YOG should have social media rules, too

Social media guidelines necessary for inaugural Youth Olympic Games in July, but officials should focus on cooperation, not enforcement, experts say.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Organizers of the inaugural Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) should set guidelines around the use of social media but not get too caught up over enforcement and penalties, say social media experts based in the country.

Officials of the YOG, which starts August 14, have taken steps to make the event more engaging and use it as a means to connect people around the world. Initiatives include the recently-launched Singapore 2010 Odyssey, a three-dimensional virtual world to learn more about the Games through avatars and games.

For the Vancouver Olympics last month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released a document detailing guidelines for blogging. The announcement was initially misinterpreted as a ban on the use of Twitter during the Games, which had been labeled as the "Twitter Olympics".

ZDNet Asia's queries on YOG social media regulations were directed to the IOC by the Singapore Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee. However, the IOC did not respond despite repeated requests for comments.

Michael Netzley, assistant professor of corporate communication practice at the Singapore Management University, said in an e-mail interview that organizations in general are recommended to have "a simple yet clear social media policy".

When it comes to the YOG--where the participants are aged between 14 and 18--the rules need to be succinct and well-communicated, he added. "Youth do sometimes engage in rash behavior, so I believe that building cooperation with the different teams and participants, and doing everything possible to help everyone succeed both on the field of competition and online, would be a smart proactive move."

Netzley proposed that the YOG social media policy for athletes and team officials should include five points:

1. Follow any Olympic conduct guidelines laid down.

2. Identify yourself, instead of being anonymous, as openness equates to accountability.

3. Avoid confrontational criticism or negative comments.

4. Be authentic and share experiences.

5. Be the first to respond if a mistake has been made or a line crossed--apologize and seek advice on rectifying the situation.

"In plain English, the policy might make clear that official participants are ambassadors of the Games and their country, and they should make everyone proud on the field of competition and online. Don't do anything to diminish your ambassadorship or your team's public image," he said.

Cooperation, not enforcement, key to policy success
As part of the Vancouver 2010 blogging stipulations, athletes were not allowed to act as journalists and could relate only their personal experiences at the Winter Games. The document also made it clear that those who did not abide by the regulations could have their Olympic accreditation revoked.

In reality, enforcement of social media rules is not an easy endeavor given the open nature of tools such as Facebook and Twitter, Netzley pointed out. Rather than dwell on policy control, organizers should seek to maximize cooperation.

"Singapore has an open Internet market, which is overall a huge advantage for our country, and trying to suddenly control communications may produce resistance with some youth," he explained. "We are better off engaging official participants through these channels, educating them on how to use social media wisely, and continue maintaining the discussion and relationship throughout the games."

Debbie Swee, market analyst for digital marketplace and new media at IDC Asia-Pacific's emerging technology advisory services group, also noted that issuing "Dos and Don'ts" of using social media to document the YOG is probably a good practice, but pushing out formal policies or restrictions may not be necessary.

"The idea of policies and restrictions implies that punitive action will be taken up against offenders (or at least the threat to), which seems to be overly harsh given that there have not been significant repercussions to such use," she pointed out.

Swee added that data has indicated that Twitter may not be as popular among teens as with adults. The microblogging platform also has a wider reach in North America. Tweeting for the YOG is therefore likely to be more "muted", she said.

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