The World Cup's Social Media Evolution

World Cup 2010 has an unprecedented volume of social media initiatives.

July 13, 2010— -- Kaka, one of the world's premiere soccer players, is using his Twitter account to connect with fans and do things like share a pair of songs that were written for him.

During the last World Cup in 2006 Kaka -- or any other player, for that matter -- couldn't have connected with fans in that way because, well, Twitter didn't really exist.

This year's World Cup has an unprecedented volume of social media outlets and initiatives from Twitter feeds to Facebook fan pages, viral videos to mobile apps and more. With so much access, it's easy to lose track of where all this social media goodness actually came from. Below is a brief look at how the World Cup and social media have evolved together.

2002 -- Korea/Japan World Cup

"Social media" as we know it now (complete with Twitter, Foursquare, etc.) did not exist in 2002, but the World Cup still found ways to connect with fans. (Hey, even at the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, fans could use the technology of the day -- telephones -- to connect to one another!)

In 2002, the Korea/Japan World Cup was one of the first to utilize the Internet by creating homepages for teams and multiple websites for the tournament. However, social media outreach was still limited in scope. "In '02, I can't remember anything, any social media methods with that world cup," said Sports Illustrated producer Bryan Graham. "… I don't even think the word 'social media' even existed."

2006 -- Germany World Cup

By 2006, social media sites were starting to pick up steam. Facebook had launched but it was still restricted to college and high school students.

Similarly, Twitter was still in its beta-stage and hadn't yet caught on; MySpace was the most popular social networking site in the US. Companies like Adidas, Nike and Puma were early adopters with campaigns that included print ads, television spots and online sites.

Nike in particular teamed up with Google to create "the first social network for soccers fans worldwide,", allowing users to create profiles, view video and connect with fellow fans.

Interactive Social Communities Were Limited Online Until Twitter

Other companies joined in, with Adidas launching a MySpace site featuring video and exclusive content, and Coca-Cola launching a blog to track two unofficial World Cup mascots. Users could provide the mascots with suggestions and track their antics. The blog was a predecessor to similar video sites created for MySpace and YouTube.

"All we did was shoot stuff and talk to people and put it on the blog. And now that's when the real work begins," said Franz Strasser, a Digital Reporter/Producer at BBC America that independently blogged during the 2006 World Cup. He and his partner set up a blog to record video during the tournament.

They were invited to join Coca-Cola's WeAllSpeakFootball initiative, a site that posted content from several bloggers and vloggers. "It's literally crazy thinking about our '06 projects and all those smart guys in the room who didn't even think about Tweeting or even putting it on Facebook."

The blog, however, lacked social interaction: "Podcasting is not live, you record it and then you post it online," Strasser said. "But you cannot change anything, it's done." Interactive social communities were limited online until the birth of Twitter later in 2006.

When Strasser blogged about the 2008 Euro Cup, things had changed: "In 2008 we would post [on Twitter] before we recorded a show. We asked for questions, comments, so that we would have that interaction."

2010 -- South Africa World Cup

In just the two years since the Euro Cup, social media has exploded around the soccer world. Almost any site that even mentions soccer has embraced social media efforts from blogs to live streams to mobile apps.

Even still, new initiatives are launched daily, such as Foursquare's partnership with CNN to create two new World Cup badges and more than 100 viewing parties taking place across the globe.

Social media will also help link those already in South Africa trying to stay connected between the 10 far-flung soccer stadiums, some more than 1,000 miles apart. "This is a way to tie all of them together," said Cindy Boren, the Washington Post's Sports Social Media Editor. "It's the string that sort of binds it together."

Social Media Storm Has Been Gaining Momentum for Years

Traditional media outlets like Sports Illustrated magazine are running profiles of the US national team, but are also including each players Twitter handle (10 of the 23 have accounts).

"You know with FIFA, the accessibility of these players is so guarded and so controlled," Graham said. "Just the idea that these guys are kind of removing filters, connecting with their fans, I can't believe people aren't talking about it more. Maybe one reason is that it's happening across all sports."

The World Cup started today Friday but the social media storm has been gaining momentum for years ahead of time.