How many new Twitter followers is a gold medal worth?
After three weeks of sporting action, the Olympics have come to an end, but there’s one last competition still to go: who’s won the gold medal for being best at Twitter?
Of course, some sporting purists might argue that the lumps of metal hanging around athletes’ necks might mean something, but let’s face it: no-one is going to care again about canoeing or race walking for at least four more years. And when we’re watching in Team GB roll into the Tokyo velodrome, someone will have to explain the deal with the weird motorbike guy all over again, as we’ll have forgotten. So is there any real value in a medal?
The real measure of Olympic success is something much more important: Twitter followers. Which athletes are leaving the games as our new national treasures? Who will be placed to leverage their higher profile into lucrative endorsements? Who, during the games, got the best #numbers? And what is the exact social media cachet of winning a medal?
To find out, I took the list of 353 Rio 2016 competitors from the Team GB Twitter list and wrote some code that would note the number of followers each has every 15 minutes. So from about Day 3, when I first set my script running, we can now see who picked up the most followers – and when. And we can also work out the approximate social media bonus of winning a medal.
So first off, who accrued the most new followers during the Olympics? The answer, unsurprisingly, is Laura Trott, who picked up gold in both the Women’s omnium and Women’s team pursuit. She added a massive 83,000 followers. Her partner, Jason Kenny, may have picked up three golds at the games, but he couldn’t match her Twitter appeal – third in the charts, he only added around 51,000 followers – although this more than doubled his Twitter following.
Tom Daley only managed to pick up a bronze in the pool, but he was much better at Twitter – as he added an extra 60,000 followers – although he might not notice, as he already had 2.5 million people watching him. Mo Farah is in the same boat – he added an additional 47,000 followers to his already impressive 1.25 million. Double gold gymnastics winner Max Whitlock did well, too – as with Jason Kenny, he didn’t just win multiple golds, but also almost doubled his social media footprint.
The power of the games to shine a light on some less-well-known figures was evident, too. In percentage terms, the big winner of the games was cyclist Callum Skinner. When he went to Rio he had just over 2,000 followers – but has left not just with a gold and a silver medal, but also 13,000 more followers – a 700% boost! Bryony Page, who won a silver medal on the trampoline also received a Twitter bounce – increasing her followers from 1,300 to over 6,000. Bronze-medallist boxer Joshua Buatsi also wins the bronze for Twitter cachet too – with a 400% increase in his followers from 2,400 to more than 10,000. So don’t be surprised if you see any of these athletes tweeting suspiciously enthusiastic endorsements of products in the near future – they’re now very valuable.
What’s also fun to see is when the increases happened. Look at the chart below showing the total number of Laura Trott and Jason Kenny’s follower counts – they both shot up, unsurprisingly, on the night they raced.
Plotted another way, we can see how many followers the pair piled on at 15-minute intervals over the course of the few days they were in the spotlight. Incredibly, between 00:15 and 00:30 on 17 August – just as they won their medals, Trott added more than 11,000 followers in just a quarter of an hour. Kenny added 8,000.
Tweeting for gold
But forget the analysis – let’s focus on the competition at hand. What’s the impact on your following if you bag yourself a medal? Obviously this shouldn’t be considered in any way scientifically rigorous, but if you take the number of new followers accrued by gold medalists, it appears that first place will earn you on average an extra 9,196 followers. If you take silver medalists (discounting athletes who also won gold), they added on average 3,593 followers. And doing the same for bronze (again discounting multi-medalists who also picked up a gold or silver), it appears to add an extra 6,230 followers.
That’s right – on first pass, it appears a bronze medal could be more valuable than a silver medal. Is it because everyone likes a plucky outsider who just manages to scrape a medal, like Bianca Walkden in the taekwondo? Or could this simply be Tom Daley’s already-enormous fame skewing the results?
Okay, fine, I know what you’re thinking. This is too cynical – why should we be playing athletes off against each other? Isn’t the Olympics really about friendship and togetherness? But then again… can’t this be a competition too?
So I decided to find out who the most popular members of Team GB were by analysing who our Rio athletes were following.
It appears that Jessica Ennis is the most popular member of Team GB by some distance, with 164 followers from her 353 tweeting peers. Cycling alumni Chris Hoy is in second. Andy Murray and Mo Farah are both popular too – as is, perhaps surprisingly, the lesser-known sprinter Adam Gemeli. He must have working the room back in the Athletes’ Village.
Here are the top 40 accounts as followed by members of Team GB:
Curiously, the most–popular non–athlete or sporting personality is, umm, Jeremy Clarkson with 86 Team GB followers, and James Corden and Jack Whitehall are also inexplicably popular. Ah well – I guess it goes to show that even our greatest heroes have some flaws.