WrestleMania has transformed itself from a small wrestling event to an international media spectacle. In its 28th incarnation, held at the beginning of this month, there were no signs of it stopping.
World Wrestling Entertainment did something unique last year – it announced the main event for WrestleMania over a year in advance. The big match featured Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a huge cross-over star, and John Cena, the current flag bearer for the company. Recognizing the challenges of trying to keep interest for the match a year in advance, the WWE turned to social media. I wanted to talk to some of the people driving this initiative, both on- and off-screen. Jason Hoch, SVP of Digital Operations for the WWE, discussed his social media strategies for fan engagement and social TV.
Since joining the WWE, Hoch undertook a huge project to re-launch WWE.com with a totally new UX with social media at its core. Rather than just putting as Jason says “plug-ins” or social areas, they have tried to build the entire site to be socially enabled. This included deep integration so users could follow their favorite stars on multiple social networks and interact with them seamlessly. Throughout the event, WrestleMania and related hashtags dominated Twitter. As they push hard into social, Jason specifically recognizes that social media fatigue is a key element that needs to be closely monitored to determine what level of interaction is appropriate and doesn’t turn off fans in its broadcasts and other media.
I also interviewed Zack Ryder, who talked about how he has elevated his career due to social media. Zack has been one of the key individuals who helped push social onto the WWE radar and elevate its corporate importance. While he isn’t the biggest star in the WWE, his usage of social has elevated his position in the company and allowed him to better engage his fans. He points to this and says if he didn’t embrace social media and make some waves he would have likely been fired. This is a good example of how people are using social media to elevate their status within a company and make themselves more valuable.
So far, their engagement strategy appears to be working. The WWE feels like they are more up-to-date and engaged. In many cases, WWE wrestlers were actively retweeted, followed and engaged by fans. One stat that is very telling was the number of followers and likes they have on Facebook and Twitter.
The numbers behind this are impressive. Between all of the stars’ accounts, they have over 20 million Twitter followers and 60 million Facebook likes. In 2011, they received over 1 billion views on their YouTube channel (those are Justin Bieber-like numbers, folks). Aside from social statistics, the actual event WrestleMania broke both attendance and gate records at the Sun Life Stadium with over 78,000 fans. However, the real telling statistic will be Pay-Per-View buy-rates and how many the WWE is able to generate. Like all live PPV events, the WWE fights piracy from multiple live streaming sites online. The expectations and pressure are high, especially bringing back The Rock in such a marquee match to help raise buy-rates.
Last night at WrestleMania, over 110 individual terms trended during the night. The #Wrestlemania hashtag was mentioned over 600,000 times delivering nearly a billion potential impressions with a reach of over 130 million people.
Echo is one of WWE’s technical partners. They provide technology that translates the thousands of tweets/likes they receive per second into actionable information that they can integrate into their live broadcasts. Khris Loux, CEO of Echo, says that whenever someone tweets or likes something in the “WWE Universe” it is like a synapse firing and they are able to track and analyze it. Since the WWE is so vertically integrated (between talent, production and content), they were able to execute an integrated social media strategy that ties into web, broadcasts and live events. Khris said that WWE definitely has an advantage over other mediums. Khris cited other examples that have multiple legal entities that need to be coordinated and get approval from for rights and access.
People who quickly dismiss the social WWE’s success due to it being “wrestling” are missing the boat. The reality is that it is a well-oiled media machine integrating multiple moving parts seamlessly with social at its core.