PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — One day in December, Courtney Harkins was listening to one of her favorite NPR programs, “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” when comedian Paula Poundstone went on a rant about cross-country skiing.
Harkins, who was born and raised in Boston and is now content manager for US Ski and Snowboard, knew it was the kind of thing that demanded a response.
“I have fallen in love with cross-country skiing and the team that we have and the girls that we work with, and the fact that she even directed the tirade at the female team, I was like all right, we can play with this,” Harkins said one morning recently at the Olympics, where she is spearheading social media for all of US Ski and Snowboard’s teams at the Games.
Rather than go on the attack, though, Harkins chose to lay out the facts of the matter. OK, she added a bit of snark.
When the Olympics are over, Harkins intends to continue working with Poundstone’s representatives to get her on cross-country skis to experience it for herself.
Harkins is one of the many social media whizzes who works behind the scenes operating a Twitter account for organizations participating in the Olympics.
“I want it to be really relevant and quick, so that people have to look there for the behind-the-scenes information and for that instant content,” Harkins said of the @USSkiTeam account, which covers all the teams under the US Ski and Snowboard umbrella.
She focuses on going beyond what you see on television, such as Mikaela Shiffrin after she leaves the finish area, or cross-country skier Jessie Diggins as she prepares to race.
“We want that second-screen mentality, which I think everyone is craving right now,” Harkins said. “But then also, we want to be fun, and, you know, sassy.”
Here’s a look at some of the other faces behind the best Olympics Twitter handles for a team or organization.
Who’s in charge? Lyndsay Signor, Senior Director, Consumer Engagement, NBC Sports and Olympics
Brief background: Originally from central Pennsylvania and grew up in North Carolina. Now lives in Connecticut with husband Dan, daughter Millie, and dog Peggy. Leads a team effort on the account, and says “everyone is passionate about the Games.” Ryan Irwin, a San Francisco native and Villanova alum, manages the day-to-day social media operation at NBC Sports and Olympics and is responsible for the oversight of the content and the community managers.
What do you want the account to be known for? “The goal of @NBCOlympics is to inform and entertain. We want to be a place that Olympic fans can find useful articles, tune-in information, stats, and highlights. We also want to have fun, and generate buzz with unique and custom content that truly resonates with social media culture.”
Favorite post? “For the 2018 Winter Olympics, my favorite custom post was with Adam Rippon where we removed his eyebrows in a photo, added on celebrity eyebrows, and asked him to guess whose eyebrows they were. It’s a ridiculous idea, but we capitalized on a moment, turned around an original video, and it allowed us to drive more awareness and buzz around Adam as he headed into the men’s individual figure skating competition.”
Who’s in charge? Andrew Ketterer, Manager of Social Media & Digital Content
Background: Grew up in Peoria, Ill., started playing hockey at age 4. Graduated from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in 2014 with a double major in marketing and sports management. Joined USA Hockey as the Coordinator of Social Media & Digital Content at the end of 2015.
What do you want the account to be known for? “More than anything, I want our account to be known for promoting and growing the greatest game on earth. Whether it’s our development programs at the youth and junior levels, adult hockey events, coaching and officiating efforts, disabled hockey initiatives or coverage of our national teams, the goal is to give our audience content and access that will generate interest in our sport.”
Favorite post? “When Auston Matthews was chosen No. 1 in the NHL Draft. It incorporates so much of what USA Hockey’s core mission has always been. We listed the players’ youth hockey associations as a tribute to the grass-roots volunteers that do so much to grow the game. Furthermore, Auston Matthews grew up in Arizona, a nontraditional hockey market, showcasing the fact that passion for the game is rising across the country. The tweet also promotes his experience with various US National teams, including his time at the National Team Development Program in Michigan. Several communications team members put in a lot of work behind the scenes to collect information and prep for our coverage of the draft, and it paid off when he was selected with the first overall pick.”
Who’s in charge? Sora Hwang, communications coordinator, US Figure Skating
Background: Graduated from Northeastern University in 2016. Co-oped at Us Weekly, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Sony Music. Was assistant social media editor at Rolling Stone before joining the US Figure Skating team as the communications coordinator last March.
