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Friday, July 20, 2012
Social media: WWE to honor 1,000th 'Raw'

By Maria Burns Ortiz
Special to ESPN.com

John Cena
John Cena has more than 12 million likes on Facebook, ranking him seventh among all athletes.
The WWE will celebrate its 1,000th episode of “Monday Night Raw” on Monday, making the show the longest-running weekly program in the United States. By comparison, “Monday Night Football” has aired more than 600 broadcasts in its four-plus decades on the air.

But before the wrestling organization hits 1,000 broadcasts, it reached another major media milestone: 100 million. The company and its wrestlers have amassed a combined 100 million-plus followers across various social media platforms and pages, leveraging video (Tout), photo (Instagram) and audio (Shazam) in addition to the “old” standbys of Twitter and Facebook.

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WWE has built itself up as one of the most popular sports entertainment brands on the Web. (Let’s acknowledge here that everyone is going to have his own take on where WWE fits into the world of sports, just like the never-ending debate with NASCAR. That said, the tremendous amount of success WWE has had with social media is indisputable.)

On Facebook alone, WWE is approaching 9.6 million likes. That figure puts the WWE 10th globally among sports brands/teams on the site and behind only the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers in the United States.

Professional wrestler John Cena has more than 12 million likes on Facebook, ranking him seventh among all athletes and behind only Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant stateside. For added perspective, both LeBron James and Roger Federer each have a million fewer Facebook fans than Cena. The wrestler also was recognized as Must Follow Athlete on Social Media by social media news site Mashable’s annual readers’ choice awards. (WWE also got the Mashable Awards nod for Must Follow Brand on Social Media and Digital Company of the Year.)

So how did the WWE emerge as a social media heavyweight?

“Our strong social media presence has everything to do with our fans,” said Jason Hoch, WWE senior vice president of digital operations. “They have also actively embraced social media at a massive level. There's a certain accessibility WWE and our superstars offer via social media that many other brands/sports teams do not or have not offered yet.”

WWE is certainly in a unique position when it comes to the role social media can play. Monday night’s milestone Raw will also mark the launch of a new social media initiative: #RAWactive.

During the broadcast, fans will submit photos, videos and comments via social media platforms. The best of those social media submissions will be incorporated into the live broadcast. According to Hoch, via social media, fans also will “get a say in what happens next by deciding matches, stipulations and character development. They can control if a general manager gets fired or who their favorite superstar’s next opponent will be.”

Live results will be displayed during the show. And it’s not completely out of the realm of what other sports organizations or brands have been doing. Social media lobbying played a role in Patrick Cote getting a pay-per-view fight in UFC 148. The WWE are just making it commonplace.

It’s that kind of interactivity and input that keeps fans engaged -- and tuning in.

Elsewhere in the social mediasphere

The Durham Bulls, the Tampa Bay Rays’ Triple-A affiliate, have launched a social media rewards program. Fans earn points by engaging with the team on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and CrowdCameo. (H/T @tariq_ahmad)

NBA commissioner David Stern credited social media for its role in the NBA’s success.

Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher reportedly is the latest coach to ban his players from using Twitter.

Five NFL stadiums will offer wireless Internet access and in-game apps as part of a league pilot program that seeks to better connect fans with technology while at the game.

Got a story we should feature? Have a site we should check out? Who's on your must-follow list? Tweet me at @BurnsOrtiz. If your idea gets mentioned in this column, so will you. Follow Playbook on Twitter at @ESPNPlaybook.