Sometimes, a heartfelt social media story is in the last place you’d expect. We’ve covered online success stories from corporations large and small, non-profits, and some fun contests as well. But today we had the opportunity to talk to a one-man online success story: The WWE’s Zack Ryder.

The WWE is a household name brand with an established legacy and fan base. They’ve been a publicly traded company for over 12 years and produce multiple programs on a weekly basis that reach 145 countries in 30 languages, reaching over 600 million homes worldwide. Their website sees over 12.3 million hits each month and has over 10 million Facebook fans.

When Zack Ryder was signed by WWE in 2006, he thought he had finally made it. All his life, his dream was to become one of the top superstars in the company and make his mark in the industry. But as time went on, Ryder struggled to find his place in the WWE’s busy and ever-changing programming schedule. “I didn’t feel like a superstar, you know?”, Ryder says, “I didn’t have an action figure, I wasn’t on TV, I didn’t have a promotional [photo]. I was just sick of pitching ideas and nothing getting done. But I did realize I had to do something about it.”

How It Took Off

That’s when an “Oh Mom and Dad, you shouldn’t have!” moment turned his entire career around.  ”For Christmas in 2010, my parents got me a Flip video camera.  I really didn’t know what to do with it so it just kind of sat in my closet for a while.”  Then Ryder decided to showcase his entertainment and humor on YouTube. “In February 2011, I started ‘Z! True Long Island Story’ which was just me talking and trying to be funny just by making fun of myself, getting my friends and family involved, whatever I could do.” The way Ryder speaks of it, you’d think it was just another YouTube viral-esque cluster of sketches of inside jokes but nothing is further from the truth. The show skyrocketed into popularity with fans of the WWE in a matter of weeks and has since gained in excess of 13 million views.

This is when Ryder really started to notice some things catching on. He used the YouTube series to show that he was just a big kid who grew up a fan “living the dream” and invited viewers to take a look at his entertaining, albeit rare, life off the road (WWE does 250+ shows annually). The amount of interaction and increased views made Zack aware that his popularity online had some serious potential. “That’s when I started going crazy on Twitter and Facebook. I was always on my phone, tweeting and trying to get the fans behind me because that was the only voice I had.” Ryder’s efforts quickly paid off with love from the crowd. Chants would break out for him in arenas across the country.  “A lot of the time, I wasn’t even at the show. I wasn’t even in the building.” They’d bring signs saying things such as “We Want Ryder”.

Getting His Fans Involved

At this point, Ryder saw that he had a true connection with his fans and started to show appreciation back by including photos of all of the signs fans would bring into his YouTube show.  He included an interactive portion of the show where fans would audition for a segment called “Broski of The Week”.  ”It was just like this crazy snowball effect.  Everything was happening so fast and the fans were such a huge part of it, so of course I had to include them in what I was doing.”

“I didn’t have a cool T-shirt of my own, they made like a generic $15 one of me just standing there.” But Ryder was determined. He tweeted and gave his fans incentive to get the shirt and if they tweeted a photo of themselves wearing it, Ryder personally sent each one an autograph.

After a few months, Ryder found himself with more spots on WWE shows across the country, using his Flipcam to record every entrance out to the ring and incorporating it into that week’s episode of “Z! True Long Island Story”. He fashioned an “Internet Championship” belt out of his little brother’s toy replica WWE belt at home and started showing it off on his show.  After a while, Ryder sprang for the real thing. “I got it made, paid $1600 plus shipping and handling and got a real belt. It looks, weighs, and feels like a real title. I showed it to the WWE and they were like, ‘There’s no way you’re coming out with that on TV’.”

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Although the famed title never made an appearance on one of WWE’s many programs, Ryder’s YouTube show and social media efforts had resonated so strongly with their audience that WWE did end up making one of Ryder’s dreams come true: He got his own cool T-shirt. And what’s on it? The Statue of Liberty holding up the Internet Championship belt. In fact, Mattel just released a new Zack Ryder action figure that comes packaged with a mini Internet Title of its own.  But what interested us the most about Ryder’s merchandise was his use of QR codes.

“They gave me a bunch of ideas for a new shirt and one of the ideas was just a QR code on the front. I said, “There’s no way we can do that.” So he designed his own merchandise that incorporated everything that got him to where he is today: Long Island, the Internet Championship, and a QR code so you can find Zack online. Now, the code is on everything Ryder related – from action figures to the trunks he wears to the ring.

Ryder’s Social Impact on the WWE

Since the social media “Ryder Revolution,” Zack has enjoyed his time in the spotlight and has been noted by many for bringing more social media strategies to the WWE’s attention. And they certainly listened. In the past year, they’ve partnered with social video site, Tout, produced their own mobile app, signed a streaming deal with Hulu, and saw a huge success thanks to the social media promotion of their flagship event, Wrestlemania.

Ryder attributes an enthusiastic audience to the huge success WWE has seen across all social media channels, especially Twitter. “You’re able to communicate with someone you regularly watch on TV, and it’s just this crazy environment that WWE has really been able to capitalize on.”

With no signs of stopping, it seems that the “Ryder Revolution” could just be getting started.

Be sure to watch Zack on the next WWE Pay-Per-View event on October 28.

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