Stephanie McMahon, the Chief Brand Officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, is a fourth-generation wrestling promoter. Her great-grandfather, Roderick James McMahon, booked boxing and wrestling matches at New York's Madison Square Garden and started Capitol Wrestling Corporation in 1952. Her grandfather Vince McMahon Sr. took his father's company over in 1954. Stephanie's father Vince McMahon bought the family regional grappling business in 1982, built it into the global entertainment company that took in over $500 million in revenue last year, and remains its chairman and CEO.
Today, the WWE airs its weekly live events in 150 countries and reaches 650 million homes worldwide, and has a total of 360 million social media followers across its wrestlers' and its own Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. WWE trends worldwide every week on Twitter, and, says Stephanie McMahon, the company's followers have increased 120 percent in the last 12 months.
You don't have to be an analytics expert to know that means WWE's content is constantly going viral. USA Today's top trending article earlier this week, currently clocking in at 38,000 shares and rising, was a GIF of WWE wrestler Dean Ambrose superplexing Seth Rollins off a ladder during Sunday's pay-per-view event "Money In The Bank."
"WWE's mission is all about putting smiles on people's faces," McMahon says. "There's so much power in making someone smile and to share those smiles across social media is one of my goals."
Inc. spoke with Stephanie McMahon about WWE's social media strategy and their own secrets behind millions of followers.
Engage your fans.
Stephanie McMahon says the first key to any successful social media account is engagement. "WWE utilizes social media, Twitter specifically, to push out information in a creative and fun way, but we also love to engage our fans," she says. "It's not just about your message, the other half of social media is listening and responding. Fans, consumers, and customers appreciate that extra level of personal attention and responsiveness from any brand"
Get your employees to participate.
Social media is a way to engage your fans in an authentic, creative, and fun way. Although Stephanie, who is married to WWE wreslter and executive vice president Paul Levesque (aka Triple H), also gets in the ring as her eponymous evil executive alter-ego, she doesn't tweet in her character's vocie. With 854,000 followers, many of them marketing and branding professionals and other executives, she is careful not to confuse the nefarious Stephanie with the executive Stephanie. But, the wrestlers' accounts (who they call "Superstars") are great ways to continue plot lines, get feedback and ideas from the audience, and continue the action online. "Our talent uses their social media accounts to continue to drive story line and engagement. It creates an ecosystem for our fans to continue story lines throughout the week 24/7," McMahon says. "They are never disconnected from WWE, it's an opportunity to keep our fans engaged with our brand." As a result of this strategy, she says they've been able to grow their social media fan base to over 360 million followers. "That number literally grows every single week," she says.
It's all about timing.
As with acting, comedy, and WWE's "sports-entertainment" performers, timing is important to your social media campaigns. "Timing in terms of getting something out there in real time because it's happening in the world, is key. The picture doesn't have to be perfect, you need your information to be correct, but it's [more important to be] in real time." McMahon says there's also the concept of "strategic timing" to help drive your business. To promote ticket sales for this year's WrestleMania XXX, which is the WWE's biggest annual event, McMahon says they hit social media with promo codes for pre-sale tickets for their fans--and sold a significant amount of tickets that way. "We were offering our fans something exclusive--you have the opportunity to buy WrestleMania tickets before anyone else. It absolutely drove traffic and ticket sales," she says. A third important part of timing is to know when your customers are actually on Twitter and Facebook throughout the day. "If your audience is slightly older, female or male, and typically engaging in social media just before work, lunchtime, or after work, that's when you want to push out your messages," she says. "It all depends on the audience and platform and that depends on your brand."
Don't fight campaigns against you.
During a live taping of WWE's Monday show "Raw" in Chicago in March 2014, WWE fans started a protest called "Hijack Raw," a movement in protest of popular wrestler CM Punk abruptly leaving the company and to pressure WWE to diversify what they felt were "stale troupes" and story lines that relied too much on popular "greased-up muscly" leading men defeating evil, uncool, or foreign characters, as the Washington Post reported. As the fans in the stadium shouted, held signs, and hit Twitter with #HijackRaw during the live taping, the movement's hashtag started to trend on Twitter. The fans wanted their own voice and were protesting Stephanie's and Triple H's characters, know together as "The Authority." For any company, unhappy fans on social media could hurt business. "A lot of companies would've thought that this was trouble and say, 'Oh my God, what do we do?' But for WWE, it wasn't even a question because our whole strategy is to engage our audience," McMahon says. Instead of fighting with fans (which will explode in your face on social media, by the way), Stephanie says WWE decided to engage with the idea of fans hijacking "Raw." "We absolutely embraced this concept and had [wrestler] Daniel Bryan to talk about it during Raw," she says, explaining WWE writers made the protest part of the story line. "Because of that, #HijackRaw and #RawChicago were both world wide trends and trended seven times that night."
Your fans are the secret sauce.
To be fair, a big part of why WWE is trending every week on Twitter, McMahon says, is partly due to the fact that they have a weekly live show, they do not have an off season, and they never air reruns. New live content is a great way to gain a large, engaged audience. But, the fan base itself is where all the power lies, McMahon says. "When you think about the secret of WWE, it is our fan base," she says. "I think if every company looked at their consumers as the secret to their success, they might have more success."
Other tactics the WWE has up its sleeve includes the WWE app, where viewers can vote for different match outcomes, different opponents, and other options and WWE will actually change the story line live during a match. Another big bet, which has yet to gain the expected 1 million subscribers, is the recently launched WWE Network, a video streaming service like Netflix where fans can get all 12 annual pay-per-view events and watch any match in the company's history for $9.99 per month.
But despite all the business moves, McMahon says little would happen if the company wasn't listening to their fans. "Our fans are the secret to our success. They tell us what they like by cheering, they tell us what they don't like by booing, and--worse--they tell us what they don't care about by being silent," McMahon says.