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Social Media Saturday: FIFA World Cup 2014 Edition

First Posted: Jun 14, 2014 12:45 PM EDT
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The World Cup, which kicked off this Thursday, is expected to be the most social media-intensive event in history. Already, in the year leading up to the world's biggest single-sport event, the phrase "World Cup" has outpaced other big sporting events in social media mentions. Here's how Twitter, Facebook and others have prepared and how they hope to capitalize on the World Cup.

The World Cup 2014 Will Probably Make Social Media History

Before kickoff even began, there were signs that the World Cup 2014 would be the biggest event in social media history. Joe Martin, Adobe Digital Index's senior analyst and expert in social media, told Forbes this week that since June 2013, the phrase "World Cup" got 19 million mentions, which is higher than both the Super Bowl 2014 and Sochi Winter Olympics.

"If you look at the 2014 World Cup, Sochi Winter Olympics and Super Bowl six months prior to each event, projections show the World Cup is looking to surpass both of those events. The term 'World Cup' is averaging 500,000 mentions per day. If that rate remains, it will surpass the Sochi Winter Olympics in terms of mentions in June," said Martin.

Day 1: World Cup Is Already Breaking Social Media Records

Those predictions were confirmed as soon as on day one of the World Cup 2014. For example, digital marketing company Unruly released statistics showing that the top 20 most popular World Cup commercials have already bested the top 20 Super Bowl 2014 ads -- mind you, this is the U.S. sporting event where the ads have become as important as the sport itself -- by almost a third more shares.

And Facebook said that just the opening match on Thursday generated 58 million comments and more than 140 million interactions -- almost five times as many posts as the Oscars, according to Variety. The opening game even beat the Oscars for activity on Twitter -- host Ellen DeGeneres's most-retweeted selfie ever. The Oscars got 11.2 million tweets, but the opening Brazil-Croatia match beat that record by a million tweets.

Facebook's Play: Trending World Cup

Facebook has prepared for the World Cup by creating a dedicated hub for the event, which is accessible across all platforms (including feature phones) called "Trending World Cup."

Facebook's World Cup hub posts scores and highlights, includes a personalized feed with real-time posts from friends and updates about players and teams you follow, and includes an interactive map that shows fans where top players are from around the world and how popular they are in various countries. Facebook very astutely put a direct link (a soccer ball icon) to Trending World Cup in its "Facebook for Every Phone" app for low-end feature phones. Seeing as how much of the world that still uses feature phones (like Latin America, although it's rapidly trending towards smartphones) coincides with locations of some of the most football-crazy fans, Facebook could find itself engaging a new audience like never before.

Trending World Cup is also available for feature phones running "Facebook for Every Phone" app

Facebook also added a feature to its smartphone app that lets you share with friends what game you're watching with the touch of a button. It also launched a comedic feature page called Facebook Ref, which includes videos of color commentary and World Cup updates from Facebook's own "official" ref.

Twitter: World Cup Is a Chance for Redemption

Twitter has had a pretty bad couple of months with investors in the newly public social media brand. It's perceived as having too much of a learning curve, little average user interaction and anemic growth. These perceptions have led to the company's stock price being down about 45 percent on the year.

But Twitter's plans and preparations for the World Cup make Facebook's efforts look like it's not doing enough.

After publishing a how-to follow guide for World Cup fans 10 days before kickoff, providing lists of every team's official Twitter account, the most-followed players, hashtags and other helpful information, Twitter made it clear that was just the start.

On Tuesday, Twitter announced changes to its platform, including how new users sign up, all geared around encouraging World Cup interactions.

One of those changes include official World Cup timelines, using the hashtags #WorldCup or #WorldCup2014, that will include tweets from your network, along with select, relevant tweets from teams, players, coaches, press, fans and celebrities. Within those hubs, Twitter has made it easy to switch to specific match timeline views -- without looking up the right hashtags -- to follow games in real time, along with an option to only view tweets with photos attached. For videos, Twitter-owned Vine will be rolling out its own six-second World Cup hub.

Twitter also brought back the "Hashflags" feature from World Cup 2010, which automatically adds a colorful mini-flag whenever you tweet a country's three-letter country code with a hashtag.

And just on Friday, Twitter rolled out a mobile translation feature, powered by Bing, for its iOS and Android apps, according to The Next Web. Just click on any tweet in a language you don't understand, select "translate" and an auto-translation will appear under the tweet. It's rough computer translation unlike the service being offered by One Hour Translation's Twitter account @OHT (it won't take an hour) starting June 16. But Twitter's Bing translation is baked into the official app, and it's instantaneous. Bing translation is also available on Twitter's website automatically.

Twitter's Unique World Cup Signup and Curation:

Evangelizing Fans to Join and Participate

But perhaps the biggest feature of all -- one that may help Twitter with its biggest problem of gaining and retaining active users -- is a change to the signup process for new users. If you sign up for Twitter during the World Cup, you're automatically asked if you're interested in following the tournament.

If you say yes, you're prompted to choose a team you want to follow. Twitter will then set you up with its custom World Cup timeline with an algorithmically chosen "starter kit" -- a network of tweets from players, media, coaches and fans that are most likely to be relevant and follow-worthy to fans of a particular country.

This is an attempt to solve the biggest obstacle for new users to become active and stay on the social media platform, which is finding relevant accounts and hashtags to follow, by making a Twitter-curated introductory experience. The company likely hopes that once the World Cup is over, new users will have gotten past the learning curve and will have struck out on their own to customize their timelines with other subjects and accounts of interest.

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