[Study] The Twitter Olympics - Who Takes Team GB Gold?

After a stunning 16 days of competition, grit, determination and inspired sporting moments that will live forever in the minds of all of us that saw them, the London Olympics has come to an end. With it, comes analysis. Not the hard-nosed critical kind, or the boring (but important) analysis of what legacy means, and certainly not the negative kind that seems to have already reared its ugly head in the mainstream media.

Instead, Fresh Egg looks at the effect of social media on the Team GB athletes during the Olympics, and in particular on Twitter, which housed more than 98% of all mentions of the Olympics on social media (that includes Facebook!).

What did a gold medal mean to your Twitter following? Who was more popular at the end of the games? Who picked up the most followers? and did it matter what colour your medal was in terms of social media popularity?

For fun, we’ll also take a look at a virtual version of the 100m sprint, with just our top ten social media medallists taking part. We’ve included every British medallist in our report and monitored all those who won at least a bronze medal during the games in Team GB, so apologies to those over paid footballers who failed so miserably (again), but you don’t feature in this report.

Having tracked the entire Team GB team during the Olympics, we’ve compiled a comprehensive study on follower monitoring on more than 450 athletes and over 90 medallist winners and whittled them down to just the top 30.

Is your favourite included? Did your favourite mention translate into followers? Did gold medals really bring more popularity or were news stories, charisma and/or talent more important when it came to social media.

Before the Olympics

Fresh Egg originally tracked the entire GB team at the outset of the Olympics with data taken the day before the opening ceremony. Some of the athletes however did not have a Twitter account. In fact, it’s notable that only 52.7% of the athletes in Team GB had a Twitter account in use before the Olympics began. With more than 150 million tweets during the Olympics however, athletes who weren’t on Twitter quickly signed up, sometimes prodded by their colleagues (see Chris Hoy, below) as in the case of Jason Kenny (double gold medalist in track cycling). By the closing ceremony, 73.6% of Team GB athletes had an active Twitter account.

Team GB athletes with Twitter account (before Olympics): 52.7%
Team GB athletes with Twitter account (after Olympics): 73.6%


Here is what the top 30 most followed accounts (medallists only) looked like before the Olympics started:

It was inevitable that a global, established superstar like Andy Murray would top the list of Team GB athletes prior to the games opening. His lead was substantial and surely no one could overhaul that in the space of 16 days. The top ten looks pretty much as you’d expect, although the inclusion of Laura Robson might be the only mild surprise.

Just outside the top ten, triathlete, Alistair Brownlee, held 11th place, but Ben Ainslie was down in 22nd with just over 8,000 followers: a shocking result considering his legendary status in sailing. Finally, it’s worth noting just how few followers were needed to appear in the top 30 before the Olympics. Indeed, just 2,901 followers would gain you a place, showing a distinct lack of interest and/or knowledge of Team GB’s soon to be heroes.

After the Olympics

Sixteen days later and it's all change in our top 30. After 29 gold medals and 65 medals in all, it's safe to say that Team GB's best Olympics for more than 100 years not only returned magical moments but found some truly inspiring stars.

Social media did its part too and the effects on Team GB athletes, particularly via Twitter, were simply astonishing. Before the Olympics began, Team GB athletes collectively had 2.5 million followers, but just 16 days later, this figure topped six million: a 137% increase in just two weeks.

Here is what the top 30 most followed accounts (medallist winners only) looked like after the Olympics finished:

The most striking difference in the two tables has to be the amount of followers every single athlete has gained in the 16 days of the Olympic 2012 games.

Popular athletes

The most astounding is bronze medallist diver, Tom Daley. Helped by a Twitter troll that made death threats on the opening weekend of the games while Daley failed to claim an expected medal in the syncronised diving, his following shot up from 300,000 to almost one million in just a couple of days. Add in his fantastic bronze in the individual dives towards the end of the second week, and this went up to almost 1.5 million: a rise of 370% or 1.1 million followers! It also put him ahead of Andy Murray, whose own gold and silver medal haul from the tennis saw him pick up more than 100,000 new followers.

