Social Media and Self-Promotion:
How Independent Pro Wrestlers Can Use the Web to Create A Better Brand
By Jordi Scrubbings (www.jordiscrubbings.com)
The world of marketing has become more and more individualistic in recent years. Businesses, both small and large alike, have taken to directly interacting with their customers through forums such as blogs, online video, and any one of many social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc.) . Gone are the days when customers were regarded as mass receivers of data and the recipients of “culture”, force-fed their likes and dislikes by money-making industries. In today’s market, the customer is now a target to interact with, listen to, and react to.
Few businesses have traditionally integrated the feedback of customers into their decisions better than professional wrestling. The approval or disapproval of fans can make or break a wrestler’s career, or at least his or her character. It is the fans who “put over” wrestlers, allowing for more exposure, more complex storylines, and more potential for marketing dollars.
In the book Steel Chair to the Head, writer and theater and film professor Sharon Mazer writes that the connection of fans to wrestlers is the lifeblood of the business.
“Everything about the event, from the advance publicity … to the action in the ring, has explicitly catered to (the fans). The promoter promises he’s going to give them what they want: ‘real’ wrestling. If it happens that what the promoter presents fails to fulfill their expectations, the fans have a way of telling him and his wrestlers so.” (Mazer, 72)
Unfortunately, a majority of marketing in the independent pro wrestling business is done by local promoters who, because of either lack of marketing ability or lack of budget, tend to only see the big picture for their company. These promoters will not usually go out of their way to “put over” individual workers. Wrestlers, especially at the independent (non-WWE) level, are left to market and promote themselves.
Possibly due to the lack of assistance, many wrestlers choose only to promote themselves during the small window of time allotted to them during performances. They may sign a few autographs, pose in a few pictures, or even talk to a few fans. With an array of online platforms at their disposal, however, marketing and promoting only during the time granted by a promoter should not be the case. Today’s wrestlers can take advantage of all the tools at their disposal and foster a digital connection with fans. They can easily break their reliance on promoters and push themselves as a brand, creating a buzz that will hopefully put “butts in the seats”.
This guide is written help professional wrestlers promote themselves as a brand and take more control of their own promotion.
Step 1: Define Yourself: Go 100% Kayfabe or go 100% Real – There is No In-Between
The first decision a wrestler must make is how they want to approach their audience. Do they want to promote themselves as a “real” person or stay in “kayfabe” (aka their in-ring character)? Do they want to be “Dwayne Johnson” or do they want to be “The Rock”? Under no circumstances should wrestlers should switch back and forth while engaging fans. Switching not only ruins the character, it distorts the fan’s expectation of what the brand actually is. For an indy wrestler, imitating the pseudo-real characters presently popular in the WWE should be avoided at all cost.
The most effective way to stay in character is to create two online personalities – one for wrestling, and the other for personal interaction. The latter web presence would be for interacting with friends, family, co-workers, etc and the former for engaging fans. No matter how tempting, if wrestlers choose to market themselves and build their character online, they must stay in character, no matter what. Fans will respect performers more in principle if they keep the curtain up than if they jerked the curtain up and down.
Additionally, keeping in character online means wrestlers should not in any way, shape, or form, add, befriend, follow, or otherwise network with anyone they have a feud with. Ever. Wrestlers should make sure they correspond their online connections with their storylines so fans have no doubt as to where the wrestler stands on other performers.
Step 2: Create a “Home” Page
There are several online tools for engaging fans. The first, and most important, is the home page. The home page should be the first destination a fan can go to see the latest and greatest news about a wrestler – where they have wrestled, who they have wrestled, and, most importantly, where they are wrestling next. It should be the number one location fans find when they do an online search for a wrestler’s name. The home page is also where wrestlers should post pictures, videos, and contact information.
These days it is entirely possible to have a homepage hosted on a third party site. Wrestlers no longer need to purchase their URL (ex. www.WrestlersName.com) and or possess the web skills to create and post a web page, although owning the URL of their name is highly recommended. Using platforms on the market today, wrestlers, even those with the smallest bit of programming talent, can create a decent central location for fans.
