Joining the Online Olympic Village

Samsung has launched an online community to connect people with U.S. Olympians that serves as an example of how social media platforms should be used.Social media is all about community and conversation. Now Samsung has launched a Facebook app that fosters a new level of online engagement with U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

The launch coincided with a splash of promotions reminding us the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London are only 100 days away. But the app itself has more far-reaching potential than just the Olympics. It embodies what social media platforms should do.

Called the U.S. Olympic Genome Project, users can participate by going to www.Samsung.com/HowOlympicAreYou and "like" it. Facebook fans answer questions about themselves to create robust profile that are used to find connection points with Olympic and Paralympic athletes, present and past.

Through the app, fans can take Olympic quizzes, find out about Olympic athletes and the Olympic movement and follow Team USA news. And they can share their new connections with other Facebook friends.

"The Olympic Games is one of the few global celebrations of human potential and achievement," says Ralph Santana, a Samsung senior vice president. "We wanted to give consumers the opportunity to be part of it in a personal way."

Fans gain status in the "community" by taking quizzes about the Olympics and finding more connections with Olympic athletes. You earn tokens as you rise in status that can be redeemed through contests for Samsung mobile products or even trips to London.

The U.S. Olympic Committee collaborated with Samsung to develop the app as a way to bolster interest in Team USA and increase financial support for athletic training.

"As a fan, it's incredibly exciting to find out the links you have to these amazing athletes," says Lisa Baird, chief marketing officer for the USOC. "You may discover that you attended the same school or have a friend in common with Olympic athletes. It makes it much more fun and personal to cheer on your favorite athletes."

In many ways, this level of community engagement is the unspoken promise of social media. Too often, social media sites posted by companies and organizations fall far short of that promise. They push content without encouraging conversation and community.

The U.S. Olympic Genome Project starts with the expansive view that we are all connected in some way to the men and women who participate in these games. It creates an online village for us to get acquainted, talk and share information.

There are many great examples of companies engaging their consumers on social media. There aren't enough examples of using social media platforms to create communities where the engagement is more organic and with a deeper purpose than simply selling the company's products.