Want a World Cup retweet? Say You'll Kiss the Queen

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Loretta Chao

SÃO PAULO, Brazil--Going into a key World Cup match last Friday, Italy's Mario Balotelli made a request: he wanted a kiss from Queen Elizabeth II if his team beat Costa Rica, which would have kept England's chances for advancing alive.

He didn't get that smooch. Costa Rica upset Italy 1-0, bouncing England from the tournament.

But what the Italy's star player did accomplish was getting 180,000 people to retweet his message, generating even more buzz for a game that spawned 3.2 million tweets.

The World Cup in Brazil is shaping up to be the biggest-ever global event for social media. Facebook Inc. said a total of 141 million users posted 459 million interactions to their site during the first week of the World Cup. That's more people than posted during this year's Super Bowl, the Oscars and the Sochi winter Olympics, combined.

Twitter Inc. also said it recorded a high volume of posts, with 12.2 million tweets during Brazil's opening win against Croatia on June 12, 8 million tweets during the U.S. game against Portugal, and 6.1 million tweets during Brazil vs. Cameroon.

Final numbers for the monthlong tournament won't be known until mid-July. But so far, individual match statistics point to higher daily traffic on Twitter than during the London Olympics.

The surge in social media interactions in part reflects more people going online. Thanks to increased availability of affordable mobile devices, the number of people using the Internet is estimated to reach 2.9 billion this year, up 44% from 2 billion in 2010 when the last World Cup was played in South Africa, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Social media companies are going after those new users, the vast majority of whom are from developing regions where penetration is still low and growth potential is the greatest. About 65% of Facebook users and 77% of Twitter accounts today are from outside the U.S., enabling conversations across more borders. These companies have grown quickly in the last four years, particularly in Brazil and India.

With the World Cup being the top championship for the world's most popular sport, the event has given all these users a common topic of discussion.

"There is this conversation that is happening on this global sofa, everybody is sitting on the same sofa watching the same television," said Carlos Moreira Jr., executive director of international business development for Twitter Brazil. "A huge amount of tweets are being generated."

For Facebook, over 58 million people around the world had more than 140 million interactions about Brazil's win over Croatia for the Cup's opener on June 12, according to the company. Nearly 42% of its 1.2 billion users are soccer fans.

Analysts say this translates to not only a crush of user-generated content, including lively soccer commentary, jokes and trash-talking, but more value for advertisers.

"Sponsor value has probably increased because of social media and the amount of buzz it's generated," said Alex Banks, the Latin America head of market research firm comScore Inc. "The world is watching [the World Cup] on more and more platforms and sharing more content, which is driving more interest in each country that's participating."

Some companies are already seeing benefits. World Cup sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch InBev's Budweiser and McDonald's Corp. have, on average, doubled their number of Facebook fans since February 2013, according to comScore. The company said those multinationals saw an uptick in activity on their Facebook pages in the month leading up to the tournament.

But official sponsors aren't the only companies using the World Cup to capture eyeballs. Consider Beats Electronics. The maker of Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, which was recently acquired by Apple Inc., is not an official partner of FIFA. Soccer's organizing body limits where players that own the headphones can display them during tournament events.

But that hasn't prevented Beats from connecting with soccer fans. A 5-minute video commercial featuring Brazilian soccer star Neymar getting a pep talk from his father has gotten nearly 19 million views and over 5,000 comments on YouTube.

Still, the best content often happens spontaneously, like Balotelli's joke about the Queen. On Friday, a debate over a controversial Mexican soccer chant, which uses the antigay slur "puto," spurred a lively debate on Twitter between people for and against banning the chants from soccer games.

Meanwhile, soccer stars competing in Brazil are posting a barrage of "selfie" photos, including Neymar who got over 600,000 likes on Instagram for one of his shirtless self-portraits. The Brazilian player has 6.6 million Instagram followers, the most of all the players in the World Cup. A selfie taken on a Brazilian plane by English player Jack Wilshire got over 30,000 likes.

Write to Loretta Chao at loretta.chao@wsj.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires


  (END) Dow Jones Newswires
  06-24-141122ET
  Copyright (c) 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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