Social Media Celebrating Special Olympics Athletes

January 27, 2010

When Special Olympics Cayman Islands athlete Andrew Smilley was voted to have achieved the Greatest Open Water Swim of 2009 in an online poll it was a great accomplishment first and foremost by Smilley, but it also proved to be a tremendous example of how the passion and devotion of Special Olympics athletes, families and supporters has successfully transcended to the Internet thru social media and other online communities.

The story of Smilley’s swim is full of inspiration, empowerment and determination, as shown by the polling results in which he topped a list of 22 other world class swims. But for those who weren’t able to be in San Francisco, California to cheer Smilley on to his world class achievement, the fun begins in hearing about his story after the fact and being able to show their support for him in ways never before available thru Special Olympics.

Over the last year Special Olympics has engaged its athletes, supporters, fans and newcomers thru a variety of online and social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and our own Fan Community. With steady levels of growth across all of the aforementioned platforms, we've been able to more effectively tell the story of Special Olympics thru athletes like Andrew Smilley, ultimately resulting in increased engagement in Special Olympics. Most importantly this online growth and raised awareness has challenged the world to rethink the way they see our athletes from "those disabled kids" to athletes with intellectual disabilities who are capable of accomplishing great things of which many only dream.

One of the great assets of Special Olympics is the innate sense of community that envelopes everyone, with or without an intellectual disability, when they get involved. Our social media channels have allowed us to expand that community to the online space, and our community is growing.

On Facebook our fans have increased from 8,000 in January 2009, to more than 53,000 fans just one year later. Our Facebook fans played a huge roll in helping the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games be voted Sports Travel Magazine's Best Sporting Event of 2009 against other sporting events like the NCAA Men’s Final Four, the NHL Stanley Cup Finals and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. We’ve been able to promote many sponsorship campaigns with Coca-Cola, Safeway, Wal-Mart, eBay, P&G and Shutterfly. Our fans also helped Special Olympics Montana coach Jessica Rago's "Aha Moment" video about coaching a Special Olympics athlete to be highlighted in Mutual Bank of Omaha’s national ad campaign.

With nearly 3,000 Twitter followers for Special Olympics and Spread the Word to End the Word we’ve helped raise awareness for many campaigns and events. During our annual "Spread the Word to End the Word" day on March 31, 2009 our Tweets and our followers re-Tweets drove tens of thousands of online pledges with Twitter the No. 1 website referrer to www.r-word.org. During the difficult time in August after the passing of our Founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, it was our Twitter handle, picked up by WCVB-TV’s website, that allowed us to communicate many personal moments and thoughts from those at the wake of Mrs. Shriver.

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