How WWE Conquered the Social Media Arena

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is known for its burly performers, lewd females, outrageous story lines and epic drama, but behind the scenes there’s a serious fight to engage its audience.

At WWE headquarters in Stamford, CT, a group of innovative marketers and strategists are working hard to pump out the content that gets its viewers excited. Social media is a growing part of that process. The team’s social media efforts have even caught the attention of Mashable readers, who voted to award them two Mashable Awards.

We spoke with three key digital leaders at WWE to discuss its social media strategy — Brian Kalinowski (EVP, digital media), Mark Keys (VP, web production) and Corey Clayton (online community leader) weighed in on how the company is using social to engage and learn from its community.

1. Learning From the Evolution of Web Usage

Kalinowski kicked off our discussion with an astute analysis of the evolution of web usage and how it’s impacting content creators and making social integration increasingly important:

“One of the things we’ve seen over the last five years is an evolution of web usage. There was a time when the search engines became the de facto ‘home’ or start page for a lot of folks. They basically used the web to discover and find things. Sites like AOL and some of the portals came around to give people a home, and some of the personalized services were evolved to give people a place to nest.

“Then we saw an evolution of that with sites like Friendster and MySpace, which really gave people a virtual home, a place to go. With those types of evolutions with social networks and sites, usage patterns have changed. People are spending somewhere between 60-70% of their time on no more than three or four sites. The rest of the time, they’re going off, finding and discovering, but then they’re going back to those sites. The integration of content destinations with, for the lack of a better word, ‘home’ and starting pages and final destinations becomes really critical.”

WWE claims an online fan base of about 14-15 million unique site visitors globally. Its fans are vocal and passionate and spent much of their online time of social sites, primarily Facebook, explained Kalinowski.

The WWE digital strategy team takes a strong stance that it’s important to go where “people are nesting,” instead of spending marketing dollars to cajole them to consume branded content within the confines of the WWE website.

2. Content Is King

From April 2008 to January 2011, WWE supported its own social network called WWE Universe. It was mildly successful, with 750,000 accounts created, 3.5 million photo uploads, 3 million comments and 400,000 blog posts, all generated from the network’s community. The team has taken a complete 180 starting this month, though, since it realized that it’s main Facebook pages were seeing more action than its custom social network. The company shut down WWE Universe in January, and in preparation, began migrating its audience to its Facebook pages via its television properties, social icons in its website’s top navigation, along with other marketing campaigns.

On that principle of going where the people are, WWE has focused its efforts on making sure its content is available on the key social sites where its community is flocking, namely Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

WWE produces about 1,500 unique pieces of content for its website per week, which it then optimizes across its social sites. Keys explained, “We pick and choose, from our four different shows we produce, or any public events or appearances that the superstars are doing, to any other television relationships that we have.”

WWE gets a lot of action on YouTube, on and off of its official page, which has 155,600 subscribers and has experienced more than 6.3 million channel views and 145 million video upload views. Making its videos available on the largest video site in the world is just a smart move, plain and simple.

Taking it a bit further, the company is also able to create custom content, in the forms of tweets and status updates, for example, for each network, based on its users consumption habits and interests.

3. Extending the Storyline

WWE is leveraging social media to fill in the gaps that occur between TV episodes, by creating a connection via social media.

“Our form of content is really entertainment, it’s not sports. So, a lot of ‘news,’ if you will, is really an extension of the storyline that you’re seeing on TV,” explained Keys. “One of the things that WWE can do as a program that runs 52 weeks a year that is literally scripted week by week, is that we can augment our storylines with simple feeds to these social networks on a weekly basis. So, with a two-hour show that runs on Monday, we have the ability to, two or three times a week, prompt that something else is happen and that [fans] should see it. [We can] continue the story that ended on Monday night and carry it through to the next Monday night.”

On Twitter, for example, WWE conducts “Twitterviews,” which are live Twitter interviews with its superstars. The WWE also lets superstars maintain their own accounts and engage in completely organic cyber wars with each other. As of yet, the company doesn’t have an official policy for superstars engaging with fans and each other. Sometimes that yields more personable and interesting tweets anyway. This week, for example, WWE SmackDown superstars Wade Barrett and Big Show had a sparring session on Twitter after the all-hands-on-deck brawl that ended the Monday’s “Raw” episode.

4. Building the Superstars’ Brands

Though the WWE lets its superstars run their own Twitter accounts, for Facebook, the company has a mixed policy, in which both the superstars and the community team are managing Pages.

Besides its main WWE and WWE Universe Twitter accounts, the company supports 87 superstar Twitter accounts, which are maintained by the superstars from the road. “You get to see what they’re feeling and what they’re thinking as they travel around the country and world,” noted Clayton. Last year, when the erupting Eyjafjallajökull volcano was causing travel delays, some of the superstars were caught in Ireland during a UK tour, but were able to tweet their whereabouts to fans, he said. In some cases, WWE reps were unable to get in touch with the superstars, but followed their updates on Twitter for information.

On Facebook, WWE maintains 108 unique Pages, include the main WWE page, Stand Up for WWE, Pages for most of its top talent, and pages for individual TV shows.

Why so many Twitter accounts and Facebook Pages? Keys says, “In addition to our televisions brands, like “Raw” and “SmackDown,” each of our talent in and of themselves is a brand. There are just as many people who love John Cena as there are that hate him. And there are just as many people who love Randy Orton as there are that hate him. So, we try to focus on our talent as individual brands.”

The strategy seems to be working for WWE so far. It has 16.8 million fans across its Facebook pages, and its an active fan base. The main WWE Page ranks at #45 on the list of top pages by fan count, and each posts yields on average 5,000 interactions (comments and likes) each. Last year, WWE’s top 30 Facebook Pages received more than 1 billion post impressions and 7.1 million interactions, according to WWE.

5. Getting Instant Consumer Feedback

Because of the instant feedback loop that Twitter provides, the WWE content creation team users it as a consumer research tool. “Usually at the end of our Pay-Per-Views or ‘Monday Night Raw,’ one of our superstars is a top trending topic on Twitter,” explained Kalinowski. The team keeps an eye on what users are saying and use those insights moving forward.

For Facebook, the team employs a similar method, using polls to get instant audience feedback about what users liked and disliked about a particular show.

Your Thoughts?

WWE is using social media to keep fans active when they’re not consuming content on TV, but its also using it for brand building and consumer feedback. How would you grade its strategy, and what would you suggest for improvement? Let us know in the comments.

More Social Media Resources from Mashable:

Americans & TV: How Social Media Users Watch Video [INFOGRAPHIC]
Why Are Social Networks So Addictive? [OPEN THREAD]
HOW TO: Ask and Answer Questions on Quora [VIDEO]
The World Before the Internet [COMIC]
How Videos Go Viral [INFOGRAPHIC]

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