Until June 18, it’s fair to say I was a little indifferent towards this Olympics malarkey. It’s only for London, I grumbled. It’s costing a bleeding king’s ransom, I muttered. Almost-comical tales from elsewhere in the UK of village butchers getting visits from the 2012 Branding and Protected Marks Police for displaying their pork and apple bangers in an Olympic rings formation weren’t helping to change my view.
Yet grudgingly, as we drew closer to welcoming the torch relay to six communities in Redcar and Cleveland, I don’t mind admitting that I actually started looking forward to it. Post-Jubilee weekend, patriotic fervour had reached fever pitch and, from sitting in preparatory sessions with a top bunch of colleagues, it became clear that real excitement was building for the relay.
Holding a torch…
The comms challenges we faced on the day were many and varied. But essentially we wanted to record the torch’s journey through the borough, engaging with the good people of the towns and villages it graced, encouraging them to share their images and stories with us via Facebook and Twitter. We also had the task of providing logistics updates – road closures, timing changes, etc – and linking regularly with the emergency centre, should disaster strike. By the end of the day we wanted a full set of images on Flickr and a video capturing torch memories on YouTube. And of course we wanted some outstanding shows in traditional media. Not much to ask, I guess, but with a tiny team it required some meticulous planning, top teamwork and more than a splash of good luck.
We had the flame from, to be precise, 6.59am to 8.50am.
An early start
The on-day social media push began at 5am. By now, we’d spent weeks heavily plugging our “Tweet the Torch” drive on Twitter and “Follow the Flame” on Facebook. My day began by the edge of the bracing North Sea, where our prime media opportunity was set up at Redcar’s 80ft Vertical Pier. Armed with an iPhone and updates from Torch HQ I tweeted and retweeted like never before as the flame passed by.
It was ten minutes early, mind, which prompted another frantic spell of Twitter action as the torch headed towards an excited crowd in Marske, just up the coast road. As I legged it back to the emergency centre, our official snapper in Saltburn – the third location on the route – rang ahead to report sizeable crowds building. Cue another Twitter/FB spree praising their support and urging others to join them. By now, the pictures were coming in thick and fast on both platforms. A colleague in Loftus, our final destination, tweeted frequently and provided images from a packed-out Market Place.
Taking a break from the emergency centre, our photographer and I began sifting through some incredible images to get out to the press – making evening titles’ deadlines by a matter of minutes.
By 9.30am – less than three hours after the torch arrived – we were inundated with pictures, stories and memories of a day that had brought 25,000 people onto the streets at ungodly hours of the morning. We thanked everyone for their online contributions. Our digital whizzes swiftly created an outstanding video record of the day, which we pushed extensively through social media, and pulled together a striking collection of Flickr images.
With this Olympic ring…
The relay’s first marriage proposal brought us media coverage from the USA and Peru to Sri Lanka and Ghana. Three UK nationals positively referenced the council’s regeneration programme in Redcar.
Looking back, it wasn’t perfect, it was a tad chaotic and I dare say, with greater resources, there’s a lot more we could’ve done. But as relative social media newbies, we enjoyed the levels of engagement, interaction, information-sharing and a genuine sense of community spirit that make Twitter, Facebook et al such powerful, effective and essential tools for local government.
Heck, I’m even a darn sight more into the Olympic spirit than I was. Bored of the rings? Not any more.