Do You Smell What @TheRock Is Tweeting?

The Rock didn't want to do the social media thing. Then he met Amy Jo Martin. Now he has 7.2 million friends and 3.4 million followers—here's how to follow his lead.

I was attending an Ultimate Fighting Championship bout, sitting across the ring from UFC President Dana White. That's when I received a text from Dana that said, "Come over here now." Great, I thought, what did I do wrong? I walked around the ring, fingers crossed. When I got there, Dana immediately pointed to the big guy standing next to him and introduced me to The Rock.

Before I finished shaking hands with him, Dana turned and launched into a pitch about how he had to embrace social media and how it was the best thing ever and about how I was the Twitter Queen who could show him exactly what to do. Dana is convincing, but I could tell The Rock was nodding to be nice.

"I have to tell you," The Rock confessed, "I'm a very private man, and I'm really not comfortable blending my personal life with my professional life."

It wasn't the first time I'd heard that sort of response, and it certainly wouldn't be the last. I told him as much and then conceded that using social media wasn't something you could force. You have to want to do it, I said.

"But remember," I continued, "this isn't the paparazzi. You have full control over what you put out there."

I then explained that social media ultimately made his brand, and rough-around-the-edges charisma, more scalable in that he could reach more fans on a more frequent basis. It also allowed him to do more good on a grander scale, and in the end, it could actually be enjoyable.

The Rock took my business card and said he'd be in touch. I wasn't sure we'd talk again and headed back to my home base on media row.

Two weeks after the fight. I received an e-mail from a Dwayne Johnson. I thought, Dwayne who? I opened the e-mail and saw it was from The Rock. (Of course!) He wanted to talk more about social media. Fortunately, staying in a comfort zone wasn't his style. He recognized an opportunity when he saw one, and after a couple of more chats that included his manager, agent, publicist, and assistant, he jumped in with both feet.
I've since become friends with The Rock (I now call him "DJ" because neither "Dwayne" nor "Mister The Rock" ever felt right). He's become a rare branding force in the global community with more than 9 million friends and followers who are as diverse as anyone else I've worked with. He just had to overcome that initial hesitation.

Today the amount of attention DJ gives to social media, along with his hands-on approach, is unmatched in the world of celebrity. He works at it daily, and it's always his fingers to the keyboard or iPhone. Nobody speaks on his behalf. Ever. DJ is successful with these communication channels because he's dialed in and has fully and personally committed to delivering value to his audience.

You may be where DJ was at first, and that is understandable. It's not traditional protocol to bring your personal life to work, and it's not comfortable. I've spoken to many entrepreneurs, celebrities, and executives who get that social media has value. They even agree that the best brands have a human quality to them. But often it's that first leap toward a new protocol, or culture shift, that gets them hung up. They just can't see themselves sharing their lives with thousands of people, let alone millions.

Yes, putting yourself out there feels uncomfortable for most people. But this isn't exactly public speaking we're talking about. Forget imagining your audience in their underwear—you can be in your underwear and your audience will never know. Besides, any renegade knows that no risk worth taking is without some discomfort.

So get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Own it. With more than a billion people using these communication channels, you can't afford not to have an active role in the conversation.

During my time leading Digital Royalty, I've found that the most successful people and brands resolve to make the same trade-off. They trade comfort for momentum. It's not that they embrace discomfort. Nobody likes stress, anxiety, or embarrassment. It's that they understand that avoiding stagnation in any endeavor takes an ability to get used to—to grow comfortable with—growing pains. Today's renegades are not unlike adrenaline junkies who feed off the knowledge that the highest highs can be had on the backside of our biggest fears, anxieties, and chaos.

Fast-forward a year from our first meeting, and DJ enthused that embracing social media was one of the best things he ever did personally and professionally. Fast-forward another six months, and DJ had become a leader in the social space with a higher retweet rate—the percentage of his tweets that are re-sent by his followers to their followers—than most other celebrities: 11 percent. To give you an idea of how huge this rate actually is, a 3 percent retweet rate is typically considered a success. Practically speaking, this means that approximately 300,000 followers have forwarded his message on to their followers. And it doesn't stop there. How many people from that base of 300,000 forward the message on to their own follower base? And then how many from the next and the next? It's an enormous ripple effect that according to my sports and entertainment friends at Twitter headquarters is unrivaled among his contemporaries.

DJ's social media strategy started, as it should for anyone else, by defining his audience and his value to that audience. It wasn't as broad as breaking people into World Wrestling Entertainment fans, moviegoer fans, and military fans, the primary places where he'd gained mainstream exposure. It was a matter of breaking down the psychographics of those different groups and assigning them to smaller categories based on their primary affinity to DJ's value and what resonated most with them.

