Flash in the bowl: how Phelps fared online

A nation seeking an escape from bad economic news, a massively popular Olympian, and drug use were an obvious recipe for a tabloid sensation.† So when the photo of Michael Phelps hunched over a bong hit the news, the social media reaction was predictably huge.

YouTube mined the funnier side of the episode while a number of blogger tackled the allegations a bit more seriously.

At the start of the month, the incident threatened to cast a pall the greatest story in sports since Lance Armstrong’s 7th Tour de France win. Kellogg’s pulled Phelps’s endorsement deal, removing the Corn Flakes box from his overburdened trophy case. Kellogg’s may have damaged their brand with the move, and one social media indicator we measured reveals that damage to Phelps’s reputation may have been fleeting.

Breakdown of Twitter Commentary - February

Using Twitter to gauge the digerati’s reaction to the affair, it appears the verdict on Phelps’ behavior is a collective shrug.† Supportive Tweets for Phelps outnumbered criticism 2:1 consistently since the news broke at the start of the month.† That figure rises to 4:1 if one includes criticism of marijuana laws and their enforcement by the Richland County sheriff spurred by the incident.† In particular, the contrasting treatment of A-Rod’s steroid allegations anchored† assertions that drug enforcement is inconsistent or illogical.

In recent days, volume has slowed to a trickle as the story has come to a conclusion† with no charges being filed against Phelps.† The swimmer remains suspended from competition and has withdrawn temporarily from the public eye. However, based on Twitter I’d say the swimmer will be able to easily forget this one, even without lighting up.


Written by Wayne St Amand

Wayne St. Amand is a veteran marketing leader with a track record of significantly accelerating the growth trajectory and valuation of technology businesses. At Crimson Hexagon, St. Amand is responsible for driving business expansion through the company's global corporate and product marketing efforts.

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