When Jenny Jones won Olympic bronze at the Sochi Games, her following on Twitter exploded. The audience for (at)jennyjonessnow has grown 10-fold, to 65,000 followers, in the three weeks since the British snowboarder tweeted: ''Just found out I officially made the GB winter Olympic team. Whoop!''
Olympic success is also working wonders for (at)sagekotsenburg. The U.S. snowboarder's account had 13,645 followers when he got the gold in slopestyle and tweeted: ''WOW!! I just won the Olympics!!'' That number grew to 14,196 in 30 minutes, 16,697 in an hour, 40,791 in 24 hours and to nearly 64,000 by Friday.
Vacuuming up followers on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms is the smart play for Olympians at the Sochi Games. Athletes who catch and ride the once-every-four-years wave of social media interest in all things Winter Olympics, sharing pictures, thoughts and stories from their privileged backstage access at the games, could come home from Russia with stronger hands to woo new sponsors or squeeze more money from existing ones.
''They only have one shot at getting in the zeitgeist,'' says Walter Delph, CEO of Adly, which helps brands build buzz via social media movers and shakers. His advice to Olympians: ''Grab the followers, grab the volume now because that is the best opportunity.''
It used to be that Olympians had only traditional media - newspapers, reporters and later radio and TV - to tell their stories and recount their feats. Although they are still required to brave thickets of microphones and gauntlets of reporters after competing, they also are increasingly cutting out the middle men and addressing global audiences directly in 140-characters or less.
Savvy Olympians, their sponsors and managers made sure they came to Sochi prepared not only to compete with each other on snow and ice but also in an arm-wrestle for social media attention and buzz. Being cool and engaging on Twitter and posting eye-catching photos on Instagram are becoming the 21st century equivalents of a 1,000-megawatt smile - practically a must-have. U.S. snowboarder Faye Gulini, for example, opened her Twitter account three weeks before flying to Sochi, prompted by the radio station she works with in Salt Lake City, her hometown.
''The more people that know who I am, the better off I am,'' she says. ''The more people that follow you on your social media, the more people know of you and then that opens up doors