In Defense of Social Networking
Lately I’ve been thinking about how WWE uses social networking. A lot of people are up-in-arms about WWE plugging Touts and Tweets, but I never watch RAW live anymore, so it doesn’t feel like an issue to skip through all the padding. However, in thinking about WWE’s social networking I came to appreciate it in some manifestations. For today, let’s tackle the most oft-spoken of channel of WWE’s networking: Twitter.
One way WWE uses Twitter on their broadcasts is the “check in and see what they’re talking about” plug, whether they’re showing who or what is trending or comments from fans about characters and storylines. I liken this sort of Twitter plug to showing signs in the audience. Obviously there are signs that probably don’t conform to the multiple fictions WWE’s trying to sell, which is why they normally pick signs that, for instance, show support of a babyface as he’s making his way down the ramp, although there could also be a sign making fun of that same talent somewhere else in the audience – assuming it wasn’t taken away.
In this way, they’re selectively choosing audience opinion to suggest a general opinion to the viewers at home, directing them towards opinions that fit in with the fiction and product they’re trying to sell. Tweets are a better filtered version of crowd signs, since with the latter you have to worry about contradictory signs popping up in the background of your shots. Whether this sort of selective audience representation is right is another issue I won’t be talking about today.
Another utilization of social networking is narrative building. A lot of John Cena’s feud with The Rock was built on Tweets, which were communicated both through WWE programming and also imageboards, blogs and even our own Headlines. In the case of these fan-generated forums, these Tweets served as a basis for discussion, such as whether they were kayfabe or legitimate; what, if anything, these Tweets might lead to in terms of storyline; and also the content of the Tweets themselves – in most cases, I’m sure fans were just laughing at whatever jokes Rock and Cena were slinging at each other.
When a Tweet fans on the Internet had discussed tentatively as a hint of a potential storyline is shown on television, normally it’s a confirmation they’ll be including it in their programming. WWE isn’t always elegant in using social networking to build storylines, but I believe it’s a reasonable promotional tool that, like most of WWE’s social networking, is easy to ignore if you’re uninterested or outright offended by the solicitation, but also effective when done correctly. I mean hell, excluding when we’re making fun of Batista’s Tweets (which is always fun), how many times have we talked about the wrestling dialogues happening on Twitter? Lots. That must say something.
You also have to consider how much this helps WWE in spreading its hype to fans. Not every fan of the WWE watches wrestling week-to-week – I know I’ve been tuning in less these past few weeks as I’ve been adjusting to my summer schedule. However, since I’m so plugged into my own social networking, through which WWE’s promotional devices can reach me, I’m still informed about what’s happening. More importantly, they can tease and therefore hype possible storylines, appearances or returns without spending any time on WWE programming actually mentioning it. It’s always disappointing when you buy Royal Rumble thinking there’ll be all these great returns because the Internet said so, only for Michael Cole to reveal his orange singlet and fumble around the ring for a few minutes. But even with these disappointments, it still can build anticipation for fans who might not be tuning in all the time or who don’t get hyped by the actual products WWE’s promising on television.
Setting aside Twitter, there’s another channel of social networking I’ve already mentioned, though isn’t confined to the WWE promotional machine: the fans. As the fans are already themselves immersed in social networking, it’s only natural that some of their online communities or discourse might include wrestling. I, for one, obviously engage in wrestling dialogues online, considering I’m writing this article right now. I’ve also been a part of several wrestling groups, all of which were at their best a source of enrichment in my appreciation of pro wrestling, and at their worst an enormous headache. Despite the frustrations, these fan-generated forums have been integral in improving my appreciation of wrestling, and I’m sure a lot of other fans could say the same.
So where does WWE go from here? How might WWE build on their current social networking to generate hype for their product? To me, the way forward isn’t with deciding what sorts of comments their audience should be hearing; it’s with building community. WWE likes to throw around the phrase “WWE Universe”, trying to make it sound like fans have an active role in the WWE. But if WWE wants to create fans whose life (or at least a portion of it is wrestling), they need to try to replicate the sort of communities fans have already generated for themselves.
In a good wrestling forum, you’re engaged because you’re able to converse with other fans and receive feedback, while also gaining recognition over time for your involvement. In a good forum, you don’t feel like you’re a small voice in a crowd, but a member of a tight-knit group in which you’re known by your first name, in which you’re known for certain interests. Feedback, reputation, relationships – these are the things WWE needs to incorporate in their social networking so that fans don’t just engage with it to get hyped about their product, but also because it becomes a routine part of their own networking, their own online communities.
Of course, WWE has certain limitations. They’re probably not going to create a community that breaks kayfabe. However, providing a forum on which fans can foster actual relationships with each other and giving fans something to show for their involvement, even if it’s just a reputation amongst other fans, is a great way to keep people engaged with your product.
Boom, swish, finished, complete, over – yeah, I’m done now. Article’s over.
You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. Go.
ORRRRRRRRR, you can check me out on Twitter and maybe take a gander at my fiction page:
Until next Wednesday (my new column posting day), I’m going to go watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off because I like being reminded how uneventful my usual day is.