Thursday, 12 January 2012

LOCOG get it wrong on social media and volunteers

In my Third Sector blog this month I have written wrote about changing people’s perceptions of volunteering.  I hope I encourage those who read my post to celebrate all kinds of volunteering and, in doing so, help show a side to volunteering that goes beyond the traditional stereotypes of volunteers being long-serving older people so common in the media.

Sadly, another common perception of volunteers is that they are not trustworthy and cannot be relied upon.  I have lost count of the times I’ve heard people say that volunteers cannot be given access to confidential information or entrusted with ‘important’ roles because they might not turn up to do them. 

Volunteers are no more inherently untrustworthy or unreliable than paid staff.  Such attitudes are often borne out of ignorance about volunteering and even fear that volunteers may do a better job than paid staff.

So in some ways I was not surprised to read that volunteers for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games were having strict rules imposed on them by LOCOG, effectively banning the use of social media. 

You can read coverage of this story on i-volunteer and the BBC website.

Initial responses from volunteer managers on UKVPMs seemed to support LOCOG, acknowledging that there were potential confidentiality and security issues at stake and that a social media policy would be found in most places so why not the Olympics.  The criticism seemed more focused at the way the policy was introduced not the fact that it existed at all.

In my view this misses the point.  LOCOG’s policy appears to be driven from a view that volunteers will be tweeting and posting sensitive information at every available opportunity.  In other words, that volunteers cannot be trusted and are inherently likely to screw things up. 

Why?  What evidence do they have for this?  Surely volunteers will be just as concerned about their safety and that of others as anyone else?  Why then assume they’ll be snapping pictures of security sensitive things and posting them online?

As one contributor to the debate on UKVPMs put it:

“Instant communication is the norm now and to try and restrict it is a sure fire way to anger people and end up with the situation you were trying to avoid in the first place. That is, I'm sure most people would have been tweeting about how much of a good time they were having, whereas such a policy suggests they would expect people to do otherwise. Doesn't say much for their opinion of the volunteers or their respect for their goodwill.”

I wonder, do LOCOG have such rules in place for Olympic staff and athletes or are they more trusted than volunteers?  And where is the voice of the LOCOG volunteer management team, standing up for the Games Makers rather than kowtowing to this policy of their communications colleagues?

There are lots of other reasons why LOCOG’s rules are a daft idea.  Blogger Paul Adams outlines some of these from a social media perspective.

In conclusion, whilst I wonder if my predictions for volunteering and the Games are already coming true, I want to note that the original story had a wonderfully ironic postscript. 

Just under 24 hours after the original story broke the BBC also reported that the British Olympic Association wants London 2012 to be the ‘Twitter Games’. 

Perhaps LOCOG’s communications team (all paid staff I would guess) should have been more reliable and professional about doing co-ordinating their messages with their Olympic partners instead of assuming the worst about the online behaviour of their volunteers?


  1. Hi Rob, you make a fair point. Also I think LOCOG are naive if they think they can control conversations on social media. Their position makes them look silly at best, ignorant and controlling at worst, and it is insulting to their volunteers.

    Keep up the good work

  2. Posted on behalf of Jayne Cravens, Portland, Oregon, USA.


    Right on, Rob! As Susan Ellis says again and again, confidentiality is a TRAINING ISSUE. If the volunteers are well-screened and well-trained regarding athletes/ privacy and why that's important, organizational confidentiality policies and why that's important, etc., the Olympics isn't going to have any more of a problem with people posting inappropriate photos or negative comments or confidential information than they will have with people who are going to ignore this ban - and people WILL ignore this ban. The gauntlet is now - some volunteers are going to now seek ways to do it, mark my words!

    But I suspect this isn't just a fear that a volunteer is going to Tweet or blog something inappropriate - it's also the fear of official press people that a volunteers' tweets are going to become more popular than the official stuff.