The Paralympic Twitter race. Who won?
Back in August, my colleague Lisa blogged on the need for athletes to be twitter-savvy, and over the last six weeks we’ve also been monitoring the Twitter activity of a sample of current and former Paralympic athletes, broadcasters and organising bodies, to see how their presence on the platform was affected by the Paralympic Games. Who gained the most followers over the period and won the Paralympic Twitter race?
Though gaining Twitter followers will likely have been some way down the typical athlete’s list of priorities this summer, the Olympic and Paralympic Games have turned a lot of competitors into household names. Any athletes looking to expand their personal brand, online or otherwise, have just had an enormous opportunity to get our attention and share their unique experiences with their fans.
We began tracking 67 Twitter accounts on the 8th of August; three weeks before the event’s opening ceremony. Much of our sample comprised of members of the British Paralympic squad, but we also included international stars like Oscar Pistorius, former Paralympic athletes such as Tanni Grey-Thompson, governing bodies and committees, and Channel 4, the broadcaster of the Paralympic Games in the UK.
On the 8th of August the largest account in our sample, based on followers, belonged to Oscar Pistorius with 118,624 followers. Pistorius has been well known across the globe since his record breaking Paralympic debut in 2004 and participation alongside able-bodied athletes in subsequent events. After competing in the Olympic Games earlier in the summer he was expected to make more headlines at the Paralympics and his 100,000+ Twitter followers clearly felt he was one to watch.
@C4Paralympics had also established a following ahead of the games. The official account of the broadcaster for the Paralympic Games had gathered 54,547 followers since the account was created in May 2010. It doesn’t sound like much for a two year period, but the BBC’s London 2012 account is yet to break 100k even after the games.
Between our initial data collection on the 8th of August and our final data collection on the 12th of September, the 67 accounts in our sample gained a total of 346,858 followers. 124,108 of these were added in the week between the 29th of August and 5th of September – the first week of the Paralympic Games.
At the end of our recording period @OscarPistorius remained the largest account in our sample. Pistorius tweeted well, keeping things positive and trying to include his followers in the excitement of the event. As predicted, he did make headlines. He finished the Paralympic Games with two gold medals but controversy surrounded the silver he picked up in the T44 200m. It was his first ever loss in the event and he didn’t take it well, in a post-race interview saying that Oliveira’s longer blades had given him an unfair advantage. However, with time to cool down, he handled the furore on Twitter with admirable aplomb and brevity:
@C4Paralympics also held on to their spot in second place on our list with a 120% increase in followers during the recording period, but below Pistorius and Channel 4 a few new names broke into the top 10.
On the 8th of August Jonnie Peacock had 1,194 Twitter followers. On the 12th of September he had 34,866 – a stunning increase of 2820%. The 19 year old had only competed in his first international race in May this year but finished the summer with a gold medal and the world and Paralympic records in the T44 100m. Peacock’s tweets following the race were humble, supportive of his fellow athletes and, perhaps most importantly, not without humour.
Swimmer Ellie Simmonds also made the top ten of our list after winning four medals at the Paralympic Games and finishing our recording period on 30,212 followers. She somehow found the time to post 1,125 tweets and many of them were personal replies to her new fans.
They say you have to speculate to accumulate, but prolific tweeting isn’t the be all and end all of gaining followers. Ranked by percentage increase of followers, Tanni Grey-Thompson placed 60th out of 67 in our list despite posting more tweets than anyone else. She still managed to gain 7,490 followers, a 37% increase, but Lucy Shuker increased her followers by over 1000% by averaging just 1.2 tweets per day.
Will social networks like Twitter be an even bigger force in four years’ time than they are today? We’re already looking forward to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brazil in 2016, but for 2012 the big winners on Twitter were Jonnie Peacock, Lucy Shuker, Ellie Simmonds, Oscar Pistorius and Channel 4.