Brands Are Ready for a Socially Sophisticated 2014 World Cup

In the 2002 World Cup, “social media” wasn’t even a “thing.” In the 2006 World Cup, Facebook was still limited only to college and high school students. That all changed in 2010. At the South Africa World Cup, there were viewing parties, mobile app badges, and continual tweets from players, and live streams on social networks allowed fans to stay up to date on the news not only between the geographically dispersed stadiums (some more than 1,000 miles apart) but also with fans all over the world. Games were watched worldwide in record numbers (19.4 million people watched the U.S. vs. Ghana game.) Social vuvuzelas were heard all over the world.

So fast-forward to the 2014 World Cup, and social marketing by brands has become significantly more sophisticated. So what can we expect from the sponsoring brands?

Social-centered marketing around the World Cup is starting at the top, with FIFA getting in on the social game by launching their “Global Stadium” – set up to aggregate content from around the world. But in building this Global Stadium, FIFA is showing their preference to fully control the message – the digital channel they have built aggregates a variety of @channels – from the FIFA president, FIFA secretary, @FIFAWorldCup, @FIFAcom, and more. Their Global Stadium does not, at this time, acknowledge that fans, and fan conversations, tied together with #hashtags bring brands to life. FIFA has already stated that Twitter will specifically will play a key role in how FIFA communicates with fans in real-time during the matches, using the #WorldCup and #JoinIn hashtags, so this may change as the event gets fully underway.

Hyundai is specifically engaging fans with content, however, by asking fans to help create a worldwide “Fan Park” by sharing footage – photos, videos, tweets, of themselves enjoying the World Cup, with the result spread all over a world map. The result is interesting, though it’s unclear how navigable and consumable the result will be if there were, say, a million interactions. It’s already a little unwieldy to navigate.

Sony has invested in its World Cup sponsorship in a variety of ways, including by inviting fans to “join the conversation” not on the “standard” social channels, but on One Stadium Live on Sony Xperia. This challenges fans to move from where they spend the most time – Facebook and Twitter – to a new social location for the duration of the event. It remains to be seen how much traction they will gain with this strategy.

We can expect to see the more socially savvy global FIFA partners and sponsors – following on from some virally successful initial videos – Nike: “Risk Everything,” Adidas: “All In or Nothing,” and Samsung Galaxy: “The Training” – to launch a variety of hashtags discussion starters to get fans to contribute to conversations around the event. With audiences distributed across devices, and across geographical boundaries, the hashtag is a unifying social branding force. For example, Listerine (Johnson & Johnson) is kicking off a real-time newsroom with the theme #PowerToYourMouth, featuring bloggers and artists – reminding this brand observer of Wieden & Kennedy’s real-time Oreo newsroom during the Super Bowl this year.

And let’s not lose sight of the huge opportunity around real-time social engagement. With nearly half of smartphone owners (46 percent) and tablet owners (43 percent) – according to Nielsen – saying they use their devices as second screens while watching TV every day, socially savvy brands should be using that incredibly powerful moment of watching live sports to engage fans as they are watching. Indeed, in a report from Nielsen, published this week, a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds said they would post to social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) while tuning in to World Cup games (compared to 12 percent of all respondents) and more than a third of respondents in that same demo (34 percent) would likely look up game, team, or player stats on a mobile device during World Cup games.

The 2014 World Cup, as a global phenomenon, by all rights should far surpass the creativity and excitement of social marketing for our nationally most popular sports moment – the Super Bowl. This observer will be watching how brands engage in the 2014 World Cup closely.

Image via Shutterstock.

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