Does Social Media Popularity Equal Likeability?

By | February 29, 2016

My discussion section spent lots of time speaking about brands last week. From physically branding animals to the Jordan brand (as in Michael Jordan). It was an all-encompassing talk, but as we reached soccer, we touched on the idea of the Ronaldo brand versus the Messi brand.

I do not consider myself a soccer fanatic, so this post should be read with that in mind. I do, however, get Real Madrid notifications from the ESPN app on my phone. (I jumped on the Real Madrid ‘fan’ train two summers ago during my time in Spain and getting those notifications is a little piece of Madrid that makes me feel connected to it despite not being there)

I spent a fair amount of time pondering what I would write, knowing I wanted to talk about the idea of a personal brand. In a sports marketing class I’m in, we talk about the idea of like-ability and how that influences a brand.

Back to Ronaldo vs Messi. Last Wednesday, Cristiano Ronaldo became the first athlete to surpass 200 million social media followers. So people must love him, right?

As I thought about this post on Saturday, my phone buzzed. 2:13 PM “La Liga: Cristiano Ronaldo hits out at Real Madrid teammates after loss: ‘If they were all at my level we would be 1st'”. Whoa. So how could people like him? Seems pretty arrogant.

3:34 PM “La Liga: Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo clarifies critical comments, says ‘I’m not better than any of my teammates'”. Huh. Is he the good guy recognizing his mistake or is he the bad guy just trying to save face?

So we compare stats between Ronaldo and Messi – there is in fact a site called – it blew my mind that this exists. The two are extremely similar. So I went in a different direction – I tried to find statistics on Messi’s social media following and found that he doesn’t have a verified twitter to his name. For Ronaldo, 40.7 million of his followers come from Twitter. So I went and looked at Facebook and Instagram followings: 83.45 million and 109.76 million; 37.9 million and 50.3 million for Messi and Ronaldo respectively. So on the two social media platforms that both men use, Ronaldo ‘wins’ the battle of the number of followers. If Messi had a Twitter account would he be more ‘popular’? Probably not.

But the real question is does social media popularity equate to being well-liked? Is Ronaldo better liked than Messi? How can we find out?



2 thoughts on “Does Social Media Popularity Equal Likeability?

  1. Leonard Giarrano

    I chose to comment on this post because Carolyn identified herself as not being a “soccer fanatic” from the get-go. I appreciate soccer and definitely watch the Men’s and Women’s FIFA World Cups when they roll around (the Euro Cup too some years), but I have no committed following to the players outside of their national teams or to the different leagues and their personalities.

    To answer Carolyn’s question of whether social media popularity equates to being well-liked, I believe this is not the case because social media and numbers like that are bound to be a terrible metric reflective of who is followed more by the general population rather than who ought to be looked up to and really “liked more.” For example, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift at 76.3 and 72.1 million Twitter followers both edge out US President Barack Obama’s 70.6 million followers and absolutely dwarf the UN’s 6.63 million followers. Having more followers and likes on popular social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook is more likely to be indicative of funny posts, newsworthy updates or simply being a celebrity that fans find themselves needing to get every word from.

    With respect to soccer players, I think this is certainly true. As Megan points out in her comment, people “love to hate” Ronaldo because he comes off as cocky and egotistical, whereas I would say many fans view Messi as a humble and sympathetic character. Ronaldo on the Portuguese national team is known for not having much competition at all in being their star attacker, essentially the far and ahead best player on the team. Messi offers contrast with his 49 national goals followed by Sergio Aguero’s 32, Gonzalo Higuain’s 25 and Max Rodriguez’s 16. Ronaldo boasts 55 goals in 123 caps followed only by Hugo Almeida with 19 and Bruno Alves with 10. While this may simply reflect a difference in national talent or the design of the respective team coaches, many see Messi as more part of a team and Ronaldo as the single-minded head of Portugal’s offensive spear.

    Beyond what their stats reflect in production, I also think it prudent to consider who is better liked by the reputations they have off the field. Messi is famous for being shy, and beyond that is known to live a quiet romantic life with his wife—a childhood friend he ultimately married—and two children, preferring to showcase his family on Instagram and Facebook accounts. This contrasts with Ronaldo who emphasizes his masculinity and handsomeness, playing up the reputations fans already give him. This is not to say Ronaldo is not a good guy in his own right. He is apparently a big philanthropist and stresses the hard work he has put in to cultivate his talent as one of the best forwards to ever play the game.

    At the end of the day, I would personally argue that Messi ought to be better liked than Ronaldo, and I would point out that social media is more often indicative of what’s juicy and “pays to follow” rather than what famous figures are actually more virtuous or to be held in higher esteem.

  2. Megan Gutter

    Ronaldo vs. Messi: the quintessential soccer rivalry that everyone is familiar with, whether they’re a soccer fan or not. Who’s a better soccer player? Who’s more popular? This post raised some really interesting questions and points about how we perceive stars and their brands, and how technology affects this, especially in the age of social media.

    I thought it would be interesting to see if there are any differences in what people are talking about these two. In other words, I searched on Twitter and Google News to see what kind of topics are being associated with either Messi or Ronaldo right now. People are talking a lot about Messi’s desirable left foot, the goals he’s recently scored, and general admiration on how good of a player he is. There are many quotes like “Messi is the number one, no doubt about that. There won’t be another player like him ever again.” ( On the other hand, the buzz around Ronaldo seems to be about his ego, his rant on and apology to his team (like the post mentioned) and controversy. This is of course only data from today that may be skewed due to this recent incident, but it shows that at least in the current moment Messi is being talked about more positively than Ronaldo.

    So does more followers on social media indicate being better liked? Perhaps it merely implies popularity. The first definition on a Google search for popular is “liked, admired, or enjoyed by many people or by a particular person or group.” One does not necessarily have to be liked to be popular. Does having more than one attribute of popularity make you more popular? Both players certainly seem to be very much admired by people for their talent, and therefore popular in that respect.

    Does Ronaldo have more followers because he’s the kind of guy people “love to hate” or because people respect his game more? Regardless, I think people buy into the rivalry and the “good guy vs. bad guy” kind of trope. People want to see Ronaldo being egotistical or getting mad, especially people who root for Messi because it validates their choice. People find controversy fascinating. Ronaldo has built his brand around his persona and he has to give his audience what they want or it’d be off-brand.

    It would be interesting to do real studies on these kinds of behaviors. I really liked this post and enjoyed speculating on this topic as well!


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