Clue-by-Four: Ramblings of a Jock Dork

Social Media Era 1.0: The New Age of Wrestling

Posted in Now with Wrestling... by Wingnut on July 23, 2011

WWE Begins Metamorphosis Toward The Future and Strikes Death Blow to Impact Wrestling

(Yeah, regular readers, I mark out for wrestling. You should too!)

 

CM Punk Takes the WWE Championship....everywhere

For the first time in months, possibly years, the Internet Wrestling Community is abuzz with talk of mystery and intrigue. No longer is our anticipation for the next episode of Raw or the next PPV constrained by resigned expectations (Granted, they were expectations that were not unfounded until about a month ago). We can now look eagerly toward next week, next month, and beyond. We are witnessing a transformation of wrestling as we have known it. The reason: WWE finally found the formula to make fans relevant and truly a “part of the show.”

This is not an extension of the PG-era, nor a reboot of the attitude era (as some have speculated). Instead, we are seeing the genesis of the Social Media Era, a fresh direction that will give the fans input and access, blur the lines between heel/face and shoot/kayfabe, and define the landscape of next-generation superstars for years to come.

Input and Access: Future Superstars Will Create Their Own Fan Base

Has anyone else noticed what superstar is getting the biggest push on WWE television lately? His name is…Twitter.

In the past few months, I can’t keep track of the number of times WWE announcers pimp twitter. Announcers are reading tweets on television, superstars are mentioning their own accounts, and, at least twice per show, Michael Cole tells us what WWE hashtags are in the top 10 trending on Twitter. At this rate, Twitter will upend Zack Ryder for the internet championship by Thanksgiving.  That’s because the WWE has finally realized the potential of social media.

The "Must See" Champion is the prototype of the modern/future champion...superstars with a large social presence.

The rising stars in the WWE are those who have the biggest social presence. The Miz is the prototype of the future superstar. From the moment he appeared on MTV’s The Real World, he has been experimenting with how to connect with diverse audiences.  After he won the WWE Title last year, he didn’t rest on his laurels. He began campaigning as the WWE champion through all forms of media, in particular social media. His appearances as the “must see” champion not only created more Miz marks (I am proudly a Mizfit), but also made him possibly the most hated heel in the company (anyone who can put Alex Riley over that quickly has created serious emotional investment).

Following that example, more and more of the up-and-coming superstars are using Social Media to create new fans and communicate with their base. CM Punk has begun his own campaign as the WWE “unchampion.” Zack Ryder is using  Z! True Long Island Story to create a truly organic fan base. Dolph Ziggler is another who tweets frequently and is developing a following.  (Truthfully, I didn’t like or know much about Ziggler until, thanks to Zack Ryder, I startedfollowing him on Twitter. Now, I’m a total mark).

Future stars will be the ones who are most connected with their fans. Wrestlers who cannot connect or are simply awkward on the keyboard will fall by the wayside and be relegated to the mid card because they won’t generate the love/hate from fans in quite the same way.

Recent events show that current superstars finally get it. John Cena is evolving; CM Punk is evolving; The whole roster is evolving.

Legends are evolving as well, lending nearly complete credibility to the next generation of superstars. Tweets of Stone Cold, Mick Foley, Jim Ross, Chris Jericho, HBK, and a host of others provide a valuable historical foundation to the to the ability and talent of the next generation. (The Rock is an exception. Someone needs to teach him how to use Twitter. His Tweets are all forced and, frankly, boring).

Social Media has become the place where past, present, and future connect and shape the direction of the WWE.

New Directions: The Presentation and Development of Future Feuds

This morning (I am writing on July 21), CM Punk “invaded” the WWE’s QandA at San Diego’s ComiCon. He cut a promo that may, or may not air on television during this Monday’s raw.  But, for many, it will be a moot point because they will have already watched it on YouTube, shared it with friends on Facebook and Google+, and retweeted any reference to it. It will have gone viral across WWE universe and may even seep into the mainstream media.

