EXO blew up social media during the Winter Olympics closing ceremony - SupChina

EXO blew up social media during the Winter Olympics closing ceremony

The Korean-Chinese boy band took over the Olympics' official Twitter account. #Olympics_EXO mania ensued.

As a sportswriter with a particular fondness for the Olympics, I’ve been following the Pyeongchang Games closely, especially via all the various sports channels on Twitter. While most of the posts on Sunday concerned the final sporting results, Russia’s flagless contingent or Ivanka’s presence at the closing ceremony, I started to notice something else.

The two ceremonies that bookend any Olympic Games always get plenty of attention, especially outside traditional sporting audiences, and this one was no different. Korean-Chinese boy band EXO was one of the star attractions at the closing ceremony and, well, they are rather popular online.

I got a little insight into this phenomenon a few weeks ago while researching a piece I wrote for SportBusiness about the use of former EXO member Kris Wu, now a solo performer (plus actor and model), and his association with sports. The NFL had just appointed Wu as the official Super Bowl ambassador for NFL China, while he has also played in the past three NBA All-Star celebrity games. Brands — in this case sports leagues — are essentially using him to widen their appeal to a new, hyper-engaged audience. Many of those fans don’t really care about the sport, but at the very least it does create a whole lot of “buzz” online, if only temporarily.

I’m not in the business of posting pictures of boy band stars on a regular basis, but if there’s a China/sports connection, then I’m all in. One post on Twitter about the announcement that Wu would perform in the build-up to Super Bowl 52 drew a combined 1,300 likes, retweets, and replies, while another picture of him on the field prior to kickoff garnered a combined total of close to 1,700.

There’s been a lot of focus on Twitter bots recently, especially those originating in Russia, with this New York Times piece exposing how many accounts — including Xinhua News — had bought thousands of fake followers, although it’s worth noting that the situation on Chinese social media platforms is far, far worse.

However, the vast majority of responses to the Kris Wu posts appeared to be from real fans. How much interest they actually had in the NFL is an entirely different question.

But back to last night.

EXO had announced that they would be taking over the official Olympics Twitter account for a few hours, with a series of posts purporting to be from individual band members each receiving upwards of 160,000 retweets and likes, 10 to 20 times better than previous popular posts on the account. The Olympic Channel repeated the trick, also seeing a massive jump in engagements.

Canada’s CBC, for whom I worked at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, then tried the same trick, with a clip of EXO’s performance receiving 272 times as many retweets as the account’s previous tweet — a video of the now-famous topless Tongan athlete Pita Taufatofua, who himself usually receives a pretty warm reception online for some reason…

The same thing was happening elsewhere, so I tried something out.

EXO fans, who now know call themselves EXO-Ls, did not disappoint, with 5,752 retweeting the post in the first hour alone, while another 3,123 hit “like.” Overnight, that number has grown to 14,000 retweets and 9,000 likes, which Twitter equates to 37,000 engagements and 282,000 impressions.

What’s more, it was pointed out to me by some eagle-eyed EXO-Ls that I actually used the wrong hashtag, typing #EXO_Olympics instead of the officially designated #Olympics_EXO — not that it seemed to matter.

Then, by pure coincidence I’m sure, Global Times and Xinhua Sports repeated the trick about an hour later, with similar results. CBC has been at it again this morning, with the clickbait posts clearly proving irresistible to their social media managers.

While it’s a fascinating cultural phenomenon, there are some real consequences from a social media perspective. PR firms are often directly compensated according to their results, and strategies like these could see them blow through agreed targets, with individual anomalies lost in the presentation of year-end results.

One word of warning though — you don’t want to piss off the EXO-Ls.

After two Korean speed skaters — one of whom had previously declared herself to be an EXO fan — appeared to abandon their slower teammate in the ladies’ team pursuit, fans mobilized online to say they had brought shame to EXO nation, prompting the swift shutdown of the skaters’ social media accounts.

