Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Interview with Sam Ford on Social Media and Pro Wrestling

(This post was originally posted at The Wrestling Blog.)

Last year I was able to exchange emails with Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy at Peppercom and co-editor of The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era. Sam is also a huge wrestling fan who has written about storytelling in wrestling and even made an appearance on the Dave Lagana podcast. Sam was cool with me posting our social media-based interview here. Even though we talked in October 2010, many of these points are still very relevant, especially in the indy scene.

- How has new online media channels changed the process for independent wrestling promoters?

Sam Ford: I think social media has provided more opportunities to change the process for independent wrestling promoters than they have often picked up on. #1, the ability to tell stories between live shows now makes it possible to build feuds--and interest in shows--beyond just posters. Build up the matches beforehand. Increase the drama of the story between shows through featuring news and interviews on the site, etc. #2, the ability to connect various live shows together in a common narrative is now possible as well. As a regional promoter travels across cities in an area, online media channels actually gives him/her the opportunity to connect the events at each show to build an ongoing narrative. People may not be able to go to a live show three hours away, but what happens at that show can be woven into the storylines now. And, for more ardent fans, you might encourage them to more faithfully follow your promotion around from town to town.

- Is social media essential? Or can promoters get by with only traditional media?

Sam Ford: Social media isn't essential. Pro wrestling can still draw crowds through a promotional poster at the local grocery store. The issue is that traditional media makes it a new selling proposition each time. It's hard to gain and maintain regular ardent fans through the poster. A website and presence for the promotion acts in lieu of a local television show. Since most promoters can't afford or don't have the option of a weekly TV show for their region these days, the website offers that regular promotional vehicle to keep the promotion and its characters top-of-mind and to encourage people to plan for and anticipate the next time the promotion comes to town.

- How important is establishing/maintaining a community of fans for a promotion?

Sam Ford: It's always been important to maintain a community of fans for local wrestling to thrive. Local shows survive in part because it gives an excuse for wrestling fans to come together and see one another and participate communally in something they love: cheering their heroes, and booing their villains. Online tools just give us a chance to maintain community across multiple cities, to keep people connected between shows, etc.--especially important if the promotion's shows don't happen on a frequent basis at the same time and the same place each time.

- What is the biggest difference in how a promoter would use social media as compared to a wrestler?

Sam Ford: The promoter's focus is on his promotion and the storylines of his show. The promoter is going to be using social media to build a following for their character across all their appearances for multiple promotions. The key is for the promoter to come up with ideas that serves the wrestlers' goals of self-promotion while also building stories online. Getting talent to participate in online storylines, etc., can be accomplished by the promoter being sure to have permission to build stories themselves or to give tangible benefit to talent as to how helping build up a feud online will lead to greater ticket sales, a deeper following for their character, etc.

- What is the single most important tool a promoter can/should use to get the word out about his show?

Sam Ford: I think it has to do with networking with fan sites, etc., and doing something that goes beyond announcing a list of matches and results from a card. No matter what platform you use, how do you tell a story that compels people to come join you in person?

- What are some of the more creative endeavors you have seen in regards to promotions using social media?

Sam Ford: Because WWE has such a media machine behind them, we've seen them build storylines through their website and elsewhere in the past. But they haven't even taken great advantage. I have seen indy promotions have wrestlers/personalities bicker with each other in fan boards and elsewhere, start or further feuds with announcements on their site--special interviews--etc., that allow the storylines to go much deeper than a spot show can.

- What are your thoughts on continuing storylines through social media?

Sam Ford: I think it will be a real difference-maker for promoters once they get used to it, learn to do it well, and condition fans to look for it. The key is to build references to this online content into the show itself in order to drive fans back to the web to keep up with it.

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