Scheduled Presenters: WWE top star John Cena, WWE executive Stephanie McMahon, WWE digital media executive Perkins Miller, and Khris Loux, CEO of Echo, who moderated the panel discussion.
In the crowd, the 11:00 a.m. panel discussion brought an interesting mix of wrestling fans and tech bloggers/employees interested in how a tech company was hitched to WWE.
To start, Loux framed the discussion as a look at how a big entertainment brand like WWE "drank all the Kool-Aid" of social media. Loux then discussed the relationship between a Silicon Valley start-up like Echo and WWE over the last 18 months. Loux said they are building upon the WWE brand rather than diluting it. He said their main focus is connecting WWE stars to their fans by extending social media reach.
This was followed by a video package on WWE's social media push via Tout, Twitter, YouTube, etc. It was interesting looking around the big conference room to see tech people mesmerized by what TV viewers have been bombarded with for the last two years.
Perkins said WWE reaches 145 million fans across the world either via social media or TV shows. He stressed Facebook as WWE's main source of connecting with their audience. Stephanie stressed John Cena as the #3 most-followed athlete in the U.S. before introducing Cena, who emerged through the back of the conference room to the stage.
Cena said the lines are blurred between sports and entertainment in their business, so that's why he came dressed in his "Superman outfit" wrestling gear (as opposed to street clothes). Cena said he was skeptical of using social media when it first launched because he wasn't sure how much to let people behind the curtain. Then, saw potential reach and chance to "get my message out."
Cena continued that he's decided to give his fans more access to him. He said the action continues during a commercial via the App, whereas in the NFL, nothing happens during a commercial. Cena said it's the future of entertainment. "It's overwhelming, but it's very positive."
Stephanie said it applies to WWE because their fans have always been part of the show because the stars are popular or not popular based on fan reaction. "Worse, quiet when it's not working," she quipped. Stephanie said social media opened things up to where fans can interact without having to be in the arena.
Cena said his account and brand is completely controlled by him. He said he discussed it with Perkins and the entire digital crew, but doesn't want to hand over control to someone to interact with all of his fans. Cena said the message comes right from his head. He said why he doesn't tweet 20 times every day is because he wants his thoughts to be authentic and not controlled by someone else. Cena and Stephanie then joked about tweets Cena wished he had back. (Poop Chart, anyone?) He said the company might deem a tweet inappropriate, and he has to be aware of his surroundings.
Cena said he's been a standalone Superstar on WWE TV for about ten years. Now, he is becoming a brand and major companies are coming to him, like Post's Fruity Pebbles. Cena said "Fruity Pebbles" was trending for the first time ever, which got laughs. He got more laughs saying now people are going to buy the cereal, which Post bought into. Cena said Post has been overwhelmed by the response for the box cover.
Cena then discussed WWE's relationship with Susan G. Komen to promote breast-cancer awareness. Cena said he had elbow surgery, so he couldn't be on TV throughout the campaign, so he used social networking to promote it. "On paper, the relationship doesn't make sense, but it took some brave people to give it a try." Stephanie added that it's a chance to reach new fans who might not follow WWE and promote the company in a positive way.
Loux then asked Stephanie about applying social media to other aspects of the business. Stephanie said one of the things they have done is the WrestleMania pre-show on YouTube. She said they've seen between 200,000 and 300,000 views for various pre-PPV pre-shows. Stephanie said they use the "social ecosystem" to direct people from Twitter to the pre-show to the PPV and back to television. She said they're not looking at it just as how to drive money, but to make it fan-friendly. Stephanie threw out a number that WWE has increased revenue by 25 percent directly through social media growth.
Stephanie then discussed WWE's decision to take the company public to create transparency and allow people to have a piece of the company. She said they don't call their audience "fans" because they believe it creates distance; they want to make it inclusive.
Perkins then stressed WWE's App allowing people to buy tickets to an event or buy Cena's merchandise while watching Raw. He said Raw starts on their App at 7:30 p.m. EST before Raw starts live at 8:00 on USA Network. The idea is to keep people engaged throughout the entire three-hour. Perkins said their data indicates people have engaged throughout the full three hours, but he did not address Raw's third hour viewership declining from the second hour each week during the three-hour era except for two episodes.
Stephanie then plugged The Undertaker's TV return on Raw. She noted that on Monday morning, they put Taker's symbol on the App and let it sit there without saying a word to generate buzz for Taker's return on Raw.
Loux asked Cena what it's like being on-air throughout the week. Cena joked about being on a podium with people staring at him, just like right now. Cena then plugged the App keeping the action going. He said sometimes there will be a pre-match interview right before a guy or girl goes through the curtain. Cena described it as the closest thing to being there live.
