SOCHI, Russia - If social media was in the toddler stages during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, then it has now grown into full maturity with the power of a Dustin Brown check.
“I remember in Vancouver it was like ‘what is Twitter?’" said women's forward Hilary Knight (@Hilary_Knight). "Now it’s like if you’re not on Twitter you don’t know what’s going on in the world.”
The 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games official social media policy encourages fans and journalists to share posts, live analysis and everything short of live video on their social networks. The result is an avalanche of interactivity that can in an instant go viral.
T.J. Oshie started the Olympics with 67,000 followers on Twitter (@OSH74), but less than 24 hours after his shootout heroics gave the U.S. a win over Russia, that number balooned to north of 200,000.
"There were a couple of very special tweets last night from guys that I idolized. I was looking in there and Roenick had one in there that was pretty special. When I was a little kid, maybe 14, and he was passing to me at a skills competition at a roller hockey tournament. That was pretty sweet that he did that," he said, adding that another big social media moment came when President Barack Obama personally congratulated Oshie on Twitter. "That’s really nice of him [Obama] to go out of his way and his busy life and reach out to myself and my teammates was pretty special."
The interaction available between athlete and fan has never been stronger and U.S. women's players like Knight and captain Meghan Duggan (@mduggan10) are regularly posting and connecting digitally.
“It’s a great way for fans and people who follow me to get a behind the scenes look to see how I see myself," Knight said.
Duggan agreed with her teammate, but added that the appeal of connecting with thousands of fans can sometimes be a distraction and, in some cases, a source of stress.
“It has its ups and downs. When the Olympics are spiraling sometimes tweets can get blown out of proportion," she said.
Then there is the so called viral moment. When social media flexes its muscles and everyone from rural fan to the most famous people can connect instantly. Players catch on too and Oshie said his teammates are having fun with some social media phrases that have caught on the last few days, such as SochiOshie.
Relased during the last two weeks, a hashtag created by fans and USA Hockey has become a rallying cry on Twitter and Facebook. Fans using #DawnsEarlyLight include House Speaker John Boehner, who told his 600,000 strong following to retweet his post to congratulate the U.S. men's team for the victory over Russia.
In the hours following the men's victory over Russia, #DawnsEarlyLight was used more than 28,000 times.
Knight said she had her own Olympic social media moment on Valentine's Day when fans flooded her Twitter page with Valentine's requests.
“I had a lot of valentines and I get a lot of ‘marry me’s,'" she said. “As long as you don’t become too focused on it, it doesn’t become a distraction.
“Sometimes I have my posts done ahead of time so I can focus on what needs to be done.”
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