LA 2024 Reaches Million Facebook Follower Milestone Amid French Suspicions of Unfair Play

The Los Angeles bid to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games has been forced to deny claims that it ‘bought’ Facebook followers to reach it’s million-member milestone, an achievement the bid lauded in a press release Monday claiming that it was the first ever bid to reach the plateau.

LA 2024 Olympic bid supporters rally at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to launch international campaign February 2, 2017 (USOC Photo)

LA 2024 Olympic bid supporters rally at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to launch international campaign February 2, 2017 (USOC Photo)

LA 2024 has eclipsed the one million Facebook follower mark since the announcement, currently at over 1,042,000.  In contrast Paris has about 236,000 followers on the social media platform.

French reports, including from Le Figaro, disclosed research showing a recent surge of new Facebook followers from members far from United States including many in the Middle East and especially from low-income countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.

Nicolas Vanderbiest doing research for Reputatiolab based in Brussels said in a report that the results looked like what he called “digital doping”, a technique where artificial followers are purchased from a third party solely to inflate the apparent member count.  The followers are often real people who are paid to click “follow” but may have no real interest in the Facebook page.

Suspicions have grown in the mainstream French media as well as in a report by AP Tuesday that cites various sources saying the data is consistent with paid “likes.”  Others say it seems more than coincidental that the surge culminated during a critical week as the bids made their first formal presentations of the year Tuesday at the SportAccord Convention in Aarhus, Denmark where several IOC members and stakeholders were present.

LA 2024 has been leveraging social media savvy as one of the drivers behind their connection with youth and the new digital media world they embrace.  It has been showcased as a key feature of the bid.

But LA 2024 spokesperson Jeff Millman told GamesBids.com Tuesday that there was nothing nefarious about the bid’s Facebook growth, he said “bids advertise on traditional and social media, and all Facebook advertising [by LA 2024] has been purchased directly on Facebook.”

Indeed, Facebook offers a robust advertising platform that enables users to target specific demographics and markets and is often an efficient way to reach customers.  But in the world of Olympic bidding, the word “customers” takes on a new meaning.

During the domestic campaign framed by the first set of phases in the bid process, the bid committees worked to build local and regional support from governments and the general public.  A poll last year revealed that 88 percent in LA support the bid and the project has been endorsed by all relevant government levels.  That would account for the large base of U.S. members that followed the bid last year, something Vanderbiest found in his data.

But he said in recent months there has been a member surge from far-away places including Bangladesh where the second highest number of followers reside, after the United States.  More than 80 per cent of the ‘likes’ have been accumulated in that time frame, most from overseas.

That period coincides with the International phase of the campaign where since February 3 bids are permitted to advertise globally in order to reach a unique customer base, the almost 100 members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and a handful of other influential stakeholders scattered across the planet.  It’s an advertiser’s worst nightmare.

Paris 2024 strapline "Made for Sharing" projected on Eiffel Tower in French (Paris 2024 Photo)

Paris 2024 strapline “Made for Sharing” projected on Eiffel Tower in French, is part of a social media campaign (Paris 2024 Photo)

Facebook advertising works best when a demographic is tightly targeted, but in the case of the Olympic bids, in order to reach the target, the marketing personnel need to cast a large net.

LA wouldn’t likely target the United States, or France for that matter since there are no eligible voters in those nations.  But if LA 2024 otherwise put it’s Facebook budget on a global target, Facebook’s algorithm would likely step in to find the most efficient use of funds in order to ensure new “likes”  – an option the platform offers to marketers.

Millman said “Facebook advertising is more efficient in countries where there is less competition from other brands.”

So we tested it.

The GamesBids.com test showed that an ad specifically targeted to Bangladesh was several more times cost-efficient than an ad targeted at many other countries.  With less likely ad competition, and a high population, it would seem countries like Bangladesh and others on the researcher’s list was a point of low resistance.

In our test, the Facebook algorithm said each dollar spent in Bangladesh could reach 18 times more people than one targeted at the United States.  Bangladesh has a population of almost 160 million, Pakistan nearly 180 million.  A mindless Facebook algorithm would likely feast on this opportunity.

Millman said “LA, as a hub of global storytelling and technology, speaks to the world’s youth every day, and LA 2024 has shared exciting content about our bid with a young audience around the world.”

LA 2024 has leveraged social media, including such platforms as Snapchat to reach youth across the United States and the world.  Recently it released the “What’s Not in the Bid Book.” video series that is featured on Facebook and other platforms.

 

Bid Chair Casey Wasserman said “On behalf of LA 2024, I would like to thank the more than one million fans, 79% of whom are under the age of 34, who have liked us on Facebook.”

“Their incredible appetite for LA 2024’s stories and their desire to Follow the Sun to LA in 2024 reinforce our belief that LA 2024 is the ideal partner for the Olympic and Paralympic Movements at this critical time.”

On Twitter LA has over 115,000 followers, ahead of Paris’ 88,000.  But the two cities are almost even on Instagram with almost 20,000 followers for LA and just over 19,000 for Paris.

In February the Paris 2024 bid campaign announced that a #MadeForSharing promotional video was viewed more than a million times over 100 hours on various platforms, and the hashtag itself received over 328 million impressions.  No data on the geographic source of those views was disclosed.

LA and Paris are competing to host the 2024 Olympic Games with the winner set to be announced by the IOC September 13 in Lima, Peru.

Robert Livingstone

About Robert Livingstone

Robert Livingstone is a senior editor, award-winning journalist and author, covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. He is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians. Follow him @enotsgnivil