Social Media Smackdown: WWE Headlocks Social Media

social media case studiesThink you know what World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is all about? You might be surprised to read about WWE’s emerging social media story.

But first, it’s easy to pigeonhole WWE as fringe cable channel with a small group of die-hard fans, but you likely don’t know all the facts…

WWE.com outperformed ABC.com, CBS.com, NBC.com, NASCAR.com, PerezHilton.com, NHL.com and UFC.com. More people attended Wrestlemania XXVI than the Super Bowl, held in the same stadium.

“WWE” ranked #3 for most searches on Yahoo! in 2009, behind only Michael Jackson and Twilight. (As I write this, WWE is the top-trending search term on Yahoo!) And WWE.com has more than 14 million average monthly unique visitors worldwide.

More significantly, WWE’s own social networking site has 610,000 registered users who participate in forums, comment on blogs, and consume the millions of photos and videos that WWE updates continuously.

Therein lies the conundrum for WWE’s web production team. When you already have millions of fans engaging with you, do you really need to add Facebook and Twitter?

For WWE, the answer was yes.

“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” said Mark Keys, VP of web production, digital media. “People were engaging on those sites and communicating about our products anyway, so we might as well embrace them and bring them into the fold.”

But even WWE, accustomed to its enthusiastic fandom, didn’t expect the welcome it received.

Organization: World Wrestling Entertainment

Social Media Stats:

Website: www.wweuniverse.com, 610,000 registered users

Twitter: http://twitter.com/WWE, 106,000+ followers

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/wweuniverse, 600,000+ fans

YouTube: http://YouTube.com/WWE

Highlights:

  • WWE’s own social networking site has 610,000 registered users, millions of photos and thousands of videos.
  • Superstar John Cena attracted 5,000 followers within two hours of his first tweet.
  • 500,000 “Like” the WWE page on Facebook, without WWE even promoting its page yet.

The Party’s at WWE – and Only at WWE

It’s not that WWE hasn’t embraced social networking. The brand actually came fairly early to the social media party – but held the party at its own house.

Two years ago, WWE launched its WWE Universe site, a hub for fans to interact directly with more than 200 performers – called superstars and divas in WWE lingo. The site features wrestler profiles, along with forums, photos, videos, chat and blogs. You can even “friend” other fans and performers Facebook-style.

Many of the wrestlers and commentators blog about recent or upcoming matches. And just like in the business world, blogging helps each WWE performer build his or her brand – or in this case personality – with the fans. In turn, the more engaged fans are with the performer’s story, the more likely they are to tune in.

Fans from all over the world post words of encouragement to superstars and divas, or debate who’s going to come out on top in the next Smackdown.

Superstar Randy Orton

They can peruse videos of the most recent events and more than 3.3 million photos, or even create their own “smash-up.” You pick the videos and the theme music to make your own two-minute video montage.


Fans can create their own “smash-ups” on www.wweuniverse.com.

One of the site’s most popular features, live chat, runs during live TV and pay-per-view events, with performers joining in from the arena and WWE hall-of-famers as hosts. On average, each fan stays active in live chat for an impressive 45 to 50 minutes each session.

Going Where the Fans Are

As social networking has become more and more popular, the question of whether to join was increasingly pressing. Keys and his team didn’t see a clear business case for jumping in.

“To be completely honest, two years ago we didn’t care about social networking because we didn’t have to,” Keys said. “Our audience was so engaged on our site that they consumed whatever we put up there. Why would I send my audience over to other brands? I don’t need their engagement because I have such a rabid fan base.”

The turning point? They realized that fans were talking about WWE on Facebook and Twitter – with or without them.

Moreover, WWE had a huge problem with imposters pretending to be superstars and divas, on Twitter in particular, pushing the network to establish an official voice.

However, WWE wanted to do it right. Three months ago, they quietly created corporate Facebook and Twitter accounts – without promoting them – as a test of sorts.

“We’re not rushing into anything,” Keys said. “We want them [fans] to have the best and highest-class experience they can have with the same robust quality experience of our TV and the website.”

Within two months, 500,000 Facebook users had hit the “Like” button to become fans on WWE’s Facebook page and more than 93,000 were following the brand on Twitter.

They also set up Twitter accounts for many of their top performers. Within just two hours of his first tweet, superstar John Cena had amassed 5,000 Twitter followers, with the number growing to 30,000 in his first week.

Now, WWE has more than 50 official and performer accounts and 90 official and star pages on Facebook.

