Sports and political events that will impact social media in 2014

Social media is constantly changing – the tools available to us, and the way people use them. We are living during a time of change in how we can communicate with each other and what we choose to communicate where. But as we’ve seen in the past, events can accelerate this change – and all too often these changes come not from the tools themselves, but from events that either encourage new people to use the tools or people to use them in different ways. In 2014 we are set to see a number of events that we expect to bring in changes to the way social media (and how we use it) develops. And the global  events are mostly from the realms of sport and politics.

Sports events in 2014

The global events set to impact social media in 2014 are likely to be the big sporting ones – the Winter Olympics in Russia, the World Cup in Brazil and also the Commonwealth Games in the UK. As we’ve seen in the past big sporting events are often also big social media events – they are best experienced live, often accompanied by significant TV coverage and typically attract a wide following.

Impact of the World Cup

As we have seen with other global sporting events, we expect the FIFA World Cup in Brazil to be huge in terms of activity on social media. Brazil itself is a large market for social media  – almost 80% of Brazilians who are online use social media and they are the third largest market for Twitter. Add to that the impact of events in a timezone that will allow the largest market for many networks (the US) to follow events live and you have the ingredients for an even bigger impact of social media than at the London Olympics.

To predict the scale of the event is difficult, but we would expect past records to fall. For Twitter, a useful measure for activity during live events can be Tweets per Minute (tpm). At the London 2012 Olympics a total of 74,000+ tpm was clocked up when Usain Bolt won the 100m finals. During the 2013 Super Bowl, the record hit 185,000 tpm during actual play (and 250,000 tpm during the power outage!). This shows huge growth in just a year; by the World Cup in June and July 2014, we would expect usage to show a massive increase on these levels.

To see what might be possible we need to look outside the world of sport, and instead to Japan for the premier of Miyazaki’s film Castles in the Sky in the summer of 2013 – in just one second during that event, 143,000 Tweets were sent. We could expect similar levels in Brazil this summer.

Impact of the Winter Olympics

If the World Cup is set to impact the scale of platform usage (and so produce more tpm records) we would expect the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, to have more of an impact on the type of content shared. The Sochi organising committee has let it be known that images should be freely shared on social media and so we would expect to see a lot more image content shared than ever before at sporting events. This will be particularly noted from athletes and teams themselves – sharing behind-the-scenes images and personal recollections of the event.

We first saw this kind of behaviour at London 2012 – athletes taking ownership of and building their own brands online through social media. Images are of intrinsic interest to people – they let us in to other parts and experiences during the event. With this in mind, Twitter and Instagram should both be expected to be used much more actively and more inventively during these Games. We would also expect this athlete point-of-view content to be used much more in broadcast, print and online media – complementing well official photography of the event.

Political events in 2014

Alongside sporting events, the big political events of 2014 are set to be another driver of change in the way social media is adopted and used across the globe. Of those political events planned, perhaps that with the greatest potential to impact social media is the Indian General Elections.

 The Indian General Elections

India is the biggest democracy in the world with some 788 million people eligible to vote. Twitter is growing massively in India both in terms of users and also in terms of the importance of the market to the platform itself.  The election in May 2014 is likely to be a major social media event not just in that market but also on a global scale – a recent survey by Google suggested that 30% of seats will be impacted significantly by social media campaigning. A first for that market and for a huge growth area for platforms like Twitter, Google and Facebook in the second biggest country in the world.

This is significant because as new markets become more significant for the large platforms globally we will see them change to meet their new needs rather than just the needs of their more established markets.. A small example of this would be Facebook’s ditching of the ‘thumbs up’ on their Like button no doubt influenced in part by that symbol not meaning the same thing in all cultures – it can be quite offensive in some of their new growing markets in South America / Middle East.

There will also, no doubt, be much that other markets can learn from how Indian political parties and voters use social media, especially those who were early adopters of social media for political campaigning (such as the US).