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The Euro 2012 European soccer championship begins its elimination phase Thursday after nearly two scintillating weeks of group play in Poland and Ukraine. As the stakes raise on the pitch, Mashable spoke with David Farrelly, the head of UEFA.com, to get a sense of how soccer's second biggest international tournament is playing out in the digital realm. (The Union of European Football Associations is the governing body of European soccer and runs the Continent's once-every-four-years championship.)
We were surprised to learn that the United States accounts for a bigger percentage of traffic to UEFA.com than one might think. It consistently places in the top four -- along with the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain -- and on Monday was tops overall at 12.5% of traffic to the site. Other non-European nations that consistently rank in the top ten are India, China and Japan, Farrelly says. But the UK is typically immovable from UEFA.com's top spot in terms of traffic, accounting for roughly 11% on average.
Farrelly says social media, meanwhile, has changed how UEFA's team of reporters covers the tournament, as well as the site's editorial approach as a whole.
"If you sat in our editorial office and watched how we work now compared to four years ago, it's not as much about writing news and adding photos with the user almost in a lean-back mode," he told Mashable. "Now it's a different type of engagement where we're using the power of the Internet to start the story on the social web."
UEFA.com's editorial staff uses Facebook and Twitter to push out stories in strategic correspondence with European countries' time differences, and lets fans submit questions for players and managers via the official Euro 2012 Facebook page.
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Farrelly says that social emphasis has paid off, with Facebook page adding more than 350,000 likes since the beginning of the month. UEFA also plans to work more closely with Twitter for the tournament's knockout stages, and Farrelly says one reporter will have his tweets featured by Twitter's official sports account.
The site itself features a more varied digital emphasis than ever before, too. A mobile section directs users to the official UEFA.com app and a customizable MatchCentre lets fans tailor how they want to follow along online while at the office or watching the action from home.
Though still trailing the NBA and other American sports, soccer has increased its social footprint greatly over the past year or two.
The blog Digital Football recently ran down some of the ways external brands are using social media and digital tools to document UEFA's biggest event, including by creating interactive data visualizations. This past season saw a big uptick in social media activity among English Premier League fans and clubs, while we also recently took a look at how Spanish soccer rules the roost as far as social use and engagement in the world's most popular sport.
How have you used social media to follow Euro 2012? Share your favorite apps, tools and follows in the comments.
Thumbnail image courtesy iStockphoto, mikkelwilliam