OPINION: Olympics overtake outstanding Obama online

15 Sep 2012

Gareth Dunlop, owner of user-experience consultancy Fathom

At the time of writing, the Paralympics and the upcoming American general election dominate the news. And with good reason; not only was London 2012 one of the greatest Olympics of the modern era, America is watching with interest to see if US President Barack Obama’s re-election trail matches or exceeds what is surely one of the most inspirational election campaigns of all time back in 2008.

For the past four years, we have admired the exemplar digital strategy which underpinned Obama’s 2008 campaign. But Olympics 2012 has changed all that. In between cheering on Katie Taylor, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Chris Hoy and the Chambers brothers, this digital marketer marvelled at the astonishing quality of the online strategy which drove an enormous amount of Olympic communications. Not only was the overall strategy exceptional, the detail of its implementation, the online channel plan and the complementary way online and offline channels worked together was consistently impressive.

Proof surely not so much that times they-are-a-changing, more proof that times-they-have-a-changed. 

Olympic digital highlights themes

Eight major themes made the final of the Olympic digital highlights:

Lane 1 – The line between online and offline is greying, if it still exists at all. In 10 years, today’s primary school children will laugh at the fact we ever viewed an artificial barrier between the online and offline world. All of the major offline broadcasters and publishers were constantly referring their readers and viewers to online channels (and vice-versa).

Lane 2 – The web is an integral part of how we experience and understand the world. In the time period of the Olympics, the main website had 431m visits, 109m unique users, 15m app downloads, 4.73bn page views and 4.7m social followers. (For the geeks in the crowd, 117bn objects were served, at an average of 104,000 pages per second.) Other major media platforms report similarly jaw-dropping levels of data transfer.

Lane 3 – The second screen is increasingly part of engaging with TV content. The water cooler conversation which would previously have had to wait until the next morning in work is now taking place on social media concurrently with the experience, via smartphone, tablets and laptops.

Lane 4 – Mobile is at least as massive as we thought it was. A staggering 60pc of the 431m total visits was from mobile devices; interestingly, the percentage of mobile visits increased considerably once the Games were live, giving the impression of an audience wanting to get snippets of up-to-date information on the move.

Lane 5 – A focus on the customer is evident; it was very interesting to note that throughout the course of the Olympics, depending on the search term, Google would either send you to the relevant website, or simply provide you with the direct results there and then. So schedules, results and times typically were all delivered on a single page, meaning that the source and destination of the user journey was as short as could be imagined.

Lane 6 – Web strategy is so much more than a single website hoping for traffic to miraculously arrive. London 2012 managed 77 disparate but linked online platforms, including its website, education site, school leavers site, Memorabilia auction site, mobile site, recruitment site, Twitter site, travel advice site, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, various Flickr accounts and apps for various mobile platforms.

Lane 7 – Organisational culture and values were expressed online. The inclusivity at the heart of the Olympic experience was meaningfully expressed on its digital channels. Easy Read and BSL versions of the site were available and alternative content formats were provided (such as a dyslexic view stylesheet).

Lane 8 – It’s never possible to get it all right all of the time. The online equivalent of the Independent Olympic Athlete Liemarvin Bonevacia, who ran the 400m in 1:36:42, was the ticketing website. The ticketing website was slow, barely usable and wildly frustrating, meaning that purchasing success was almost entirely arbitrary. One imagines that Rio 2016 organisers have already committed to learning the difficult lessons from this.

The online ticketing website is a reminder that none of the positives happen by accident. What was missing with the ticketing website were the very ingredients which doubtless set the foundations for the overall online success. These are leadership from the top, an organisational culture which values the web, excellent internal processes to the get the right results, and above all, a focus on the user and a desire to serve his or her needs.

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include the Irish Internet Association, The Irish Times, Ogilvy, MD Golf and Web Recruit.

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.