The World Cup starts tomorrow and if you weren’t excited already, then your personal self-control is on a whole other level. If you haven’t achieved harmonic zen in the buildup to Brazil then one platform where people go to publicly display their excitement, affection, thoughts, fears and general commentary is Twitter. There’s an irony in that you don’t need to leave the comfort of your bed to do this but it is a public medium nonetheless.
Twitter will naturally be an incredibly important medium during the World Cup, and any notion that it will simply be a passive conduit for its users has been officially dispelled with it’s reintroduction of #hashflags, World Cup algorithm based timelines, and their own World Cup video.
Hashflags are a reintroduction by Twitter of a concept initiated in the 2010 World Cup, a tournament Twitter would very much like to forget (more on that later). Using three letter country designations, a hashtag, take #USA for example, would show up in your tweet with an American flag next to it.
At the moment it looks like #hasflags wont be available for iPhone users as Twitter admits that there is a bug that they are working on correcting.
The other new feature that Twitter has rolled out is the World Cup timeline and individual country timelines. Twitter is leveraging both current and new users in this by giving new users who sign up the opportunity to select a country to follow and support and even suggesting some profile pictures to boot.
These timelines aren’t just your standard #Hashtag aggregation, as John McDuling (@jmcduling) for Quartz so elegantly put it, this is Twitter’s “biggest foray into algorithmically driven content curation so far”, meaning that the timelines draw more than hastags but also tweets from relevant media sources, team players, coaches, fans in stadium and even celebrities. The timelines are real-time and also give the user an opportunity to filter down to photos and videos only.
McDuling also points out that the timelines can help to deal with an issue Twitter is facing where users tend to quit due to the inability to filter out irrelevant information. Somewhat cynically, Esquire highlighted this during the 2010 World Cup. World Cup timelines offer an opportunity for users to avoid that outcome.
While too much content can be overwhelming for users, the potential for traffic overloads and Twitter’s “Fail Whale” are hazards well known to the social networking service. As mentioned earlier, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a tournament to forget for Twitter due to the unexpectedly high volumes of users causing high rates of errors and the site to crash numerous times including a “complete outage” of close to 90 minutes (that’s the length of a full match, minus halftime of course).
With a product and service based around real-time interaction, Twitter develops unique real-time engineering problems. FastCompany explored the topic with a senior Twitter engineer and explained how the dual-problem of newly embraced video and photo content combined with poor infrastructure networks in high demand regions (one such being Brazil with or without the World Cup) can lead to truly specific and difficult problems. Twitter is working on preventing this using redundant servers specifically for high-volume periods as well as mapping out different potential scenarios ahead of time and developing contingencies.
Dual-screening, a phenomenon that looks likely to become a standard, is where people watching a game consistently have more than just the TV on while they watch. This may seem obvious, but Google shows that there is a significant upward trend of not only mobile utility and interaction, but increased usage during all times of games rather. This contrasts against previously heavy halftime and post-game time periods and while Google searches don’t represent twitter interaction, the high mobile usage indicates a high potential for mobile twitter usage as well.
As a publicly traded company whose stock price is down 45% on the year, Twitter needs to not only show consistency, reliability and innovation, but also profitability. The #Hashflags and World Cup timelines are both being covered heavily due to recency but an aspect of Twitter that began almost a year ago that steps away from the UI/UX and over to the marketers and advertisers has to do with “Promoted Trends.”
AdWeek reported in July of last year that Twitter, via a blind auction managed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, was selling promoted trends for the World Cup specifically. Promoted tweets and accounts are an aspect of Twitter monetization that allows for market segmentation and targeting of specific tweets by gender, location, device, and interest as well as placement of accounts at higher visibility and interaction levels.
Trends however, are different. As AdWeek explains they are the only the only facet of Twitter’s advertising unit that requires a purchase of a entire market and day for a flat fee. With promoted trends for the World Cup, this concept is driven further by the development and auctioning of packages broken into Gold, Silver and Bronze levels all with a global reach in 50 countries.
The packages are arranged by number of promoted trends and number of days which naturally for the World Cup means they correspond to specific fixtures in the tournament like the Final, Semi-Finals etc. Promoted Trend pricing at the time of the auction last year was around $200,000 per trend with the price expected to grow to $600,000 by the time the World Cup rolls around. All-together it could mean revenue potentially reaching the tens of millions depending on bidding patterns.
From backhouse server preparation, to marketing and communication monetization, to user and experience based features, Twitter plans on making this World Cup in Brazil one to remember both for themselves and users worldwide. More importantly, they will want people to remember this World Cup through and because of Twitter, not just with them.