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Social media to take center stage at London Olympic Games

LONDON -- Tweet this: The London Games will be the first Olympics told in 140 characters or less.

The London Games will be the most tweeted, liked and tagged in history, with fans offered a never before seen insider's view of what many are calling the social media Olympics, or the “socialympics.”

Hash tags, “at” signs and “like” symbols will be as prevalent as national flags, Olympic pins and medal ceremonies. Some athletes may spend more time on Twitter and Facebook than the playing field.

Mobile phones have become smarter, laptops lighter and tablet devices a must-have for technology lovers — meaning social-savvy fans, whether watching on television or inside the Olympic stadium itself, will be almost constantly online.

Organizers expect more tweets, Facebook posts, videos and photos to be shared from London than any other sports event in history. The 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver offered just a small glimpse of what's to come.

“Vancouver was just the first snowflake,” said Alex Hout, the International Olympic Committee's head of social media. “This is going to be a big snowball.”

Twitter is already braced for a surge of traffic. Launched in 2006, it has become a key outlet for sports fans to trade messages during live events.

Users sent 13,684 tweets per second during a Champions League soccer match between Barcelona and Chelsea in April, a record volume of tweets for a sporting event — busier even than the 2012 Super Bowl. Chances are good that will be one of the records broken in London.

“It could be the 100-meter final or something unexpected,” said Lewis Wiltshire, Twitter UK's head of sport.

At the last Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, Twitter had about 6 million users and Facebook 100 million. Today, the figure is 140 million for Twitter and 900 million for Facebook.

“In Sydney (2000) there was hardly any fast Internet, in Athens (2004) there were hardly any smartphones, in Beijing hardly anyone had social networks,” said Jackie-Brock Doyle, communications director of London organizing committee LOCOG. “That's all changed. Here, everyone has all that and will be consuming the games in a different way.”

Later this month, at trials in Calgary for Canada's Olympic track and field team, athletes will even wear Twitter handles on their bibs — encouraging fans to send messages of support as they race.

Sponsors have also taken their Olympic campaigns online. Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Visa and BP are among those using Facebook to reach younger consumers. Samsung is even offering to paint the faces of Internet users with their national flag — virtually, of course.

“They key difference from four years ago is that now almost everyone has a smartphone, which means everyone can participate in real time,” said Adam Vincenzini, an expert at Paratus Communications, a London-based PR and social media marketing agency. “You used to have to be sitting at your desk to access various social media platforms. Now you can have your phone or tablet on your lap while you watch, whether that's at the pub or the stadium.”

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This April 16 file photo provided by LOCOG shows an aerial view of the Olympic Park showing the London 2012 Olympic Stadium. London will be the social media Olympics. For all the history and tradition associated with London, a very modern-day phenomenon will play a prominent role at the upcoming Summer Games. (AP)

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