In WWE, social media is as big as wrestlers

Vince McMahon made his Twitter debut this week, just in time to help promote WrestleMania 29. Vallery Jean/Getty Images

Vince McMahon sent his first tweet on April 1, and it was no prank.

The WWE and its performers have made more than 150 million social media connections, with about 100 million coming on Facebook and 50 million on Twitter. So it was inevitable that the company's chairman and CEO would start spreading the word about Sunday’s WrestleMania 29 and all that is WWE in 140 or fewer characters.

"Vince has said for a long time that social media is going to transform our company," Perkins Miller, WWE executive vice president of digital media, told Playbook this week. "If you look at how active our fans are, for Vince to tweet, it's just a natural extension of that."

So what took so long?

"WrestleMania is our biggest event of the year," Miller said. "In entertainment, timing is everything, and this seemed like the right time for us."

As promised, McMahon revealed his #bigreveal Friday night, which was a video peek of the Wrestlemania 29 set. The video was posted on the WWE's FanNation YouTube channel, which has more than 493 million combined views, and Tweeted by McMahon.

If you're not one of the 118,000-plus followers of McMahon on Twitter, there was plenty of opportunity to see it elsewhere. The WWE has separate Twitter accounts for itself (@WWE), its fans (@WWEUniverse), Wrestlemania (@Wrestlemania) and even WWEMoms (@WWEmoms), among its various factions and wrestling-related ventures.

The main WWE account has nearly 2.3 million Twitter followers, the WWE Universe feed has just over a million, while the WrestleMania account has more than 429,000.

Although those numbers are significant, they fall short when compared to the official Twitter accounts of the NBA (6.8 million) and the NFL (4.5 million) but are comparable to that of Major League Baseball (2.7 million). The WWE main Twitter account tops that of the NHL (1.7 million), NASCAR and UFC (both over 1 million).

The WWE does significantly better in comparison to professional sports organizations on Facebook. It has 11.7 million Facebook likes on its official page, trailing only the NBA.

But the biggest assets WWE has on social media are its storylines and the presence of its star performers.

John Cena, who will challenge Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson for his WWE championship on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., is super heavyweight on social media. Cena is the second-most-popular American athlete in terms of combined followers on Facebook and Twitter, trailing only LeBron James.

Cena recently broke the 18 million combined mark on Twitter and Facebook and boasts more social media followers than Kobe Bryant, who has 17.7 million. Bryant just recently joined Twitter. James, meanwhile, has 21.8 million. Combined, all three still trail soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, who is No. 1 in the world among athletes with 56.5 million Facebook likes and another 17.2 million followers on Twitter.

Cena's Facebook wall has 14.4 million likes. The subject isn't always pro wrestling. "What’s John Cena’s favorite breakfast food, has six flavors and is the champion at the breakfast table? Fruity Pebbles of course!" was posted April 3.

But most of his posts manage to remain on topic, even when they stray:

Johnson is no social media lightweight either, with 12.8 million combined followers. The Hollywood star/pro wrestling legend carries 4.3 million Twitter followers as @TheRock but, uniquely, follows no one. He does engage his fans, however, and held a #RockLive Q&A just last week.

And he hasn't been shy about taunting Cena:

Before, during and after Sunday’s showdown between Cena and Johnson, fans can follow the action on social media in one spot, through HootSuite’s live, continually updating Command Center. The dashboard tracks each of their official Twitter feeds, along with mentions per day on Twitter, Facebook likes and the number of people who are talking about each wrestler on Facebook.

"The WWE has worked really hard to build a social brand to connect with their audience. Their fans are really genuinely engaged," said HootSuite specialty sales account manager Shawn Bouchard.

The WWE does not have a formal policy in place to police its performers on social media. But Miller said that's not a concern and all of the WWE's performers do their own tweeting. "The thing to remember about our talent is that they are entertainers," he said. "No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. But our superstars are really thoughtful when they're tweeting and posting."

Miller enthusiastically acknowledges the steep learning curve and opportunity that social and digital media present. He joined the WWE in August and managed digital content for NBC during the 2008 and 2010 Olympic Games. The WWE has multiple opportunities to build its audience, Milller said, including 320 live events worldwide and six hours of live television 52 weeks a year. The WWE has the No. 1 Android entertainment app in India and is pointed toward Mexico, India, the Middle East, Brazil, Germany and the U.K. for further growth of its digital audience.

For the first time, the WWE is making the live WrestleMania feed available on multiple digital platforms, including Apple, Android, Windows 8 devices, the Kindle Fire and Xbox Live. Socially, WWE will be sharing content on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Pheed on Sunday.

"Our fans want to hear from us," Miller said. "Our fans were social before there was social media. They were in the arenas with signs. Social media is a natural outreach of that. It's also a way for us to reach lapsed fans. If someone who used to follow the WWE sees a tweet about us, they might decide to re-engage."

Added Bouchard, "We've finally gotten past the whole 'this is what I had for lunch' stage on social media."

During Super Bowl XLVII, there were 24.1 million tweets about the game, making it the most social Super Bowl ever, according to Twitter. Wrestlemania will all but certainly surpass all the WWE's current social media benchmarks, not to mention its pay-per-view take.

Twitter sentiment is also a part of HootSuite's WrestleMania 29 Command Center, and it has been favoring Johnson slightly all week, with both wrestlers scoring more than 80 percent on the positive side. While HootSuite’s numerical data is accurate down to the final tweet, the determination of sentiment is a bit more subjective. Eight different factors are used in figuring sentiment -- ranging from Affection Friendliness to Humiliation Shame.

"It's about as accurate as a weather forecast," Bouchard said. "It captures the general mood."

Bill Speros is an ESPN.com contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @billsperos or via email at bsperos1@gmail.com.