The Top Content Trends Of The Rio Olympics

August 15, 2016

Written by NewsWhip

We analyse the biggest content of the Olympics so far to identify best practices for publishers.
The 2016 Olympic Games are in full swing in Rio de Janeiro. As a global sporting event, the Games attract phenomenal interest and provide ample opportunity for publishers to engage audiences across multiple channels.
Now that we’re one week into the games, we took a look at the some early data to see what stories are gaining traction on social. Here are four tips on how publishers can capture audience interest and optimise content for different social platforms.
For the purposes of this piece, we looked at Olympic coverage* from English-, Spanish-, and Portuguese-language publishers between August 1st and 11th. Please note that total Facebook engagements in the context of this piece means the total likes, comments, and shares accumulated by a specific piece of content. All the data comes from Spike, our real-time content discovery tool. Sign up for a free trial here.
Top 10 EN content

(1) Hero Worship

This was a common trend across the publishers we looked at, in all three languages. Coverage dedicated to national heroes notched up a huge amount of engagement, with audiences across the world eager to celebrate the achievements of their country’s athletes.
BBC’s coverage of Britain’s first gold medal for diving was particularly successful for the publisher. On Facebook, it earned nearly 152,000 engagements, considerably more than other Anglophone publishers this period. The BBC also saw significant engagement on its piece about a British gymnast winning a bronze medal, which notched up 142,405 Facebook engagements. This is considerably more than the third biggest English-language story for this period, a BuzzFeed article on Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini, which earned just over 124,000 engagements.
This trend was reflected across Spanish-language and Portuguese-language publishers. Brazilian publisher Globo drove 52,616 interactions with its story about a Brazilian equestrian competitor. Multiple Argentinian publishers earned huge engagement from their coverage of Argentine tennis player Juan Martin del Potro’s victory over Novak Djokovic.
Todo Noticias’ story was the most successful on Facebook, yielding 21,392 engagements in total. Only Peruvian publisher La10 earned more engagements, with its story celebrating Peruvian gymnast Ariana Orrego’s achievements at the Games earning just over 29,000 Facebook interactions.
Hero worship is a consistently popular theme among sports brands and publishers and tends to elicit enthusiastic activity from audiences. In our analysis of how sports teams use social media, we’ve seen that highlighting key personalities and breakout stars drives consistent sharing. Publishers covering the Olympics can boost social engagement by covering national heroes and emerging stars, letting the athletes themselves engage users.
Top 10 PT content

(2) Niche Interests

While the more well-known activities such as athletics, swimming and gymnastics tend to yield significant sharing, our data indicates that niche interests also elicit strong activity on social. In fact, some of the biggest stories of this period covered hobbies and activities not yet added to the Olympic roster.
Camera and photography publisher Petapixel had the sixth biggest story on social for this period. Its profile of Canon’s stockpile of equipment in Rio earned 84,619 interactions in total on Facebook, reflecting the prominence of photography as an interest among social users. Fittingly for a website covering photography, the piece is largely comprised of visuals and images of the equipment, with only a few short supporting paragraphs.
Another popular activity, skateboarding, also featured prominently in the top stories for this period. Two skating websites earned huge engagement off their coverage of skateboarding being added to the Olympic slate for the 2020 games in Tokyo. A piece published on was the seventh biggest story for this period, generating 75,491 Facebook engagements, while another published to earned a total of 53,362 interactions.
The success of these pieces shows that there’s a considerable subsection of audiences interested in more niche coverage of the Olympics. Users are eager for stories about related interests and areas, in addition to pieces about the competition itself. Publishers can earn a significant engagement boost from coverage of these areas. Looking at interests and hobbies with a more indirect link to the Games can help capture highly engaged subsets of users.
Top 10 ES content

(3) Human Interest and Inspirational Stories

While publishers’ attention is mainly focused on the competition itself, behind-the-scenes stories have also been making headlines at the 2016 Olympics. Audiences respond to feel-good and inspirational stories and a number of these appear in the list of top articles for this period.
In particular, the story of Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini who went on to compete in swimming appears in multiple articles. It was the top story overall for this period, with the Independent’s piece generating an enormous 169,309 engagements on Facebook. The New York Times’ feature was the second most successful piece this period, yielding 132,435 Facebook interactions. Similar coverage on BuzzFeed and the Guardian was also hugely successful, underlining audiences’ appetite for uplifting stories related to the games.
Another popular story this period was the tale of a woman who organised a funding campaign to send an Uber driver, the father of an Olympian, to Rio to watch his son compete. Upworthy’s coverage of this story was especially successful, driving some 90,262 Facebook engagements. The Washington Post also saw strong numbers from its article on the story, earning 47,474 engagements in total.
The success of these stories shows the importance of diverse coverage at the Olympics. In addition to covering the sports and activities themselves, audiences like to hear about personal experiences and inspirational moments. These help to enrich audiences’ overall experience of and interaction with the events, highlighting how significant/meaningful the competition is for many athletes and their families.

(4) Optimise Website Content

Interestingly, our data suggests that external links drove the most engagement for publishers on Facebook this period. While some images and videos appear in the top Facebook stories, the vast majority of successful posts were links to publishers’ websites. This makes sense if one considers that stories published to a website allow for more in-depth coverage – and links to related pieces – but it’s surprising to see so few videos and imagery.
Top 10 ES content
In this context, it’s important to make sure that website content is as engaging as possible. While .gifs of the competition may have been banned by the IOC, publishers can still enhance content by focusing on strong visuals and graphics.
The New York Times saw considerable success in its coverage of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, for example, by including “embedded video, three-dimensional graphics, interviews and explanatory captions”.
Video clips of interviews, key moments, and highlights of events can help to capture user attention. Creative graphics to display important results and fixtures are equally eye-catching. These can be inserted alongside conventional reporting and analysis to enhance user experience, and thereby boost engagement on social.
What examples of best practices in publishing have you seen around the Olympics? Send us your tips: contact[at]newswhip[dot]com.
*Note: the data featured in this post was compiled based on mentions of the Olympics and Olympic Games (as opposed to individual athletes, activities, or competing nations). Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about our search methodology.

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