Facebook, Twitter brace for World Cup fever

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Facebook, Twitter brace for World Cup fever
In this May 13, 2014, photo,This aerial view shot through an airplane window shows the Maracana stadium behind the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As opening day for the World Cup approaches, people continue to stage protests, some about the billions of dollars spent on the World Cup at a time of social hardship, but soccer is still a unifying force. The international soccer tournament will be the first in the South American nation since 1950. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)
Maracana stadium seen before the last Brazilian league soccer match in the stadium between Fluminense and Sao Paulo, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Brazil will host the World Cup soccer tournament starting on 12 June and Maracana stadium will host the World Cup Final match on 13 July. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
FILE - This March 26, 2014, file photo, released, by Portal da Copa, shows an aerial view of the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Portal da Copa, Daniel Basil, File) - SEE FURTHER WORLD CUP CONTENT AT APIMAGES.COM
In this May 11, 2014 photo, a couple takes a selfie during the Brazilian league soccer match between Fluminense and Flamengo, at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Experts say Cup visitors will discover that Brazil’s mobile communications services are severely lacking, mostly because the government and telephone companies are ill-prepared for the month-long tournament. Some even worry about possible mobile network blackouts. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne visits the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, April 7, 2014. The city of Rio de Janeiro will host the Olympics in 2016. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
A house painted with the colors of Germany is seen at the Complexo do Alemao slum, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 22, 2014. The upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup starts on 12 June. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
A man, far right, looks out from a barco regional (regional boat) as it docks in the port of Manacapuru, after departing from Manaus, Brazil, Thursday, May 22, 2014. The riverboats are usually two or three decks and travel between towns and villages. Manaus is one of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
A man sits next to a dog in the port of Manacapuru, near Manaus, Brazil, Thursday, May 22, 2014. Manaus is one of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Youth who are part of the Magic Football Club train on the beach of Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, May 22, 2014. This year's World Cup soccer tournament will be be hosted by Brazil starting in June. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
A man sits in a barco regional (regional boat) in the port of Manacapuru, after departing from Manaus, Brazil, Thursday, May 22, 2014. The riverboats are usually two or three decks and travel between towns and villages. Manaus is one of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Police helicopter hovers in front of the National Stadium during a practice for security operations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 22, 2014. The football stadium is a multi-purpose arena that will host games during the 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament that starts in June. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A woman walks on a street decorated for the upcoming World Cup in Manaus, Brazil, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Manaus is one of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this photo released by sportsbet.com.au, a hot air balloon in the likeness of Brazil’s Christ The Redeemer statute, wearing the colors of Australia's soccer team, floats over the Melbourne skyline Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Australia will begin their 2014 soccer World Cup campaign with a match against Chile, Saturday, in Cuiaba. (AP Photo/sportsbet.com.au, Dave Callow) EDITORIAL USE ONLY
In this Thursday, June 5, 2014 photo, people play soccer at the Tavares Bastos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Whether professional-grade or improvised, in high-rent neighborhoods or tucked into “favela” hillside slums, soccer fields are literally everywhere throughout this chaotic metropolis of 12 million. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Honduras’ national soccer team members arrive at the Sao Paulo International airport in Brazil, Monday, June 9, 2014. Honduras will play in group E of Brazil's 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

NEW YORK (AP) - This year's World Cup will play out on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and messaging apps like WhatsApp just as it progresses in stadiums from Sao Paulo to Rio De Janeiro.

Nearly 40 percent of Facebook's 1.28 billion users are fans of soccer, better known as football outside of the U.S. and Australia. On Tuesday, the world's biggest online social network is adding new features to help fans follow the World Cup - the world's most widely viewed sporting event - which takes place in Brazil from June 12 to July 13.

Facebook users will be able to keep track of their favorite teams and players throughout the tournament in a special World Cup section, called "Trending World Cup." Available on the Web as well as mobile devices, the hub will include the latest scores, game highlights as well as a feed with tournament-related posts from friends, players and teams. In addition, an interactive map will show where the fans of top players are located around the world. The company is also launching a page called FacebookRef, where fans can see commentary about the matches from "The Ref," Facebook's official tournament commentator.

Social media activity during big sporting events such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl has soared in recent years and should continue as user numbers grow. In 2010, when the last World Cup took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, Facebook had just 500 million users. Now there are just that many soccer fans (people who have "liked" a team or a player) on the site, the company says.

Facebook has recently focused on making its mobile app usable on simple phones that use slower data speeds since many of its newest users are in developing countries. As a result, Rebecca Van Dyck, head of consumer marketing at Facebook, said the World Cup hub will also be available on so-called "feature phones." Here the section will be "little less graphical" than what's shown on smartphones and on the Web, she said, but will include the same information.

Users can get to the World Cup hub by clicking on the hashtag #worldcup in a Facebook post, or by clicking on "World Cup" in the list of trending topics on the site.

In a nod to Twitter, Facebook, earlier this year, began displaying trending topics to show users the most popular topics at any given moment. The feature is currently available in the U.S., U.K., India, Canada and Australia.

"This is our first foray into this, especially for a big sporting event like this," Van Dyck said. "We're going to see how this goes. If people enjoy the experience it's something we'd like to push on."

Facebook, which counts 81 percent of its users outside the U.S. and Canada, is unveiling its World Cup features at a time when the company is working to become a place for more real-time, public conversations about big events- a la Twitter. Such events attract big advertising dollars, though the company is not saying how much money it expects to make from World Cup-related ads.

Not to be outdone, Twitter touted in a blog post last week that the "the only real-time #WorldCup global viewing party will be on Twitter, where you can track all 64 matches, experience every goal and love every second, both on and off the pitch."

Fans can follow individual teams or players and use the hashtag #WorldCup to tweet about the matches, and follow official accounts such as @FIFAWorldCup, @ussoccer for the United States team and @CBF_Futebol for Brazil's soccer governing body, for example.

The World Cup is the planet's most widely viewed sporting event. According to FIFA, which organizes the tournament, an estimated 909.6 million viewers watched at least one minute of the final 2010 game when Spain beat the Netherlands. In comparison, nearly 900 million people watched at least part of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics. On Twitter, more than 24.9 million tweets were sent out during this year's Super Bowl, up from 13.7 million just two years earlier.

Because it takes place over several weeks, marketers are gearing up for "a marathon, not a sprint," said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst for research firm eMarketer.

"Developing countries will be a key target for global brands," she said. "They will work hard to capture the attention of soccer fans in Latin America, Asia, Africa. The challenges (include the fact) that all the games are taking place in one place and the customers and marketers are in multiple time zones. This will require around the clock marketing."

For fans traveling to Brazil for the game and hoping to tweet and post about it on Facebook, the country's mobile communications services might pose their own challenge. Dropped voice calls are common even without the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans descending on the country. Accessing the Internet can be incredibly slow, and there's even some worry about network blackouts.

"World Cup visitors won't be able to communicate the way they want to," Christopher Gaffney, a visiting professor at Rio de Janeiro's Federal Fluminense University whose research focuses on Brazil's preparations for the World Cup and Olympics. "Instagram, Twitter, social media will not function at world class levels but at Brazilian levels, so people visiting Brazil will experience the frustrations we face every day."

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