The 2012 London Olympics are some of the most financially successful games for NBC and sponsors alike. Ratings are peaking at 35 million viewers for prime time. Even archery scored 1.5 million viewers during daytime on a weekday.
Yet judging by social media, NBC is a “careless and lazy” network prone to PR miscues:
• When facing criticism over the tape-delayed showing of the Olympics, an NBC representative blasted the public by claiming that live TV is not “an inalienable right.”
• Then, NBC reportedly sought to delete the Twitter account of a critical British journalist who then paraded on TV with a negative story for the next days.
• The gaffes culminated on August 2nd. First, NBC spoiled 100-meter relay by promoting its tape-delayed broadcast with an image of Missy Franklin holding a gold medal. The worst was when NBC juxtaposed African-American gymnast Gabby Douglas’ historic gold medal with an ad showing a monkey on gymnastics rings.
But why care about what Twitter thinks if you are rolling in gold nonetheless? There are a few reasons:
• Your online and social media reputation outlives your broadcast — NBC’s reputation has been tarnished for millions of Twitter users worldwide, a concept that may be difficult for a broadcaster accustomed to one-way communication to understand.
• Conversations on Twitter parallel the broader public discourse. When Twitter turns against you, you spend time defending yourself and apologizing rather than making the points you want the public to hear.
• Above all, NBC’s gaffes are symptomatic of an organization that has not adjusted to the reality imposed by social media. Unlike a decade ago, viewers can talk about you in a massive echo chamber, in which the smallest mistakes can go viral and label you within minutes.
As a result, there are a few lessons worth learning from NBC’s handling of the Olympics:
• Pay attention to detail. Mistakes live on in social media…and on, and on.
• Do NOT try to punish journalists — that will almost inevitably backfire. Instead, engage them and any other critics in social media. You may not win their support, but engaging them quickly and transparently in conversation may temper their criticism.
• Monitor social media 24/7 during a major news event. You can’t engage if you don’t know what’s trending.