In a couple of months, without any promotion, WWE has 106,000+ Twitter followers on its main account, and millions more through other official WWE accounts.

Protecting the WWE Brand

WWE is upfront about being a scripted TV show. In the arena and out, performers follow a set storyline. WWE superstars and divas can choose what to post on Twitter but mostly stick to their WWE storylines, with some reality peppered in.

When some of the stars got ash-trapped in Ireland, with flights halted because of the volcano, they tweeted about the predicament.

“We even created a funky map feature that followed stars from ferries to trains to buses, and then we produced a TV feature,” Keys said.

To maintain brand consistency across social networks, WWE created a “W” logo to distinguish Twitter and Facebook from imposters.

Though initially under the marketing team at WWE, the digital content division now manages social networks, realizing that it’s largely about online content.

About five staff members devote part of their time to the WWE Universe site, Facebook and Twitter. The team tweets about 10 to 15 times every day, posting news and links back to videos, photos and other content to encourage fans to come back to WWE Universe.

They schedule tweets and follow inbound social networking hits with HootSuite and use Omniture for more advanced web analytics. While WWE could outsource comment moderation to a number of professional companies, it has so far chosen to keep its hand in oversight and responses.

The WWE Brand by the Numbers

  • TV in 30 languages in 145 countries
  • 15 million viewers per week in the U.S.
  • 160 product licensing partners
  • 2 magazines
  • 300 live events annually
  • 200+ individuals (talent) under contract
  • More than 2.6 billion total page views worldwide
  • 14 million unique website visitors per month

Opening the Two-Way Street

WWE has not yet started actively promoting its Facebook and Twitter accounts on the WWE Universe site. So far, the only evidence is a Twitter feed on its website that streams all WWE and performer tweets.

Yet growing traffic coming from Facebook and Twitter gives WWE confidence in this new direction.

In the coming months, it will put its “foot on the gas” and begin telling its community of users about Twitter and Facebook. Icons for both sites will encourage fans on the WWE Universe site to share any of that content with their friends and contacts – opening the whole world of WWE content for fans to post.

By having mainstream and its own social networks, WWE expects to increase traffic and content sharing going both directions exponentially.

“If you go to superstar pages, we have very close to three million total fans on branded pages,” said Corey Clayton, online community leader at WWE. “It’s a vast network to reach out to and we’ll easily triple that in two weeks.”

As the brand goes full-force with social networking outside of its own site, WWE aims to evolve less-frequent website visitors to more active users. In doing so, they indirectly hope to increase pay-per-view sales, website page views and product sales.

“If we engage someone on Twitter who is a lapsed fan or bring new people into the product, then we’ve done our job well,” Keys said. “We’re now following the philosophy of going where the audience lives instead of getting them over to our house.”

Steal Some Moves From WWE

#1: Go where the fans are

The online community is likely talking about you anyway. Go where they are, engage and give them fresh content regularly.

#2: Stick to your storyline

WWE performers follow a set storyline with fans in the arena and out. No matter what you sell, always stick to the story of your brand, product or service.

#3: Protect your identity

Include the same logo on all social media to separate yourself from other fan or imposter accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

How about you? Are you a WWE fan? Are you meeting your best fans in the social networks where they hang out? How do you ensure you stick to your brand story in all of your social media activities?

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About the Author, Casey Hibbard

Casey Hibbard is Social Media Examiner's case study writer. She is also president of Compelling Cases Inc. and author of Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset. Other posts by »




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  • http://www.evowebdev.com/blog/ Ray Gulick

    Nice profile of WWE’s social media strategy and implementation, Casey. They clearly understand their fanbase and how to leverage it.

  • http://www.rhyswynne.co.uk/ Rhys

    Interesting article Casey. One thing that’s fascinating about the whole thing that their nearest US based competitor – Florida based Total Nonstop Action Wrestling – kind of forced their hand in my opinion.

    TNA embraced Youtube, Twitter & Facebook a lot earlier than WWE. In fact, on probably the most competitive day for the industry in the last 15 years (January 4th 2010 – WWE featured the return of Bret Hart for the first time since 1997 where he was controversially fired, TNA featured the debut of Hulk Hogan), whilst WWE won the US TV ratings, TNA was a lot popular on social media (I believe it was a trending topic on Twitter).

    I do work in my spare time with a local UK based wrestling company, and it’s amazing how many of them just don’t connect. It’s even more important with guys like us as we don’t have a weekly TV show to advance storylines & keep fans interest.

