Given that our own startup company -- Shnarped Hockey -- plays in the social media space, I've paid particular attention to how people are connecting in Sochi, and have found that it's quite different than how people are staying in touch with family and friends back home.
How People are Connecting in Sochi
Whether you're meeting a North American, European, or Russian here in Sochi, generally here's how people are connecting.
1. Meet the person.
This typically happens at an Olympic event, a place like the House of Switzerland, or on Tinder. Tinder is considered a dating/hookup app that apparently lots of athletes are using, but tons of people here are using the app simply to meet new friends. I guarantee an incredible number of SMS-type messages have been delivered via Tinder at these Olympics.
2. Add each other on Whatsapp.
Whatsapp is an SMS service that allows people to send messages for free over wifi instead of through a carrier. They were just purchased by Facebook for an incredible $19 billion, primarily because they are adding 1 million new users per day. Basically everyone here (especially the Russians) are on Whatsapp. Once you meet a person, if you want to stay in touch you'll exchange phone numbers and then message one another through WhatsApp.
3. Add each other on Facebook.
I'm not sure if it's because of cultural norms or because people here like Canadians, but within about 5 minutes of chatting with Russians -- either in person or on Whatsapp -- they are asking how to spell my name in order to add me on Facebook.
While sometimes people in the media here will share Twitter and Instagram tags, these platforms go relatively unmentioned when meeting new people here in Sochi.
Staying Connect With Friends and Fans Back Home
While most one-to-one conversations with people back home are through email, Skype, or Facebook, Instagram has become the big winner of the Following/Followers-style social platforms.
Take for instance Mark McMorris, Canadian snowboarding bronze medallist in slopestyle, and this post that he pushed out on both Twitter and Instagram.
The moment before the moment! Unda pressure🎶😜 pic.twitter.com/wSKj9wlDa2— Mark McMorris (@markmcmorris) February 20, 2014
Mark has 320,000 followers on Instagram and received 60,000 Instagram Likes to this post. On Twitter, where Mark has 180,000 followers, this received about 6,000 total retweets and favourites. This puts Instagram's engagement rate (at least by my definition, which is number of engagements divided by number of followers) six times higher than Twitter's. If we added Facebook numbers you'd see a level of engagement somewhere in the middle, skewing towards Instagram at the top. While our user base is nowhere near these social giants', at Shnarped Hockey it's nice to see our engagement rate is up close to that of Instagram's as well.
Engagement is important to social media companies because it is a form of content, and just like for any traditional media company, content is king. One could definitely argue that likes, retweets, and favourites are different in nature and that various platforms aim for different types of engagement. I've been following this particular metric for months now, and in talking to a number of NHL hockey teams we have reached basically the same conclusions about fan engagement on social media. Instagram has the highest rates of engagement, but for now Facebook is still their most useful fan engagement platform because everyone is on it. Twitter is good for pushing out and circulating news, but the number of fans that actively engage with the content is comparatively small.
So WhatsApp is winning the personal connectivity space. Instagram, also owned by Facebook, is winning the fan engagement space. Insane valuations aside, Facebook appears to be doing a good job of heeding the advice of The Great One:
I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been. -- Wayne Gretzky
With that, I'm off to the Gold Medal Game! #GoCanadaGo!!!