Mark Dreyer

The China Sports Column is written by Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website, which features sports news and analysis related to China’s fast-growing sports industry. He has worked for Sky Sports, Fox Sports, AP Sports and many others, and has covered major sporting events on five continents, including three Olympic Games. He has been based in China since 2007. Follow him @DreyerChina


  1. Preeti Kandulna Reply

    At the end, the fact is EXO and EXOLS are huge!
    EXOL is the official fandom name of EXO. This success of theirs is only because of their hard work and dedication all these 6 years since their debut. Also, because of the the years of effort as trainees. They are humble third generation k-pop sensations. Wherever they go, they never forget one quality and that is humility. This quality of theirs makes them even more special. They have been well recognized by the South-Korean Government as well. They hold the Guiness World Record of most Daesangs or Grand Prizes won i.e 24 Daesangs. More than 100+ music show wins. They hold the record of fastest sold out concerts. Amongst all these achievements, they still remain down-to-earth. Where ever they go, they never forget the 90° bow (a sign of respect in Korean culture) especially Suho, the group leader, whose real name is Kim Jun Myeon. They have been and are still the respectful to their seniors like Big Bang, Super Junior, Girls Generation and many more. They have been part of various charity organizations too. The profit from their winter albums, goes to the poor and needy. The members have taken up individual projects too, to help those in need. They have been always thankful for whatever they have and have always expressed their thankfulness.
    I hope that people recognize these really talented boys. They deserve all the love in this world.

  2. Jannah Pinarok Reply

    EXO has a really big fanbase in korea alone, their fans can fill an award ceremony show and make it look like a concert, you should check it on GDA & MMA and compare it to the other performer. EXO is not only popular in korea but also around asian countries, America and Europe. In fact, they are the most popular with highest number of registered fans with 4mil+ on their official app and fan cafe in china (5mil). Lately, they sold out a 3 consecutive day concert in thailand and record as the fastest kpop artist to do so in less than an hour & not to tell that they also have the fastest concert ticket sold for 0.42 secs during exordium tour in 2014-2015 in korea. (Check it, if you doubt) They are also the only kpop act who was able to fill the tokyo dome without any japanese album, the dome can accomodate 71,000 people and they perform for 3 consecutive days and accumulate 215,000 participants to that said concert. EXO members are also active in fasion industry, last year Sehun(Exo member) was invited on louis vuitton runaway show and was choosen by vogue as best dressed, you can check it and see how he steals the spotlight from other popular american artist & proving again the popularity of EXO also Chanyeol in Tommy Hilfiger Fashion show. EXO has been very populary since their debut and doesn’t show any sign of “slowing”. A 6 year old group who can sold out everything they touch. In this century where digital arise EXO make the physical sale alive again in korea by selling 1 million copies of their first album+repackage, physical sale in korea has been dead for 12years. They have now the title “Quadruple million sellers” and the best selling boy group in korean industry beating the other older groups. It might be first time for others to hear about EXO especially from west people since EXO barely promote in America & are more focus on Asia & Korea. EXO is now a 24 Daesang holder (Highest Award in Award show) the most awarded Kpop idol with almost 400 awards (music shows awards, popularity award etc.) They are on guinness world record because of it. EXOs song “Power” was the first kpop song that was ever played on the biggest fountain show in the world in dubai. They were the only kpop group to be awarded a “Prime Minister Award” because of their big contribution in music industry In korea. 6 years in the Indurstry but EXO doesn’t stop making their own history. As a fan Im proud that I’ve been part of this journey. We are always here to support them.

    Thank you sir for your wonderful article, We appreciate it. More power to you sir.

    Ps. Excuse my poor english. Thank you.

  3. Baek's Aeri Reply

    THANK you for writing such a great article with facts attack! EXO and EXOL, I love you fam. Continue to work hard. WE ARE ONE Let’s Love!!

  4. Margaret Sanchez Reply

    I’m proud to be one of the EXOL. And most especially my one and only kpop artist EXO. GOD will always bless them for their humility. Thank you for publishing how EXO are and how they’re reached the best of the best.

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