They wanted a dialogue. Well, they got one. Just not the one they wanted. “They” of course is NBC. Prior to the beginning of the XXX Olympiad, everyone proclaimed that these would be the Social Olympics, what with all the posting and friending and tweeting and pinning. NBC even partnered with Twitter, airing compelling commercials of behind the scenes moments that could be experienced under the tidy #Olympics hashtag.
Everything was set to be wonderful. These would be the most connected Olympics ever, with all events streamed online for cable subscribers, live Twitter feeds of events and millions of screens ready to display amazing feats of human achievement. If only the masses would appreciate and cooperate.
Well they did. Until they turned on their TVs, having done the time difference mental arithmetic, expecting to catch marquee matchups as they happened, and instead saw obscure sports instead. Until people could follow the #NBCOlympics live feed of the opening ceremonies but were told they couldn’t watch it on TV live because the American people were deemed to need “context”. Until live streaming online failed for many through slow and freezing feeds. Until there ended up being more commercials for the Olympics than actual Olympic events.
Then these masses decided to make use of those very social vehicles that were supposed to exalt and make merry. So NBC got their wish - people started using hashtags to communicate with each other. Only problem was, instead of #Olympics, it was #NBCfail that was trending. On July 28 there were 6543 mentions of #NBCfail and on July 29 had jumped to 20,807.
The problem was made worse when journalist Guy Adams went as far as to tweet the public email address of an NBC executive, asking people to direct their feedback real time, at which point his Twitter account was temporarily suspended and sparked a whole side circus.
NBC must have thought: these Social Olympics have gone horribly awry. On the contrary, this is the social media dialogue mechanism at its best. This is how the Social Olympics is supposed to work. You put something out there in the world. People respond - with the good, the bad and the ugly. You listen, learn, and reply back with a rebuttal. And so on and so forth. This is where the dialogue part comes in.
So where did NBC #fail and what can brands learn from their missteps?
1) Brands must embrace their critics. The number one rule of Social Media is that it creates level playing field for the everyperson. Now anyone’s opinion on Amazon reviews or Rotten Tomatoes counts and matters. A blogger passionate about cooking is just as relevant as a professional chef. When NBC chalked up the majority of the dissatisfaction to “a vocal minority”, they dismissed the most important people they should have been courting - those that took the time and effort to make their views be heard. Waiting until it’s a “majority” no longer matters. NBC needed to embrace its critics at the very time they patronized and diminished them.
2) Don’t assume purchase equals positive affinity with your brand – understand the choices consumers are looking for. NBC may be inclined to dismiss this “vocal minority” because of the highest viewership ratings for non-US Olympics since Montreal in 1976. But they’re missing the point. The sentiment behind the viewership needs to be appreciated. Just because people are reluctantly consuming your product doesn’t in and of itself means you’re doing a great job. Just ask cable or airline customers forced to accept the only option given. They purchase, but it isn’t building your brand positively. The economics of the games are well understood. Whereas channels such as the BBC are funded by viewers, NBC is funded by advertisers. This suggests then, that while BBC has the permission to program for its primary stakeholders - the viewers, NBC should do the same and optimize for its advertisers. But the ire of viewers stems from not from an incomprehension of the business, but from presumption on the part of NBC that the only way the content can be consumed is in Bob Costas approved bite sized morsels. Consumers today are savvier than ever and want the ability to choose their consumption. Live, unedited stream? Here you go. Prepackaged and efficient in primetime with dramatic commentary? There it is. NBC needs to acknowledge this by offering choices that better reflect the wishes of the viewers.
3) Use social media as market research. Longer term, NBC should recognize the value of social media vehicles as a mechanism for improvement. There have been recent articles of how many companies such as Frito Lay, Sam Adams and Wal-Mart are using social media vehicles like Twitter and Facebook as real time market research vehicles. NBC owns the rights to broadcast the Olympics until 2020. This is a perfect opportunity to listen, learn and modify. Because by the time the next Olympics in Sochi, Russia and Rio, Brazil roll around, we can be sure that if there has been little patience for poorly integrated content today, there will be much less patience in 2 or 4 years from now.
In the end, of course NBC must be mindful of the economics that enables it to exist. But so too must they be aware of the new reality in which they exist. Jeff Jarvis summed it up best on buzzmachine.com when he wrote: “The problem for NBC as for other media is that it is trying to preserve old business models in a new reality. To experiment with alternatives when billions are at stake is risky. But so is not experimenting and not learning when millions of your viewers can complain about you on Twitter."
So though #NBCfail may be the big story that NBC never intended to write, if they truly appreciate the meaning of the Social Games, they’ll learn the lesson within. Because when it comes to digital and social arena, many want to play, but not many can credibly compete, let alone win. NBC has a week to show that in very spirit of the Olympics, they’re willing to learn and get better.