How the World Cup played out on social media

Trends & themes from the Greatest Show on Earth

Richard Jaffa, Insights Executive

Contrary to the cloud of negativity in the media before this Summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, the tournament will be remembered fondly by football fans as one of the most enjoyable in living memory. Now that the dust has settled, we have harnessed the power of our social listening tools to unearth which content performed the best on Twitter and identify the key learnings for sponsors. Some of the results and trends may surprise you.

A very engaged World Cup
 
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the World Cup enjoyed huge engagement from a social media perspective. Indeed, FIFA has announced that it had an astonishing 7.5 billion engagements across its digital platforms, 580 million interactions on social media and over 1.25 billion video views.
 
FIFA certainly capitalised on the euphoria surrounding the tournament, elevating its Twitter following to just under seven million, gaining almost 900,000 users in a month. This social performance was driven by an innovative strategy, which included creating a VK account (VKontakte is the most popular Russian social media platform) to deepen engagement in the host nation. The account grew to over one million followers. FIFA also enhanced its engagement in China via the Weibo and WeChat apps. The FIFA Official App became the most popular sports app in 128 countries during the tournament.
  

At a national level, engagement wasn’t limited to countries that were participating in the World Cup. Indeed, of the top ten most active Twitter user locations, five were in nations that were not represented at the tournament (USA, Indonesia, Vietnam, India and the Philippines). This shows the far-reaching popularity of the World Cup whereby a lack of direct involvement didn’t diminish local social media activity.

What were the drivers of engagement?
 
What quickly became clear in our analysis is that people didn’t necessarily flock to social media to just view and engage with sporting moments or highlights. Indeed, what fans seemed to be most interested in on social media was the surrounding, non-football activity, which often tapped into their wider interests.
 
Using social media listening tool Audiense to analyse 250,000 football fans on Twitter, we were able to aggregate their interests, enhancing our understanding of why posts performed as they did. Outside of their passion for sports the strongest interest areas were, in order, movies & TV, society, music and travel and it was these areas that were often driving the greatest levels of engagement.
 
The power of music

A strong interest in music was certainly visible. In fact, of the top ten most used hashtags during the tournament (14th June to 15th July 2018), only the tenth most popular directly related to football and the eventual winners France. Indeed, eight of the top nine hashtags related to the “FIFA Stadium DJ”, an online voting competition that the official FIFA World Cup handle pushed to decide on the music played in the stadium prior to kick-off.

Korean Pop (K-Pop) bands EXO and BTS have extraordinary followings on social, particularly in Asia, and their passionate and digitally active fans voted using supportive hashtags, e.g. #FIFAFakeLove or #WorldCupExoPower.

Support for these two bands accounted for an astonishing six of the top ten hashtags during the World Cup, evidence of the sheer size and proactive nature of their followers. Interestingly, we reviewed the recent 2018 Winter Olympics Games in PyeongChang, which showed a similar trend. Posts mentioning K-Pop bands drove huge engagement figures, more-so than iconic sporting moments.

The power of personalities
 
Our analysis showed many examples of the social media obsession with celebrities either directly or indirectly. In one example, Morocco manager Hervé Renard was quickly deemed a doppelgänger of both Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays “Jamie Lannister”, and American actor Matthew McConaughey. Perhaps the most notable personality-related social media success story was Icelandic footballer Rúrik Gíslason, pictured. Rúrik was a fringe player at the tournament but saw his Instagram following rocket from 30,000 to over 1.3 million during the World Cup. The reason for this was quite simply his good looks! Social media users picked up on this and the #SexyRurik hashtag spread his name far and wide.



Politics and society
 
There was a significant interest in content and activity relating to politicians and issues in society. French President Emanuel Macron was extremely vocal in his support of Les Bleus via his official Twitter handle, to the delight of many users. One of the top performing posts was a tweet by Indian PM Narendra Modi, congratulating France and receiving thousands of likes and retweets.
 
Generally, visual social media content generated the most interest. However, one text-only post by American law professor and Islamophobia expert, Khaled Beydoun, sparked a huge debate. Beydoun made the following statement on France: “80% of your team is African, cut out the racism and xenophobia.” Here, football and the World Cup were utilised to address wider societal issues, resonating with many tweeters (society ranks 3rd in football fan interests) and performing better than much sponsors’ content.



The tournament buzz bubble
 
Looking at the pattern of social media activity over time highlights some lessons for brands. When viewing searches for “FIFA World Cup”, there was a sudden spike in the days immediately preceding the tournament, and a steep drop-off once the final concludes. In addition, as the daily excitement of group stage games concluded, and the tournament moved into rest days, the volume of searches showed a significant decline in between knockout ties.

This short-term buzz is mirrored almost exactly when compared with the three previous World Cups (pictured). Given that FIFA sponsors usually last for a four-year cycle, this seems like a wasted opportunity to maximise partnership value. Perhaps more needs to be done in terms of activation on social media in the build up to the tournaments and beyond, to drive engagement outside of the tournament month and maximise the investments brands make in the tournament.

 

 
Concluding thoughts
 
For brands considering an investment in football or sport more broadly, there are two crucial lessons to be learned from our analysis.
 
The first is that social media content and activity should not be just about sport. Indeed, the evidence from the World Cup suggests that the highest engagement was a result of alternative passion points intersecting with sport in unusual and creative ways.
 
Secondly, sponsors can drive greater value from their investment by extending the social media “window” beyond the event or tournament by exploring different creative avenues that do not rely solely on the day-to-day action.
 
Our analysis suggests that brands have permission to give free reign to their creativity in how they activate their sponsorship and tell their stories. Above all, it’s clear that it’s not just about the sport.
 
Get in touch with CSM Sport & Entertainment to understand how we can help you navigate the social media landscape more effectively.