Unsurprisingly the golden girl of athletics, heptathlon gold medal winner, Jessica Ennis, came in third with a rise of almost 500,000 new fans, but this still left her more than 500,000 short of second place.

Bradley Wiggins actually fell to fourth overall, despite an increase of 263,000 followers and double gold long distance runner, Mo Farah, stayed in fifth place but also picked up more than 200,000 fans. Likewise for Sir Chris Hoy, who remained in sixth despite also picking up more than 200,000 followers.Double bronze swimmer, Rebecca Adlington, moved up one spot while Laura Robson and Chris Froome both lost positions.

The most astounding rises however came from the men's gymnastic team with Louis Smith jumping up eight places to 11th, Kristian Thomas going up 13 places to 15th and the other three members of the team all making the top 30 for the first time. The most extraordinary rise however came from judo silver medallist, Gemma Gibbons, who had less than 500 followers before the Olympics began. She jumped up more than 5,000% to claim over 26,000 followers.

The pre-Olympic table showed you only needed 2,901 followers to make the list, but after the games, more than 18,300 would be required to feature in the same table. Every single athlete on the list both inside and outside of the top 30 rose in followers regardless of being a medal winner or not, however the list did confirm that it's almost irrelevant what colour medal you won with Tom Daley's single bronze good enough for the top spot and Ben Ainslee (now a four-time gold medal winner) languishing in 19th. As with any social media platform, personality and charisma really do go a long way.

Popular sporting events

Sports weren't fairly distributed among the top 30 either, with the most dominant sport being cycling, both on and off track varieties. Indeed, four of the top ten places were taken by cyclists. The power of cycling is also seen through double gold medal winner, Jason Kenny, who didn't have an account until 9 August and yet already features in 22nd position in the table.

The two sports under-represented were rowing and equestrian, but this was less surprising perhaps when looking at those  who held accounts on Twitter, with both sports having nine medallists without an account. Perhaps it is also an indication of where fans and athletes of these sports "hang out" because it certainly doesn't seem to be Twitter.

What would the 100m sprint look like for our top ten?

For an alternative view on what these figures all mean, we converted our top ten athletes in to 100m sprint runners. What if Tom Daley ran as fast as Usain Bolt in the 100m final? How far behind him would his fellow top ten social media stars be? Well, if Daley matched the same time as Bolt, 9.63 seconds, then the following list shows just how far ahead he would be in such a race (based on how far behind the other athletes are in terms of followers):

The table shows just how far ahead Tom Daley is through social media, with silver medallist, Andy Murray, more than two seconds behind! Indeed, some of the athletes in our virtual 100m race would be almost twice as slow, meaning they would still be at 50 metres by the time Tom crossed the finishing line!

The social media medals go to...

Obviously Tom Daley has everything going for him. He's young, good looking and he wears tight fitting pants while diving into water. What more could a teenage girl want?

Seriously though, his story and his fight with the Twitter troll certainly helped him gain more followers - and ultimately take the social media gold medal - than any other athlete during the 2012 Olympics, but we shouldn't underestimate the power of his medal winning performance either. The 24-hours following his bronze medal saw him jump more than 300,000 followers alone which is comparable to the best performers at the Olympics.

Andy Murray might have been expected to win this contest hands down and you almost have to feel sorry for the Scot - who takes the social media silver medal - after winning a tremendous tennis gold medal, followed up with a silver: he really could not have done anything more.

The social media bronze medal goes to heptathlon gold medal winner, Jessica Ennis, and while not a huge surprise after her incredible win on that super Saturday evening when Team GB won three gold medals in 44 minutes, it has to be said that others might have challenged her harder. Mo Farah, for example, had two super Saturdays while Chris Hoy notched up two more golds to take his overall tally to seven medals.

Still, regardless of who finished top of the social media table, Team GB did the nation proud in more ways than one, inspiring not only those who watched to take up sports but somehow bringing a smile to the face of each an every one of us. The first ever social media Olympics were a resounding success, bring on Rio!