It’s amazing the impact that 140 characters can have on a person and across populations. Without doubt London 2012 will be remembered as the first Olympics where social media, most notably Twitter, played a key role. From creating excitement, following medal dreams, to joining the race to get tickets, Twitter has documented every win, loss and drama of London 2012.

Twitter estimates that there were more than 150 million tweets about the Olympics over the 16 day event. As Usian Bolt crossed the finish line in his 200m race they were coming through at 80,000 tweets per minute. In the first day alone more tweets were generated than during the entire Beijing games 4 years earlier. What makes this Twitterlympics so remarkable is that these tweeters were tweeting live; there was no delay and it’s all instantly global.

Twitter not only impacted on how the world experienced and got involved with the Olympics, it changed how we viewed the games. Sporting events are inherently social, and through Twitter those of us watching at home were able to share the tension, to celebrate and commiserate together, resulting in a greater inclination to watch the games. It has been shown that there were 63.1 million live streams downloaded compared with only 14 million in Beijing.

So how did the big brands capitalize on the London 2012 hashtag?

If you didn’t know before the games, you probably know now that Adidas was one of the official Olympic sponsors. The brand embarked on what has been described as its “biggest ever marketing spend”, and their campaign focused heavily on the digital output of their Olympic hashtag #takethestage. The unique campaign aimed to make the brand highly visible throughout the games by showing the highs and lows as the athletes attempted to ‘take the stage’. Since the games closed, Adidas has achieved the gold medal for Olympic sponsors. Their highly personalized approach has resulted in a huge spike in positive sentiment towards the brand and they have already announced that they have recouped the £100 million investment that they put into the campaign.

And it wasn’t just the major brands. Athletes were also cashing in on the Olympic hashtag fame. Take the US swimmer Ryan Lochte, whose Twitter fan base grew by over half a million in the course of the games. Whether it’s his extreme talent (no one can ignore 5 medals) or his infectious and excitable daily #jeah tweets, he has fascinated the Twitter community. Grabbing the attention of fans, broadcasters and now major global brands, he is one of the London 2012 Twitter medallists. Already five companies Gatorade, Ralph Lauren, Gillette, Mutual of Omaha and Speedo have signed him up and he can be seen tweeting and retweeting their brands. In this promotional game, both teams are winners.

So what next?

Twitter allows for journalists, athletes and fans alike to provide up-to-the-minute opinions and updates on what’s happening in the sporting world (you just have to hope they don’t spoil the results of the 100m final that you were hoping to catch on replay). Following the success of brands in capturing and becoming part of these Olympic Games, there is no doubt that brands will continue to harness and grow their presence as part of the social media phenomenon. It all comes down to saying the right thing at the right time, and Twitter provides the perfect platform to do so. Just to note, Brazil is the second most active country on Twitter after the US, with over 3 million active accounts, so it’s safe to say there will not be a tear or hard-earned drop of sweat that isn’t broadcast to the world in those snappy 140 characters.

Sophie Ryan