Inside a San Francisco office building, Google is trying its latest experiment: original sports journalism. When the 2014 World Cup began, Google unveiled a World Cup Trends Newsroom to turn search data surrounding soccer games into infographics. For the duration of the World Cup, a team of data scientists, designers, editors, and translators will publish shareable original content in multiple languages to the microsite. The project is a bold attempt to turn Google's search results into shareable material—and inject Google-branded content into the Facebook and Twitter ecosystems.
Approximately 20 employees from Google and their partner in the campaign, advertising firm R/GA London, are working on the project, along with several freelancers. I visited them on Monday during the Iran vs. Nigeria game (a disappointing 0-0 draw) as the newsroom geared up for the USA vs. Ghana match a few hours later. Inside a large open-plan floor office in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, the staff works with an internal Google Trends dashboard to create World Cup-themed content on tight deadlines. For each game, a unique search trend is turned into an illustration. Clicking on that illustration brings up more detailed search trend information about each game.
Danielle Bowers, the lead World Cup data analyst at Google Trends, told me that content creation takes place in three separate workflow phases before, during, and after each match. Using a content dashboard managed by Google Trends engineers in Tel Aviv, the staff in San Francisco then figures out what search trends have the highest viral potential.
"Prior to each match, we look at sentiment in each country and sentiment about their competitor," Bowers told Fast Company. "We then look at searches for players, and searches in general in each country. Then during a match, we use real-time tools after things like refs making a controversial call. After the matches end, we then pull summaries of the most interesting statistics."
Ricardo Amorim, an R/GA London creative director working on the Google Trends World Cup project, said that it can take as little as an hour to turn incoming search trend data into a workable infographic. These infographics can illustrate changes in national sentiment during games—like when searches in Brazil for sugared popcorn, a popular Brazilian snack, soared in the minutes following a victory over Croatia.
As the pictures above indicate, every card in the Google Trends newsroom can be shared on social media. Although no one at Google would say so directly, I noticed something interesting: This Google-branded content, in the card format that Google+ popularized and is now de rigueur among social networking sites, is designed to be shared on Twitter and Facebook. The newsroom team emphasized the importance of "victory tweets"—bursts of social media activity following wins and goals.
The team's mission is also highly international. Content from the Google Trends newsroom is translated into nine languages (along with multiple flavors of English, Spanish, and Portuguese) for worldwide distribution. Madeline Kane, who works in global brand marketing for Google, said her team was surprised by the success of Bahasa Indonesia translations. Even though Indonesia is not competing in the World Cup, the massive attention from fans there has steadily generated surprise traffic for Google's microsite.
A big part of that phenomenon, said R/GA London's Phil Hawksworth, a web developer at the company, is that the global smartphone market has increased massively since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Building a site around shareable content designed for smartphones means that Google's newsroom is able to grab reader attention in international markets more easily. Hawksworth said that finding successful content to include on the site, for his team, meant emphasizing things like popcorn (or soccer star Neymar's latest hair color) that resonates well with mass audiences beyond a core of soccer fans.
The project is also inspiring an ad campaign. In Toronto's Little Portugal, which (despite the name) has a significant Brazilian presence, Google posted several ads using data from their World Cup newsroom project. These ads were aimed primarily at audience members with a knowledge of Portuguese-language pop culture.
Because this is the first time Google has branched into creating a newsroom, by themselves or with subcontractors, based on their Google Trends search results, it's very much a trial balloon. It's also a low-cost, low-risk project with potentially big payoffs. Google is quietly testing out shareable content localized for multiple global markets, using proprietary assets (Google's search traffic and user behavior), designed to be spread via Twitter and Facebook. While Google has not traditionally been interested in original content creation, the World Cup is the holy grail of Internet traffic. And, since the World Cup this year kicked off just before the annual Google I/O conference, it's a great way to see what works with a global audience.