Simone Biles and Belize Tourism Board: An Olympic-sized social moment

Even more than Olympic legends Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, Biles was the biggest story of the Games.

The Olympics captivate the world for two weeks, so it’s only natural for brands to try to find ways to tie themselves to the Games. Barring a major sponsorship deal, however, it’s difficult to do, because of strict rules against associating with athletes and trademarks.

One of the few non-sponsors to break through was the Belize Tourism Board, which “struck gold” (according to PR Week) with relevant social media activity that connected the country to Rio’s biggest breakthrough star, U.S. gymnast Simone Biles.

Even more than Olympic legends Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, Biles was the biggest story of the Games. The jaw-dropping athleticism of her routines won her four gold and one bronze medals, comparisons to some of the greatest gymnasts ever and national admiration. Her success also brought attention to her background: She happens to be a dual citizen of Belize and loves visiting the tiny Central American country (when she’s not dominating on the floor). 

Working with Olson Engage, Biles’ success provided a platform for the country to share in Simone’s glory. So, just as American TV viewers were preparing to watch Simone’s tape-delayed triumph in the All-Around competition, Belize struck via Twitter, inviting Simone and all of her teammates (known as the “Final Five”) to enjoy a much-deserved vacation after the Games.

Within minutes of posting the offer on Twitter, Simone accepted:

my second home, you betta belize we're coming ❤️?

— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) August 12, 2016


While Simone’s tweet immediately hit a large audience, Engage opportunistically fanned the flames further by pitching sports, pop culture and news outlets, landing hits in USA Today, CNN, Good Morning America, People, NBC Olympics, TIME and Elite Daily, to name just a few. The exchange also generated more than 40,000 social media engagements, including retweets from fellow Olympians and influencers.

This type of “right-time engagement” is tempting for all brands, but the Biles tweet is a reminder of three key factors to consider:

1. Timing is critical

The Belize Tourism Board made the offer after Simone won gold in the individual all-around competition, but before it was televised. This gave the PR team a head start for pitching, and the media time to craft their stories so they could publish as soon as Simone claimed the podium during the broadcast.

 2. Keep it simple

The story was relevant, simple and easily conveyed in a single tweet. Right-time attempts that require explanation or context will not work. (Simplicity was also useful here in following the strict Olympics marketing guidelines, which forbid usage of a wide-range of Olympics-related terms, names and places).

3. Authenticity equals permission

Biles’ Belizean heritage gave Belize a real reason to try to engage her, and, of course, was the reason she responded. Brands who want to leverage a developing story for coverage need a real connection to do so. In this case, that connection was felt on both sides. As evidenced by their tweets and comments, people all over Belize took pride in amplifying their connection to a world champion.

Ultimately this type of influencer engagement is highly valuable to brands when it's authentic and in real time around an event as meaningful as the Olympics. We can't wait to see what Biles will post once she takes her trip with the Final Five!

Simone Biles on Instagram
Simone Biles on Instagram