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  • Andrew Collins

The World Cup in 140 Characters

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

All around the world, brands are trying to leverage the popularity of the World Cup, many through social media strategies designed to increase user numbers and brand recognition. But forget the brands. Social media sites themselves are using the buzz around the World Cup to increase their user bases, calling on their current subscribers to make theirs the network of choice for the general population.

There are many similarities in how various social networks are driving discussion about the event, specifically on micro-blogging platforms. Twitter currently allows users to choose their favorite nation’s flag as their avatar, and when a user Tweets the hashtag for a World Cup team (i.e. #USA), the nation’s flag appears as an image beside it. A relatively similar feature on China’s Sina Weibo allows users to choose the flag of the nation they support to appear beside their username.

Both micro-blogging platforms have World Cup dedicated sections, with Twitter’s #WorldCup feed featuring Tweets from selected clubs, media outlets, players and even FIFA, the international football governing body. Weibo’s version shows what’s trending, a World Cup news feed, and has a few other interactive features.

However similar some of their features may be, the relationship between Chinese and Western social media sites is riddled with disparities. From language nuances that dictate the nature of content, to a seemingly segregated network of users, Chinese social media platforms like Weibo are limited  by an inability to establish a global connection that the Western counterpart platforms are not affected by, which makes their success at driving discussion around the event all the more impressive.


While Twitter’s 12.2 million Tweets during the opening match of the World Cup may seem impossible to rival, it is notable that this number of Tweets originated from over 150 countries, illustrating how impressive the 3.9 million mentions about the game were on Weibo, which relies primarily on one country for their user base (albeit the country with by far the largest population in the world).

Of course neither Twitter nor Weibo can compete with Facebook’s domination of social media. With more than 1.2 billion users, Facebook amassed a staggering 459 million interactions (likes, comments and posts) in the tournament’s first week. However, Weibo’s 99 million mentions of the event in the same time frame lends some perspective as to how closely engaged Chinese fans are, given that those numbers were posted from a much smaller user base.

When you consider that this user base is almost entirely in China, with Facebook and Twitter operating in more than 150 countries each, any activity on Weibo that even comes close to that of its Western counterparts is impressive.

While the West may be the birthplace of football, Chinese fans are just as enthralled by  the World Cup as fans in the nations that qualified to play in the tournament – if not more so. The beauty of social media is its ability to globally voice and recognise this support for an event like the World Cup, in 140 characters or less.

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