What you can learn from WWE: Put a bear hug on fan engagement

What you can learn from WWE: Put a bear hug on fan engagement

More than just a Florida vacation, my trip to WrestleMania 33 in Orlando was a pilgrimage. World Wrestling Entertainment’s Super Bowl since 1985, WrestleMania has become a multi-day celebration, one that raked in $175 million for its host city in 2018.

For a long-time wrestling fan, it can be a profound experience – the chance to be surrounded by your tribe. When the norm is to be dismissed by others – “You know that stuff is fake, right?” – WrestleMania seemingly makes the misfits the majority in whatever city hosts. Whereas one may struggle to find a wrestling buddy to watch shows and debate the inner-workings of the scripted product, WrestleMania brings tens of thousands of like-minded individuals together.

What started off as a once-in-a-lifetime trip with friends became a “Why don’t we do this every year?”-type of vacation. It truly is a spectacle that’s chockablock with days’ worth of activities to satisfy a wrestling fix. But for all the mainstream attention and its special place in fans’ hearts, WrestleMania is only one date on a WWE calendar full of programming that keeps people watching, buying tickets and filling their closets with merchandise. (WWE reported $930.2 million in revenue for 2018.)

I sat out WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans, but memories of WrestleMania 33 are fresh, including recollection of the myriad ways that WWE effectively engages with its fans. Here are four ways the WWE excels at fan engagement and how you could apply the tactics of the publicly traded corporation to your brand.

From social media to live action to lots of nostalgia, WrestleMania weekend keeps fans engaged on multiple fronts.

From social media to live action to lots of nostalgia, WrestleMania weekend keeps fans engaged on multiple fronts.

By giving people what they want

WWE operates in 180 countries, making WrestleMania weekend an international draw. WWE’s appeal also cuts across ages and races. At WrestleMania Axxess, WWE presents a fan fest that seemingly offers something for everybody. In 2017, the Orange County Convention Center included long lines for meet-and-greets with today’s “Superstars”; a mini-museum containing decades of memorabilia for the older, nostalgic fan; a ring filled with foam blocks where kids could take a giant leap; and live wrestling from WWE’s developmental league NXT for those who lean toward the sports side of WWE’s “sports entertainment.”

WWE also makes it extremely easy for fans to show their allegiance to their favorite wrestlers via the company’s merchandising juggernaut – in 2018, the company generated $102.6 million in merchandise revenue. Fans can buy shirts or go full-on cos-player with belts, masks and other replica accessories.

Of course, there’s no shortage of in-ring action from WWE, and WrestleMania attracts nearly every other wrestling promotion of note for smaller shows throughout the city.

The more you know about your customers/followers/fans, the better. The info you can mine from your social media activity is a good place to start. What is the value added by your brand? What needs aren’t being met that you could fulfill? 

By making things feel important

WWE often goes to comical lengths to make its product distinct: It’s not wrestling, it’s sports entertainment; they’re not wrestlers, they’re Superstars; spectators are the WWE Universe; AND WrestleMania is the “Showcase of the Immortals.” But WWE’s flourishes do an excellent job in making events with predetermined outcomes feel like can’t miss, earth-shattering happenings. From the hyperbole of the TV announcers to social media to massive billboards to special print publications to wrestlers touting the product through major media outlets, WWE uses multiple tactics to build up its biggest event.

Last year’s event saw attendance of 78,133 fans, 2.12 million households watching through the WWE Network and 13.9 million hours consumed on digital and social media platforms.

From paid (ads) to owned (website, social media) to earned (press coverage) media, you need a multi-pronged approach to promoting your brand that understands that people still consume messaging through various channels. 

WrestleMania Axxess provides ample opportunities for fans to get the right shot to share on social media.

WrestleMania Axxess provides ample opportunities for fans to get the right shot to share on social media.

By mastering Instagrammable moments

On WrestleMania weekend, one doesn’t have to look very far for an opportunity to take a highly sharable image for social media. At WrestleMania 33 events this included:

  • Photo opps with the likes of top Superstars such as Roman Reigns and A.J. Styles

  • A Snapchat Lens that turned you into WWE legend The Undertaker

  • A giant box of Booty O’s, tag team The New Day’s WWE-licensed cereal, with oversized O’s

  • Props like championship belts, Slammy Awards and The Undertaker's urn

  • A giant action figure package with room for you to strike your best pose

Axxess also provided more interactive social media moments such as the chance to come out to your favorite wrestler’s entrance music under bright lights and the adulation of people waiting in line. Attendants provided a code so you could retrieve your video later and easily share to Twitter or Facebook. Other activities include the chance to record your own promo hyping up a battle and record your play-by-play announcing of a match.

You don’t have to construct a steel cage-enclosed wrestling ring to give fans an attractive setting for a social media photo. A bold design accent, cheeky phrase in neon, art installation and other novelties could create an Instagrammable spot at your store, restaurant, conference, benefit dinner, etc. 

By mobilizing their performers to promote on social media

WWE turns its Superstars into devoted brand ambassadors on social media. Top talent can attract followings in the millions on individual social platforms, and WWE alone boasts more than 1 billion total social media followers. Whether, furthering their storyline character or giving a glimpse at their out-of-the-ring life to connect with fans, wrestlers maximize social media to elevate themselves and the company. Wrestlers are actively promoting events using the various hashtags WWE creates for live shows, hawking their latest T-shirt and documenting their media appearances. WWE continues to tighten its headlock on social media, airing content on Facebook Watch and using social media exclusive videos with wrestlers recording their own trash talk against an opponent to build hype for future matches.

Enlist your employees in helping amplify key messaging for your brand. This could be as simple as asking them to share notifications about job openings on LinkedIn to regularly sharing infographics, videos, photos and captions with employees in a social media ambassadors program. Your people have a network of connections who may be more receptive to brand messaging that's not coming from a branded account.

Branding advice from a lifelong wrestling fan, The Promo delivers insight on getting over in the digital age whether you’re in the office or in the ring.

Note: This blog post originally appeared on LinkedIn on April 4, 2018.

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