show support for their country. Facebook also has exclusive rights to Olympics content but no live-streaming.

In Conclusion

Twitter has long been the reigning social media publisher of live accounts of ground-breaking news but it looks like in Rio, it’s not an easy win. With tough contenders like Facebook and Snapchat looking for exclusivity in content, Twitter may be sharing its reputation for on-the-ground accounts of the action. Who will be the top winner in the SocialMedialympics? We’ll figure it out over the next two weeks.