Facebook takes out gold in the Olympics

During the last fortnight, the Rio Olympics gripped the world. Records were broken, upsets were made and, unfortunately, scandals slowly unfolded (cue Ryan Lochte’s “over-exaggerated” robbery story).

There were no surprises regarding which countries came out on top. USA, Great Britain (enjoying its best Olympics ever) and China (which performed poorly relative to previous years), dominated the table with a staggering 258 medals (including 99 golds), between them.

When adjusting to the alternate medal table of medals per capita, tiny Grenada took out the top spot with one silver shared amongst a population of just 106,000. Our “little nation that could”, New Zealand, punched well above its weight, exceeding all expectations and bringing home a medal haul of 18 (up from a ‘light’ prediction of 14), placing us fourth overall for this medal table.

With ever increasing audiences frequently turning to Facebook to get their news fix (myself included), I was interested to see which Olympics coverage resonated with Facebook users the most.

On Monday 22 August, the social networking giant released data it collected between 5-21 August concerning its users’ (and there are over 1.7 billion of them), and their Olympics-related activities.

According to the company, more than 277 million Facebook users interacted with Olympics coverage during this two-week period via 1.5 billion ‘interactions.’ This includes posts, comments, “likes” and watching videos.

Brazilians, Americans and Brits engaged with the Olympics most on Facebook, based on the percentage of users who took part in the conversation. But who took out the Facebook Olympics?

The crown jewel of the Facebook Olympics was American swimming legend, Michael Phelps. Already referred to as a GOAT (Greatest Olympian of All Time), Michael was the most talked about athlete on Facebook during the Games.

His live video broadcast on the 14th of August (which he did just before his last race announcing his planned retirement), was also the most watched live video with more than 3.97 million views, 9,252 shares, and nearly 240,000 comments. Interestingly, Facebook had the exclusive rights for Phelps announcing his retirement, not the official broadcast rights holder, NBC.

But it wasn’t all about Phelps. Cristiano Ronaldo’s post congratulating Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt on his three gold medals, was the most engaging Facebook post with 1.6million likes and over 16,500 shares.

Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt


U.S. pocket rocket superstar gymnast Simone Biles’ photo with heart-throb actor Zac Efron received the most ‘love’ reactions (nearly 128,000) from users. Facebook rolled out this new update in February 2016, allowing users to react in five different ways outside the classic ‘like.’

As a sport, swimming took gold by becoming the most popular event amongst its users, followed by gymnastics and track and field.

So all things considered, the Olympics was a pretty rewarding couple of weeks for Facebook, though the same can’t be said for television broadcasting, which was a distant second, in terms of popularity. This is ironic, given the fact that the official television network broadcaster for the games, NBC, paid an astonishing US $1.23billion for the Olympic rights.

According to analysts, primetime viewership for Rio was down as much as 17% compared to the 2012 London Olympics. However, despite the low ratings, NBC seems fairly optimistic about how it will fare financially out of Rio, predicting $1.3 billion in revenue, with this sentiment echoed by chairman Mark Lazarus saying Rio would be “our most economically successful Games in history.”

For someone struggling to view the coverage in a country that didn’t appear to have much interest in it (due to booking my honeymoon in Vietnam at the same time the Olympics was on – not ideal timing!), I must say, I did enjoy getting my social media fix of Olympics coverage via Facebook.

And it seems the social networking sites innovative features like Live streaming and broadcast, may well be the key to its ongoing success in future Olympics, the next being held in Tokyo, 2020.

– Stephanie Helm, PR Director