worldcup

Every four years during the World Cup, sports columnists gather in their sports columnist lairs to humbly ask, “Is this the tipping point for America to care about soccer?” (America’s anxiety over “soccer football” dates back at least to 1914).

A more recent but analogous tradition also takes place among tech columnists every time something big, live, and interesting occurs on a national or global stage: “Is this the tipping point for mainstream Internet users to care about Twitter?”

Last night, these two questions met head on as Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of Brazil became the most-tweeted sporting event in Twitter’s history. Users sent 35.6 million tweets, shattering the previous record held by last February’s less-than-thrilling Super Bowl which generated 24.9 million tweets. The match also set a record for tweets-per-minute, with users sending 580,166 a minute in the wake of Sami Khedira’s goal from 29 feet out which put Germany up 5-0.

So the question remains, as always, does this singular event forecast a greater mainstream acceptance of Twitter? User growth has been an albatross around the company’s neck in the eyes of many observers. At 255 million monthly users, and with decelerating user growth in five of its last six quarters, Twitter is nowhere near reaching Facebook’s 1.28 billion monthly actives. That may not worry shareholders in the short-term — Twitter is still in the process of monetizing its existing users, and assuming it can do so efficiently, the company’s revenues may see healthy growth over the next couple years. But unless Twitter can break through to the masses, it could struggle mightily to achieve long-term, sustained profits.

Certainly last night’s match was a win for Twitter. The win may have been circumstantial — after all, the World Cup only happens every four years, and not every game is as unusual as last night’s — but there was also a measure of strategy involved. Ahead of the World Cup, Twitter introduced a how-to primer for new users centered on the event. The company also partnered with Indosat to provide the Indonesian telecom’s 240 million customers with a special sign-up page where they can choose their favorite team and find accounts related to that team to follow.

Whether or not last night’s explosion of activity was the result of these efforts is hard to say. As this animated GIF shows, Indonesians were some of the most rabid tweeters throughout the match, and it’s worth noting that Indonesia does not rank in the top ten most active countries on Twitter, neither in aggregate nor per-capita. According to Digiday, Twitter plans to evaluate the effectiveness of these features at the end of the tournament. But even if these onboarding techniques worked, Twitter must find a way to keep the ever-fickle Internet masses from bolting after the Cup ends.

As long as there are awards shows and sporting events, Twitter will continue to have plenty of opportunities to prove its importance as a real-time communication network. And by easing the learning curve through initiatives like the ones it’s been experimenting with throughout the World Cup, Twitter can theoretically demystify the most challenging part of its service: Getting started.

Evaluating Twitter’s success or failure in this regard is simple: Is the company making significant gains in user growth? We’ll know soon enough when it releases its next earnings report.

[photo by IsakFotografi]