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Tradition and technology merge at the Arctic Winter Games

By Hope Miller 3:29 PM March 21, 2014

A week-long event where old meets new

By Hope Miller. Posted Friday, March 21, 2014. 

ANCHORAGE - Bringing people together is a cornerstone of the Arctic Winter Games, and a social media storm surrounding the week-long event is furthering that goal.

Including Alaska, nine contingents across the circumpolar north are gathered in Fairbanks, competing in events that range from ancestral traditions to sports like basketball and table tennis.

Two thousand young athletes are participating, but they’re also taking time to tweet, Facebook and post photos to Instagram in a way that’s hard to miss if you’re following the games. When they’re in full swing during the day, you can expect a tweet or retweet on the AWG 2014 account every couple minutes.

It’s what Andrew Cassel, co-chairman of the social media committee for AWG, said he hoped would happen.

Also the multimedia coordinator at University of Alaska Fairbanks, Cassel started hashing out a social media strategy for the games about a year ago, he said.

Cassel said he wanted to incorporate all the best parts of social media to “let more people around the world know what these games are.”

Beyond educating people who live outside the circumpolar north, Cassel said he also wanted to connect competitors from the eight other contingents with their friends and family members back home.

It seems to be working. On Facebook, analytics indicate a large chunk of people perusing the social media platform are based in places like Greenland and Canada, Cassel said.

On Instagram, it’s mostly the participants who are posting square-shaped, vintage-looking photos and videos, he said.

But what’s been the real success, Cassel said, is the use of the games’ hashtag, #AWG2014.

By Friday morning, there were more than 3,000 Instagram pictures that used the #AWG2014. The published posts feature everything from medal selfies to athletes in action to memorabilia snapshots. The tweets are too vast to count. An official AWG pin with the hashtag on it epitomizes the social media focus of this year’s games.

Cassel and the participants are by no means alone in their social media endeavors. About 30 volunteers, who work in four-hour shifts, are assisting too, Cassel said. They watch the games, tweet and take pictures.

Contingents also have media liaisons with fast-moving fingers to help.

Kennis Brady, the Team Alaska media liaison, said a social media outpouring is inevitable when you get a bunch of young people in close quarters for an extended period of time.

But it’s a positive frenzy, she said. With venues that are spread out and a jam-packed schedule, social media helps keep competitors, spectators and families plugged in.

Maya Narang, 16, and Grace Lee, 14, are figure skating medalists for Team Alaska and avid tweeters, they said. They’ve also been posting plenty on Facebook and Twitter, sharing their experiences at the Arctic Winter Games with friends and family.

For Maya and Grace, making new friends from other countries is one of the best aspects of the games, they said. And social media will help them stay in touch long after the games are over.

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