The Negative Press
Even before the start of the Olympic games, Sochi was receiving a lot of negative press. Leading up the to the games, Sochi had to deal with some major political and controversial problems that were now being globally publicized. Not only had Russia been under fire for its controversial stance on homosexuality, there had been notable backlash in opposition to many of the country’s domestic policies. To make things worse, Sochi’s plan to exterminate stray dogs in an attempt to maintain appearances around the Olympic Village had many people around the world outraged. It wasn’t looking too good for Sochi. Before the Sochi Winter Olympics began on February 7th, they had already taken over social media platforms. It started when journalists and athletes shared their not-so-great experiences with the Russian city. Photos of unclean drinking water, broken light fixtures, unflushable toilets, and other disastrous hotel issues were tweeted and posted on Instagram. Thus, the #SochiProblems and #Sochifail hashtags were born and everyone joined in on the Sochi-bashing fun. Having Sochi’s dirty laundry aired on social media wasn’t really what the Russian city needed after all of the previous bad press. And their response to the #Sochiproblems hashtags only exacerbated the issue. A Russian official claimed that surveillance cameras in hotel rooms could prove that some of these journalists were lying. Say what? Not exactly the best way to prove your innocence, is it? This example specifically, demonstrates the bad public relations strategy in place- or lack there of. It seemed PR executives were in a mad rush fighting to neutralize negative publicity, and were loosing the battle. In a rapidly evolving digital age, one bad story after another, spread like wild fire and it seemed there wasn’t much anyone could do to stop it. If it weren’t for social media, these problems may not have taken form in such a publicized and active way. In today’s world, it’s imperative to know how to deal with the dispersal of negative news via social media. Having a proactive and reactive strategy for such social media disasters is a necessity- one Sochi was obviously lacking.
Social media didn’t only function as a way to discredit Sochi, however. It became an integral part of the Olympic-viewing experience. In just the first week of the games, for example, there were almost 6 million social media mentions about the event. Hashtags were used to show support for teams. The “Sochi Selfie” became a common theme for athletes, journalists, and attendees. Memes about Ashley Wagner’s face, Johnny Weir’s outfits, or how Johnny Quinn punched through a locked Sochi bathroom door were shared on all social platforms. Simply watching the Olympics is not enough, anymore. Social media has acted as a global mode of communication, allowing people from all over the world to participate, engage, create, commentate, and cheer on their country. It allowed viewers to feel a sense of connection, from all over the world. After all, that’s what the Olympics is all about, right? The intertwined Olympic rings are meant to represent the unity and togetherness of five inhabited continents. Social media has given people across the globe the ability to feel that same sense of involvement. The power of social media was demonstrated not only with its effect on Sochi’s reputation, but with its newfound essentialness to the act of viewing the Olympics. This is just another example of how deeply intertwined social media is in our lives. When thinking about public relations and marketing, it’s important to keep in mind how much of an influence social media has on consumers. In laying out a PR strategy, don’t forget about the way bad news can spread online, like the Sochi officials seemed to do. Instead, be proactive and regularly monitor your online reputation. Have reactive strategies prepared for when a PR disaster strikes. Above all, don’t ever underestimate the power of social media.