The most popular third party homepage is Facebook, with MySpace close behind. Both of these social networking platforms allow wrestlers to post status updates, news, pictures, and videos. Most importantly, however, they allow them to see their fan base and engage their fans either through comments or messages.
No matter what platform, the homepage should be kept up to date. Like hitting the gym or practicing a promo, wrestlers should work on their online skills at least 3-5 days a week. Although sometimes the simplest announcement is enough to keep the fans’ interest level high, wrestlers should definitely spend time building and pushing information and interacting with as many fans as possible.
Step 3: Utilize Social Media
Along with home pages, wrestlers should also be proficient in other forms of social media. Forums such as Twitter, Bulletin Boards, and YouTube should serve to supplement the wrestler’s online persona. These sites should be avenues of not only communication, but broadcast. Each of these tools can connect with audiences different from those on a home page. Using these platforms is not about the in-ring performance at all. It is about letting character and personality come through.
Twitter – The microblogger service Twitter is immensely beneficial for wrestlers looking to promote themselves. It allows them to engage with an enormous amount of people, places, and things. Anyone on Twitter is a potential fan and target. Wrestlers should attempt to broaden their fan base by interacting with as many people as possible. For a wrestler, the entire twitterverse is an audience. Wrestlers are not limited at all in who they can address via Twitter. They can harass or hail Oprah, belittle or befriend Aston Kutcher, or even imitate or insult Shaquille O’Neal. Twitter also allows for massive networking as workers can find and tweet with other wrestlers throughout the Twitterverse, as well as create relationships with local business, artists, media outlets, and other creative personalities.
The benefit of Twitter is not only in its ability to network and engage. It can also be used as a blog. Wrestlers can post updates, announcements, or links via Twitter. They can also create lists, allowing fans a glimpse into what people, places, and things the wrestler follows.
For those without much experience on Twitter, it would help to first follow a few people in various fields (again looking at celebrities, musicians, artists, businesses, etc.) and get a feel for the capability. After learning the system and seeing some of the tricks of the trade, the best thing to do is jump in with both feet. The truth of Twitter is that the more you engage, the better the benefit. On Twitter, the floor is open for those not only with the gift of gab, but also with any bit of creative networking ability.
Bulletin Boards – Perhaps the most common form of current interaction online between wrestlers and fans occurs in bulletin boards. These sites, often run by fans, are places where the followers of wrestling discuss everything from storylines and performances to the subtle nuances that make for a great show. Although some bulletin board participants are experts in wrestling, a majority have never ever been active in the ring. No matter their experience, they are nothing if not passionate. They love wrestling and enjoy engaging with similarly passionate fans.
Although participating in a bulletin board discussions is not a bad thing, wrestlers looking to increase their fan base and find new followers would be best advised to push their message elsewhere. The fans on bulletin boards are already sold on wrestling and are likely to attend local shows regardless of the card. They are fans of the art and the overall production as much as of individual performers. Wrestlers should partake in board discussions sparingly, although they should still keep an eye out to gauge the diehard wrestling fans’ perception of their performance.
YouTube – One of the best and easiest ways for a wrestler to promote his or herself is via YouTube. It should be a natural fit for wrestlers to use the camera to promote their personalities and overall brand. Uploading videos to YouTube has a low barrier of entry and the potential for amazingly high reward.
A recent article by blogger Dan Schwabel on the social media web site Mashable.com explores a three step process for users to establish themselves on YouTube. Schwabel lists the following steps:
- Brand Your Profile
- Create Remarkable Videos
- Promote Your Videos
Like homepages, these steps are not only applicable to businesses, but also to professional wrestlers. “Brand your profile” means taking the time to create a specific YouTube location, or channel, where fans can go to watch all a wrestler’s matches, promos, or other adventures. This is essential. Wrestlers should not depend on third parties to post matches and promos. If a promotion prohibits creating videos at their event due to trade secrets, their own pre-arranged contracts, or merely the need to exhibit control, then wrestlers should flood the web with outside-location character-building videos and promos.
