SXSW ’14: WWE Brings Fan Passion to the Second Screen

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John Cena isn’t just a WWE superstar, he’s also a fan. At a South by Southwest panel on the birth of the WWE Network, Cena said the network’s rich library of online videos let him revisit the moment that made him fall in love with the WWE: a classic battle between Hulk Hogan and the Iron Sheik.

Cena said he also scouts opponents with WWE Network videos. He likes that it gives past stars a chance to have their matches seen again, and gives rising stars an opportunity to show their talent.

“It’s like Netflix or Hulu, but with the addition of a linear stream 24/7,” WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon said.

With the WWE’s large and passionate fan base, it was almost a forgone conclusion that the WWE Network, which offers 24/7 programming, live events, and on-demand content, would be a success. However, plenty of smart decisions and a savvy social engagement strategy pushed the network over the top, or, as WWE says, “way over the top.”

“We have the most passionate, incredible fan base in the world,” McMahon said. “Our fans are completely engaged.”

The WWE announced the launch of the WWE Network at this year’s International CES, a moment that attracted significant social media buzz. The announcement became the most tweeted event at the show by far, McMahon noted. Once the online network launched, the fans were there. The first WWE Network live event -- “NXT Arrival,” devoted to new talent -- streamed four days after launch and became the number three top trending show of the night, in a list that included broadcast programming.

WWE executives and producers actively monitor fan social media responses when creating storylines. Fans spontaneously created a movement called “Hijack RAW,” McMahon said, referring to the network’s live Monday night show. The fans behind Hijack RAW want to influence the show’s decision makers, so the WWE has been listening to that movement and incorporated it into the recent highly successful RAW from Chicago. That helped the event get 68 worldwide Twitter trends, she said.

Looking at his own fan base, Cena said his social networking followers have doubled in the past year. The key is authenticity, he said. “People want to feel as if they can get closer.” Fans want to talk directly to Cena and have their voice heard. “The messages I send out are genuine.” It’s no longer a question of whether or not to engage with social media, it’s now a necessity, he believes. “Adapt or get out of the way,” Cena said.

John Cena and Stephanie McMahon at South by Southwest 2014.

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