Medals thanks to Facebook?

Study reveals the impact of social media activity and fan communication on the motivation of elite sportsmen


The more intensive athletes reach out to their fans through social media platforms, the greater the motivation they can draw from the fan contact they experience. This was the outcome of a pilot study on how social media can influence elite sports undertaken by the European Institute for Media Optimization in Berlin under the supervision of Professor Dr. Gregor Daschmann from the Institute of Media and Communication Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. The results were first presented in London against the backdrop of the 2012 Olympic Games. The survey was commissioned by the Zurich Group Germany, the official insurer of the German Olympic team. The project is being sponsored by the German Olympic Sports Association (DOSB). The plan is to survey all of Germany's Olympic athletes in the aftermath of the Olympic Games 2012.

"The results are remarkably clear," says Daschmann, who took a closer look at the interplay between online activity, fan communication, and perception of motivation among athletes. The researcher thus recommends that athletes become more engaged with social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. "Elite athletics means subjecting oneself day after day to strict self-discipline and hard daily training. Anyone able to find an extra source of motivation also gains a slight competitive advantage. Positive feedback and commentary from fans on social media sites give small psychological impulses to athletes that help recharge them. This then may give them an extra bit of lift," Daschmann adds. One respondent who confirmed this effect was German long jumper Christian Reif, who is very active on Facebook. "Social media represent an unbelievable opportunity for athletes. I use social media a lot because I draw a huge amount of energy from the reaction of the fans," the former European champion explains. He admits that his fans help him push himself to his limits.

DOSB's business partner Zurich Insurance launched a large-scale social media campaign before and during the London 2012 Summer Games to show that participation by business can also promote this dialog between fans and athletes. "Our campaign struck a strong chord with users and athletes, as well as our own employees," states Monika Schulze, chief marketing officer at Zurich. "We are all the more pleased that the campaign didn't just serve to burnish our image, but also produced a clear return on investment for us," Schulze reports.

Professor Dr. Burghardt Tenderich, an expert in communication studies at the University at Southern California in Los Angeles, underscores the importance of social networks for corporate and institutional communication and the significance of establishing fan bases within these networks. "The survey in question is the first of its kind to be conducted anywhere in the world and shows us very clearly how communication in the future will have an impact on our entire life," says Tenderich. The European Institute for Media Optimization (EIMO) promotes dialog between research and practice and seeks to provide companies and associations with assistance in the successful navigation of a rapidly changing media landscape.