What wrestlers put on these videos is Schwabel’s second step. Wrestlers should look beyond the mat to sell themselves as entertainers. As wrestling is at least half performance, YouTube provides the ideal medium for out-of-the-ring creativity. Wrestlers could not only cut their own promos, they could create short skits of the wrestler interacting on the street, in the mall, at the mayor’s office, etc. Of course, the more the skit fits the wrestler’s personality, the better. These skits could even be similar to those used by the WWE, then WWF, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For example, if a wrestler played a solider gimmick, he or she might want to create a skit at the local VFW or National Guard armory. The possibilities are endless.
Schwabel’s final step is to “Promote Your videos”. This means bringing the social media net together. This step involves embedding videos on a home page, posting it on a bulletin board, and putting the link on Twitter. This is the selling step and requires almost as much work as the creating step. However, the more media a wrestler has across the Internet, the better the chances a fan is going to see the wrestler. Of course, like any other video maker, wrestlers should aspire to get their videos to “go viral”, and have fans push and promote the videos to their friends, followers, and other influential entities. Then those people push it to their friends, who post it and push it to their friends and so on. Once a wrestler’s video goes viral, it is just a matter of time before the fans buy a ticket and see them at a wrestling show.
Step 4: Connect the Web with the Ring
Social media and networking doesn’t stop when a wrestler gets off a computer. Brand marketing should continue at the show and in the ring. Wrestlers should make the most of the time given to them by promoters and push their web sites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, MySpace pages, and any other platform to the fans. Wrestlers should do whatever it takes to integrate their online personas with their in-ring personas. Some ideas may include promoting their web page in promos, their Facebook address on t-shirts, their twitter account on photos, their YouTube channel on business cards, their MySpace page on flyers, or even putting their email address on autographs. Any mixing and matching of online reminders and real life souvenirs provides fans the ability to look for more.
Optimally, the best situation is where a fan goes to a show for the first time and is so interested in the character and ability of a wrestler that he or she looks up the wrestler’s online presence. If the wrestler is on any one of the many sites mentioned above, the first-time fan could easily grow to become a full-time fan. And when the wrestler notices the fan joining his or her following, the wrestler pushes content to the fan. The fan then absorbs the content and grows more and more interested in returning. When the second match does occur, the first-time fan becomes a second-time fan. Then the second-time fan sees, reads, or hears a reminder from the wrestler to visit the wrestler’s page again. Hopefully the process becomes ongoing and the wrestler has his or herself a legitimate fan base. A fan base that puts butts in the seats no matter where the wrestler is booked or who is doing the booking.
Step 5: Stay Flexible but Remember Your Brand
Many wrestlers choose not to push themselves via social media because they are unsure of the direction of their character. Under the current system, promoters drive wrestlers’ characters, forcing them to play the role of heel one week and possibly face the next. Unless they have a strong gimmick, wrestlers can’t tell a promoter they will not play a certain role for fear of lack of work. Accordingly, if wrestlers don’t know their role, how can they maintain a constant message to the fans? Wouldn’t social media have an opposite effect if the fans are expecting one character only to see a complete opposite emerge from behind the curtain?
The answer to this dilemma is that wrestlers must stay flexible but absolutely, without a doubt remember their brand. That brand is their selling point. Wrestlers should turn down any promoter who tries to put them in a story line that would ruin days, weeks, months, or even years of self-establishment. Wrestlers need to maintain their gimmick and insist promoters respect their work, for if the wrestler has a strong enough buzz he or she will have a profound effect on the attendance. And of course, attendance leads to dollars which leads to a happy promoter.
Even if a promoter or storyline causes a jarring shift in a wrestler’s character, a good social media campaign should be able to compensate. With an active online presence that conveys the character’s feelings on a regular basis, wrestlers may be able to use creative license and add additional details or background to the storyline. A growing and continuous story will lead to a self-fulfilling cycle of fans who demand more information.
Step 6: Have Fun
Lastly, the most important point about using social media to promote and interact is that it should be fun. Social websites should be an enjoyable way to interact with the fans, watch communities grow, and eventually see more people come out and support local independent wrestling. There is no rule that says wrestlers must have an online presence, and many wrestlers have been successful without being on the Web. But for those wrestlers who want to take their characters and gimmicks to the next level and expand their creative potential, the entire social Web can be their squared circle.
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