Loux asked next how Stephanie handles this Creatively. Stephanie said it's great people - 100s of people in Creative, digital, and the stars fully engaged with "tremendous ideas" of how to drive the message. "They know how to keep entertaining the masses 24/7," Stephanie said.
But, what about TV advertisers during Raw? Perkins said they keep people engaged throughout the break, not take a break. Perkins said new Nielsen research indicates viewers are more engaged in the commercial because they're looking at their phone throughout the duration of the show, not walking away from the TV.
- Stephanie said they can have great Creative plans, then the top Superstar has to go have elbow surgery and it throws everything off. "I'm right here!" Cena said, mock indignant. Stephanie said they have the ability to change direction if something is working or not working. She said a pre-recorded sitcom might sit there and die because they can't change if something is not working.
- Cena was asked about facing The Rock again at WM29. His strategy is "not to finish second again."
- Stephanie described their fans as the voice. They were previously limited by just the arena, now they have social media tools to evaluate the sentiment of their fans. She said sometimes they have to interpret the "sentiment" data they receive because they want a negative reaction to a bad guy.
- Stephanie said she was nervous and hesitant about joining Twitter because it is her voice. She wasn't sure whether to be more of an executive, or let people into her personal life, or be a character. So, her goal is to be a mix of all three to show the different hats she wears.
- Is the social media regulated or policed? Stephanie said they are trying to implement more of a digital presence for their regular office employees. But, for the stars, they provide general guidelines. "Don't drink and tweet," she said. Stephanie said to be aware of direct-messaging people. "But, it's not a hard and fast policy," she said. Perkins said their stars are smart, but WWE can self-correct after something happens.
- Cena was asked who his favorite opponent to wrestle is. Cena said "hopefully" it's The Rock on April 7.
- Perkins revealed that WWE has a Social Zone backstage for the wrestlers to be able to tweet either right before or after a match. He said they've spend a lot of time evaluating where to put resources in terms of staffing to anticipate what's going to happen real-time.
- Cena was asked what his favorite hobby is. He said he has no hobbies because this takes up his entire time. "This is it; it's all I got," Cena joked.
- How did WWE address social media changes internally? Stephanie said Vince McMahon has a big social media vision. She said it evolved rather quickly and because of their connection with the fans, it was a natural way to extend the brand. Stephanie said they're still fighting battles internally and trying to get more tools to their various departments. Stephanie said people in a particular department are so focused on getting one job done, but sometimes they're not looking at the big-picture. "It's education, it's metrics, and decision-makers forcing the decision down," she said.
Perkins said Vince thinks social will transform the company. He said every department is required on Friday to report how they used social this week to grow and promote their particular business division. Perkins said this company is moving very fast and very quickly.
- The final question was about breaking the fourth wall with the Glenn Beck program. Stephanie recapped the Jack Swagger & Zeb Colter story, including breaking the fourth wall and having them break character. She said they "did the big reveal" that wrestling is scripted. Cena said, "You would be surprised," referring to people who don't realize it's scripted. Stephanie said they posted the video to YouTube and they did not populate it across their social media platforms. Stephanie said there was a miscommunication and they did not execute the plan correctly.
- Stephanie closed by plugging The Rock vs. John Cena at WM29. "Like me? I'm going to WrestleMania?!" Cena said. Stephanie said the pre-show is going to be extended to an hour. She said the pre-show is also changing. She said it was good, but it became more of a packaged television show. Stephanie said there will be a much-more interactive element with the chance to affect the WM29 show. She said there will also be arena voting.
Perkins chimed in that there will be a new platform for WM29 distribution announced in the next week.
Cena said this is actually why they brought him here to close this presentation in the right way. Cena said he fought for his life in Colorado Springs last night, landed in Austin at 3:00 a.m., then met with the folks on-stage at 7:00 a.m., then he decided how to close this presentation. Cena said his initial thought was to close by saying what you see at WrestleMania will turn your head into poo. Stephanie freaked out, then Perkins said you have to hit them with Shakespeare at SXSW.
Cena said Perkins was right. "Mine eye and heart are at immortal war," he said. Cena said he watches Mania as a fan, so he will be caught up in the event, but his heart wants to whip The Rock's ass. So, he's at this war with himself because he wants to win the WWE Title at WM29. Cena said he will be there and his heart and soul will go into that match. He said, "I promise you, you won't believe your eyes." This drew applause from the crowd after WWE wow'ed the techies describing how an entertainment brand is incorporating social media into the fabric of their company.