What do you want the account to be known for? “My goal all season has been to share our athletes’ stories both on and off the ice. I want people to get to know our athletes’ incredible stories and feel connected to them, whether they’ve been following figure skating their entire lives or are tuning in for the first time during the Olympics. I want people to feel like they’re interacting with a friend when they engage with our account.”
@USBSF (US Bobsled & Skeleton Federation)
Who’s in charge? Kristen Gowdy, media and marketing assistant, United States Bobsled and Skeleton.
Background: Originally from Santa Barbara, Calif., but moved across the country in 2012 to attend Ithaca College, where she served as sports editor of the school newspaper. She also interned at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Seattle Times, the Colorado Springs Gazette, and Presidio Sports. During a study abroad trip, she attended a bobsled and skeleton World Cup event, and fell in love with the sports. A professor with connections to the US Bobsled & Skeleton Federation helped her get a free-lance job there. Joined the organization full time in March 2016.
What do you want the account to be known for? “Running our social media pages is just one part of my job — since we’re such a small staff, we all wear many hats — but it has become an important tool for me to interact with athletes, fans, and media. My goal on our Twitter page is to be as interactive and friendly as possible. I try to respond to (or at least ‘favorite’) anyone who tweets at us so that they feel like they’re part of the team and continue supporting us. Because bobsled and skeleton are such niche sports, I’ve utilized our social media pages to grow our fan base as much as possible. I want the account to be known for wittiness, accessibility, accuracy, and timeliness.”
Favorite post? “Probably when William Shatner tweeted at the account saying that he loved a cover photo I had designed. It hugely benefited the account — we got a ton of followers and traffic because of it — and our athletes thought it was the coolest thing ever. We’re still trying to get him up to Lake Placid for a bobsled ride!”
@TeamUSA (US Olympic Committee)
Who’s in charge: Hannah Miller, manager of social media strategy, USOC
Background: From Dallas, holds bachelor’s degrees in sports media and strategic communications from Oklahoma State. She leads the development, implementation, creative vision, and growth of Team USA’s social media strategy. Oversees and manages the production and execution of social media content on the Team USA social media channels.
What do you want the account to be known for? “Highlighting the incredible stories of Team USA athletes, celebrating their outstanding achievements and connecting fans with Team USA and the Olympic Movement.”
@usacurl (USA Curling)
Who’s in charge? Terry Davis, Director of Communications, USA Curling
Background: Lives in Stevens Point, Wis., where USA Curling’s headquarters is located. Has been with USA Curling for 15 years and worked as a journalist before that.
What do you want the account to be known for? “Giving quick updates during games, but to also display a personality. We want our audience to know how much we care and that we can hear them as well. It amazes me how excited people get from a retweet, and quite honestly, that makes me feel good. During non-competitions, I want the account to be a curling source that people go to for information first.”
Favorite post? “I can’t say that I have a favorite post, but in big games when there is no TV coverage and people are living vicariously through game-coverage tweets, I want them to feel the excitement. [Here’s] an example from a [recent] nailbiter.”
Who’s in charge: Matt Whewell, Communications Director, US Speedskating
Background: Graduated from University of Akron, and has worked with Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies, and USA Swimming.
What do you want the account to be known for? “Fun, witty and interesting content that creates awareness and grows a fanbase for a lesser publicized sport outside of the Olympics period.”
Who’s in charge: Paul Saunders manages the English-language side of the account.
Background: A journalist from Ireland, he was traveling around Asia when he saw the job listing online for an English editor of digital communications and decided to apply to be part of a team of 10 that manages the accounts in multiple languages. He arrived a couple weeks before the games began.
What do you want the account to be known for? “Just broadcasting the games, of the spirit, of the people. I know, cheesy, the Olympic spirit, but you can kind of feel it, it’s really important. It’s showing people what’s happening on a day-to-day basis, the results, and the athletes as well.”
Favorite post? “I liked, and we got help with the Australian Olympic team on this, it was a silly little thing, but we had [PyeongChang mascot] Soohorang and their mascot, which is a boxing kangaroo, just doing little stuff together. It just looked really nice.”Matt Pepin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpep15.