  • caseyhibbard

    Hey Ray, Thanks for your comments! It sure was a fun one to write.

  • caseyhibbard

    Rhys,

    Interesting juxtaposition of traditional media (TV) and social media. I guess the ideal is being on both – giving the audience multiple ways to experience your brand.

    It really struck me just how important social media is to these individual performers who need to sell their stories and persona to fans in the ring and out. So, the responsibility is not just on WWE or the entertainment company but today it’s on the entertainers too.

  • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylereed

    Well written article and case study.
    This is crazy stuff, but it shows that if engagement is there fans will respond.
    This gives me a lot to think about. Thanks for taking the time to write and research.

  • http://www.wvmagicwebdesign.com NicoleBranigan

    Who would have thought it? WWE is giving social media the elbow drop and I never knew it! Not only are they implementing it skillfully, fans are interacting with each other! Greatness!

  • http://dinodogan.com/ Dino Dogan

    Fascinating, thank you for bringing this story to us Casey. I will never understand the attraction of WWE but to each his own. I am floored at the numbers and the methodology, tho not surprised. WWE is the type of organization that is driven by more than just money (at least it seems that way from the outside). Its also the type of organization that knows its success depends solely on how well they take care of their fans. Other corps could do worse than to use WWE as their “business” model.thnx again…great post :-)

    @dino_dogan

  • Kathleen

    Love the headline on this post!

  • http://marismith.com/ Mari Smith

    Hey Dino – I’m right there with ya. Wrestling makes no sense to me. But this is an exceptional case study on the power of knowing the fans well, engaging, empowering, including. Plenty businesses can learn from the WWE as you say!!! :)

  • thegiggletest

    Great case study…never would have guess this about the WWE, but really makes sense after going through everything.

  • http://www.rhyswynne.co.uk/ Rhys

    Totally.

    To give an example. The main WWE Roster has about 70 athletes on there, split into 3 “Brands” (Raw with 30, Smackdown with 30 & NXT with 10). It produces off the top of my head 6 hours of original TV content a week (2 Hour Raw, 2 Hours Smackdown, 1 Hour NXT & 1 Hour Superstars – which uses Raw, Smackdown & NXT stars), though depending on specials & pay per views it can go upto 9. On a show like Raw, you’d have at absolute most 20 of the 30 or so athletes performing, but more likely 12 or so (again, pulling these figures out of my head) on the show. Of the 30, probably 20 get regular TV time (either on Raw or on Superstars). What about the other 10? It’s in their best interest to have at least a Twitter account to promote themselves, keep storylines going etc. In fact a couple of weeks ago where Twitter God Ashton Keutcher was hosting raw, him & Zach Ryder (a performer) did have a Twitter based feud that lead to a match. Ryder got a nice push from it too.

    Can you tell I’m a big fan of all this? :)

  • Tisa Yonts

    Really interesting and I get your point. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/sahielshah Sahil Shah

    You guys said that “Superstar John Cena attracted 5,000 followers within two hours of his first tweet.”

    He has only 437 followers as of now.. Any Reasons?

  • http://twitter.com/sahielshah Sahil Shah

    You guys said that “Superstar John Cena attracted 5,000 followers within two hours of his first tweet.”

    He has only 437 followers as of now.. Any Reasons?

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    It looks like we linked to the wrong one! So sorry. Here is the correct link http://Twitter.com/JohnCena

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625346484 facebook-625346484

    Thanks for the kind comments everyone. The Social Media Success Summit was a great help in planning.

  • http://twitter.com/DDFZone Dennis Wolf

    Guess you could say I am a partial fan of WWE, not part of Fan nation, don’t follow on twitter but I do watch the show but not the pay per view. I find the whole experience a fascinating study in marketing, promotion, branding etc. It has been an amazing success story of branding and promotion for years. This post has done
    an exceptional job of breaking that success down in a case study. The other story other than social media is the Branding aspect. Especially with John Cena who is himself a Brand within a Brand. Never Give Up represented by “That Obnoxious ORANGE” which by the way communicates the brand attribute of Strength, Determination, Force, Competition. And Add Blue to the Brand and you get? Maybe there is a post ready to be born here :) But you do get as of today _ 114,858 people following John Cena, not Lady Gaga , but still impressive. Anyway, great job on the case study Casey.
    Dennis
    Lead, Follow and Share

  • Pingback: The Best Social Media Quotes from 2010 | General Messages | FirePath Communications

  • CHRISSIE

    DO YOU LIKE JHON CENA







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