And what of Monday’s Raw? Of course they will share the footage as a way to say, “See what you miss when you are not following the WWE 7 days-a-week, 24 hours a day?” They want each and every one of us engaged, watching, talking about, and sharing wrestling. The more we are invested, the more we will spend money on merchandise and Pay Per Views (Heck, I’m ready to buy Colt Cabana merchandise and I didn’t even really know who he was until about two months ago. Hint hint WWE).

We will be talking wrestling because we will never quite be sure when the latest tweet will be shoot or kayfabe. We will have to pay attention.

Being a fan will not be limited to once- or twice-a-week (I am talking about the average WWE fan, not fellow Smarks). Being a fan will become a daily ritual for the vast majority of the WWE Universe. The Social Media Era fans will be more involved than any fans who has come before.

For example, it’s no secret that fans can turn a face-into-heel or heel-into-face in opposition to the best intentions of bookers. As the Social Media Era evolves, lines that define heel-face will be constantly in flux, drawn and redrawn by how well a superstar can connect with his fans off of television.  There will be some that will seemingly always be a face or heel. But, like with CM Punk, a loyal fan base will push bookers to consider non-traditional options and experiment with radically new angles.  And these fans will be fiercely loyal because they feel connected.

WWWYKI: He's gotta be on Raw this week, right?

The WWE has even begun to experiment with more and more direct fan involvement. Last Monday, John Cena’s apologetic tweet sent fans to their computers in droves to tweet their support for Cena in his “hour of need”. A couple of months ago, The Miz tweeted “Pray for Miz” after a bogus internet report. I was one of many who fell victim to his prank and tweeted well wishes.  I am even making an entry for “Broski of the Week” with my daughters, who adore Zack Ryder simply because his YouTube channel is hilarious. They feel connected and will mark out for him when we go to Summerslam (Are you listening WWE bookers?)

Fans are following daily conversations between superstars and it won’t be long before passive involvement in developing feuds becomes active. How long before loyal fans begin hashtag wars where they talk trash about their favorite superstar’s future opponents? It’s already happening, but on a smaller scale. Give it time. Pretty soon, passionate fan flame wars will amplify anticipation for future matches exponentially. By the time the PPV comes around, they will be so vested, they will have to watch and experience the match, then tweet their elation or disgust at the outcome.

The best part, from the WWE’s standpoint, is it has to do very little to help nudge fan involvement in that direction. As long as they periodically let the fans know that they are paying attention, we will do the rest of the work.  The WWE didn’t make Money In the Bank the best PPV in recent memory…we did. All the WWE or CM Punk did was recognize that we had a good idea and wanted to be heard.

WWE + Social Media Era = Death to Impact Wrestling

Like many, I had high hopes that Impact Wrestling would eventually become viable competition and that the WWE would have to evolve to stay on top. The latter occurred without Impact ever becoming much of a threat. Now that the WWE and its biggest stars have fully engaged the fan base, Impact’s opportunity is gone. Nothing they can come up with will ever match the kind of angle WWE is running now.

Is this an example of irony?

Impact’s executives and bookers did not understand what the modern fan wants. They began their “Wrestling Matters” campaign to try to lure disgruntled WWE fans. But the reality in this business is that “Fans Matter,” not wrestling (I imagine hundreds of Smarks just threw shoes at their monitors). Connect with your fans and they will overlook your shortcomings as a wrestler. Fail to connect with fans and no one but a select few will care that you have the most physical talent in the company (In fact you will probably be unemployed before long, and not in a CM Punk way).

If Impact had hired smart, creative people, they might have been able to use Social Media to hook fans and make a real run at the WWE. They could have captured and, possibly, dominated the generation that is addicted to their computers and smartphones. Instead, Impact executives banked their future on the same aging superstars and same tired angles that ran WCW into the ground. They focused on the wrestling, not the fans.

Professional wrestling has not been about actual “wrestling” in a long time and Impact bookers will ride their campaign right into the ground. Since the days of Hulk Hogan, wrestling has, and will always be, about characters.

The Social Media Era is the future of character development and fan interaction in wrestling. Now that the WWE is fully on the playing field it’s only a matter of time before we see “RT @WWEUniverse TNA folds. Don’t let the door hit you….”

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