WWE Embraces Social Media

by Michael Millar

Professional Wrestling giant WWE have at several points had fixed grip on popular culture. Names like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage were big names of the 1980’s as were The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin big names of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. A decade later the WWE has struggled to find the same levels of connection with young people in society. Sadly within the last ten years wrestling has been under the spotlight of mainstream media more so in relation to tragedies and deaths that anything else.

Different promotional tactics have been used in trying to re-ignite the fire of wrestling popularity such as an increased endorsement by celebrities, re-evaluating the target audience and even a million dollar lottery style campaign. These have been met with little long term success but WWE’s most recent attempt with the incorporation of social media seems to have found that success.

The recent release of the company’s “Key Performance Indicators” paper to its shareholders and investors shows many of the areas in which financial gains have been made. The interactions with social media began in July and that is where we see one of the most interesting points of the paper. July focused heavily on a storyline involving professional wrestler CM Punk intending to leave the WWE promotion whilst WWE Champion. He made several comments relating to his dislike of company management and to blur the lines between reality and storyline WWE chose not to air any of these comments after their live TV broadcast. With people unable to see replays and WWE seemingly sweeping CM Punk under the rug the video became a huge hit on Youtube and reached hundreds of thousands of views within days. Views currently stand at around one and a half million. This was all done as a promotional tactic for CM Punk’s championship bout at the Money In The Bank Pay-Per-View which, according to the performance release, had a higher increased buy rate to the previous year’s Money In The Bank show. Company chairman Vince McMahon claimed that the buy rate for the PPV had increased by around twenty percent.

 

The performance indicator also showed significant gains in online merchandising sales. This may directly tie in to the WWE’s use of Facebook in its merchandising campaigns. Facebook users can follow their favourite wrestling superstars on Facebook and have their say on the merchandising releases of that wrestler. For example a Facebook poll will be created for three designs of a John Cena t-shirt and fans will vote for their favourite of the three, the winner of which will see production. Or if a new Stone Cold Steve Austin DVD is being produced then fans can vote on the matches that will appear on that DVD. Interactions like this have seen the increase of online merchandise sales in every financial quarter so far this year as compared to last year. And with Christmas coming up that increase will most likely be huge when the final quarter figures are assessed in early 2012.

WWE superstars have used social media to try completely revolutionary and new things for their characters. The most powerful example of this would be of the now self proclaimed “Internet Chapmpion” Zack Ryder. Ryder had not been used on television very much in early 2011 which usually means that he was considered to be an expendable talent that could be fired easily. His career was circling the drain. However rather than sit and do nothing he decided to do something that hasn’t been done before in wrestling, a web show. “Z True Long Island Story” is now thirty nine weeks in and Ryder’s popularity has skyrocketed. The Youtube comedy show generates hundreds of thousands of hits each week. It’s used fan content, sketches and thousands of people try each week to become Zack Ryder’s ‘Broski Of The Week’. Most importantly it has made the higher ups of WWE realise Zack’s potential to the point where just last week on the WWE Raw show he was a part of the main event. After the cameras stopped rolling during the latest edition of Raw a heartfelt thank you from Ryder was captured by a fan’s video camera and posted on Youtube.
“Thirty nine weeks ago I started a little Youtube show called ‘Z True Long Island Story’. The reason I started it was to either get noticed or get fired and because of all the people I got noticed. I was just in the ring with CM Punk, John Cena and Randy Orton. And I’m the chump who couldn’t get on TV. So everybody in this building is broski of the week!”

However some fans have criticised the embrace of social media. Mentions of Twitter names and WWE related trending topics come often in programming now. Fans on the popular Professional Wrestling discussion board of 420chan.org described it as “Taking away focus from the matches and stories”. Others said that “Overbearing was an understatement” in relation to the twitter referencing.

Those criticisms may likely go unnoticed by the company if the successes of the performance indicator paper come through. Twitter and Facebook look to be heavily involved in the promotion of Wrestlemania 28’s main event, John Cena vs The Rock. WWE fans should heavily expect to keep the laptop or smart phone by their side when watching the action for the foreseeable future.

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