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Tour de France: Was the UK also the ‘Grand Départ’ for Social Media?

07 July 2014 | 04:04 am

Grande Depart for Social MediaThis weekend saw some of the CrowdControlHQ team, armed with tents and sleeping bags heading to Harewood House in Yorkshire, to cheer on the Le Tour Yorkshire for the big Grand Départ. As we celebrate the nation playing host to one of the biggest launches of the Tour de France to date, we also reflect on whether we have changed the social media landscape of cycling for ever.

Back in 2013, the official 100th year of The Tour de France, the media announced (as they tend to do these days) that this was the year that the event officially embraced social media.  The ‘Grand Départ of Social Media’ was underway.

So what did social look like a year ago? Digiminds estimated that the 2013 Tour averaged 7642 mentions per day, stating that 87% of mentions were on Twitter and the remainder on news channels.  Not surprisingly, Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish and Alberto Contador were top of the twitter mention charts.

But this ‘Social’ Grand Départ was not welcomed by all!

A number of traditionalists and media outlets described social media as an unwelcome intrusion. Would live minute by minute ‘tweet spoilers’ spell the end of people tuning in each evening to watch the highlights? They feared that social media spelled the end.

Were they right about the highlights show? Well the viewing figures will tell us the reality.

But perhaps contra to the critics, we believe that social media can bring a completely new dimension to the Tour de France to encourage even more people to tune in of an evening, which is no bad thing for sponsors too!  Much of this will be dictated by the extent to which the coverage, presenters and brands link the TV coverage to the social media conversation.

This weekend, we experienced first hand how the growth of social media is adding to the excitement and drama of live events. Roadside spectators are becoming roving reporters, capturing unimaginable angles, images and perspectives of events. Close ups, like never before.

So with social media the new kid on the cycling block and a year under the Tour’s belt grappling with this media channel, we wonder what difference a year makes? Conservative estimates state that the 2014 Grand Départ will have witnessed over 5 million people lining the streets across Britain.  Just think how many of those were armed with smart phones?

Granted, some of the locations would have tested even the strongest mobile phone signals, but just think of all the selfies, updates, photos and footage captured this weekend on route?  We are talking multi million this year, rather than a few thousand tweets reported in 2013.

We also only have to look at how many cycling fans turned to twitter in their hour of ‘Cavendish’ need.

As the Royals stepped out to launch the Grand Départ at Harewood #GoCav was trending on twitter.  A few hours later everyone was glued to #GuttedforCav for updates on the progress of the cyclist.

The British public gave those lining the streets of Harrogate with a BIG responsibility:  to keep the rest of the nation up to speed with the breaking news of the Cavendish collision.  The public were in places that even the best television cameras simply couldn’t reach (both practically and physically).

The roadside video posted by @Gycloramic of the crash showed just how far Cavendish skidded.  We all grimaced, feeling Mark’s pain as he skidded on his back across the tarmac.

Similarly, we saw the pain on the face of the British Prime Ministers as @_PCWT_ shared a picture of David Cameron with his hands cupped to his face in response to seeing the collision on the big screen.

But surely, the scoop of the day came from @ChrisJack_Getty. His picture of the Royals captured the feeling of the nation as Prince Harry stood open mouthed in shock and the Duchess of Cambridge showed genuine concern.   Not only did we see these images on twitter but they made front page of the Sunday Times demonstrating just how integrated and reliant on each other the social and PR channels have become.

We could only imagine how difficult it was for the Royals to regain their composure from the images that we saw to then proceed with the Yellow Jersey ceremony.   They are certainly made of stronger stuff than some of the crowd who sat and wept around us at Harewood House that day as the reality sank in that this was not to be Cavendish’s day!

There will always be the purists, the traditional heads amongst us who would rather that we turned our phones off and refrained from capturing the moment, whether sporting or otherwise.  Some will believe that the film of Cavendish was in poor taste – surely the guy has suffered enough others will say, without the YouTube hits reaching extortionate highs.

In reality, the appetite for ‘re-imagination’ and capturing the moment, digitally has never been so strong.  We simply can’t get enough of sharing.

Tour De France: Grand Depart

Social media should be celebrated for the connectivity that it now brings to the public at large, helping to not only define the ‘big moments’ but share live events with the world at large.

People are connected like never before through the power of social media and no doubt the British public will turn it’s attention to tweeting support for Team Sky as the Tour progresses.

It was definitely Mark’s moment this weekend, in front of his home crowd (and his mum) it was his turn to step into the social media limelight.  Perhaps now the nation will return to Chris Froome and Team Sky mentions will rocket and we will be watching the leader boards with interest on that one.

We are genuinely sorry to see Mark out of the Tour de France.  Not only does he have a number of cycling fans in the office, but he also has a formidable brand on Twitter, with over 829k followers.

His profile states: Disclaimer: May cause offence.   Certainly his sponsors will not be offended by the level of media coverage they gained this weekend. However, it would be nice to see some words of thanks from his support crew for his fans and public at large that got #GuttedforCav trending.  After all, they never know when they’ll need the public’s social media support again!

So let’s celebrate and embrace social media for creating a new experience for event goers and ‘Allez Allez’ social media for your time has come.

CrowdControlHQ is the UK’s leading social media risk management and compliance platform. Enabling brands to listen in and engage in live discussion, ensuring that social media channels enhance and add value to marketing communications campaigns.

Michelle Leavesley (@leavesm) Module leader MSc Marketing Communications, Birmingham Business School.

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