Initially, removing demographic barriers, increasing his audience, and engaging them in ways they valued was a matter of educated trial and error. Some content didn't cause as big of a splash with any audience category. Others caused a tidal wave across multiple audience categories. DJ learned quickly and always adjusted his offerings toward what worked. Obviously this served as confirmation of what his fans wanted. DJ also remained creative and open to trying new ideas.

In a matter of a few weeks, we were able to create content templates for each audience group and determine which value buckets resonated with them the most. These templates encapsulated the specific types of content that that group most valued. Although these were always prone to change given ongoing audience feedback and the activity reports we provided DJ, the adjustments were easy to make and the templates easy to update. For instance, we learned that DJ's "action fans" valued exclusive behind-the-scenes details from movies he was filming or photos of particular stunts he was asked to perform—but only if DJ's point of view, humor, or personality was injected into the message.

Keep in mind that because social media is a dialogue, you can ask your audience what they value at any point. You'll get answers, and people will be grateful you cared enough to ask. But even if you get it wrong now and then—and you will, just as we all do—the beauty of social media is that followers are quite forgiving if you've built that relationship up first and you've earned it, especially when you can make up for a flat offering with one that's well received—and especially when your audience knows you're listening to them with a desire to deliver what they value most.

Once the foundation of a two-way, dynamic relationship with his audience was established, the real fun began. By constantly delivering value when, where, and how his fans wanted it, DJ was able to consistently increase his reach (larger following) and deepen his existing followers' loyalty (greater engagement)—two goals of every business on the planet.

Reprinted by permission the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Renegades Write the Rules, by Amy Jo Martin Copyright (c) 2012 by Amy Jo Martin.

Amy Jo Martin is the founder & CEO of Digital Royalty, which opened in 2009 to help companies, celebrities, professional sports leagues, teams, and athletes build, measure, and monetize their digital universe. She tweets at @AmyJoMartin.

[Image: Flickr user Ed Webster]

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15 Comments

  • Guest

    The article neglects to mention that The Rock already had a fan base. I'm a writer who's dreading the seemingly necessary evil of digital platform to "promote" not only my writing but my "unique, authentic voice," whatever the hell that is. Now, I don't have ANY social media involvement and have cut off all contact with people from my past, who I have no intent of re-engaging with on social media (per the description of FB/Twitter/etc. being like a never-ending school reunion). I also am quite the homebody/recluse who doesn't get out often, if at all, and don't have really anything in terms of offline relationships. I'm an introvert to the point of recluse. The Rock already has a "platform" to start from, whereas someone like me would be completely starting from scratch.

    My hope is to find some way of just paying a company to do the whole social media thing in my stead, because like The Rock, I am not only uncomfortable blending my personal and professional involvement, but I downright refuse. I'm never going to meet any of these people on Twitter, including The Rock or any of the other celebrity "Twits" who blather on about their upcoming reality-TV projects or what they're eating for breakfast and why it tastes so much better when you're a rich celebrity with a personal chef to prepare it for you.

    If the new rule is to treat your writing career as a business, then businesses are not DIY hobby projects -- they employ consultants and staffers to do the tasks they specialize in. An introverted IT guy isn't going to handle the PR circus posters, and neither would an exhibitionist PR type handle the nuts and bolts of HTML downstairs in Igor's cold, dark basement computer lab. My job as a writer is simply to write, not to stand outdoors wearing little more than a sandwich sign and videotaping myself busking for all the world to see.

    Whoring myself is something I, personally, will not do -- especially since I'm female and no amount of clever commentary would preclude users from goading me to take off my clothes or at minimum, "show us a pretty picture." (I don't have a photograph of myself in public either, clothed or not.) The only dilemma now is how best to go about procuring the funds that would enable me to hire a PR team to bother with this social media junk, which for me would be about as authentic as the slugs and smackdowns of fake professional wrestling.

    Too bad the SBA doesn't sanction small-business loans to support a mostly independent creative career, or that VC/Angel Investors don't exist so that I may "attach to a wealthy patron." (Kickstart and Indie A-Gogo or whatever they're called are too "social" for my tastes. Call me a traditionalist misanthrope, but I refuse to participate in anything that might be considered collaborative.)

  • Vielka Hernandez

    Impressive, he is a great person to follow. My respect and admiration

  • FruitHelmet

    Haha, I definitely at least follow him on Facebook and am willing to bet he writes a good portion of those posts...they usually include a pic or two of what he is doing and sound very much like his persona from wwe and interviews...not as much on Twitter, though, as I'm guessing they're probably the same thing?

  • Guest

    "those posts... usually include a pic or two of what he is doing"

    But does he ever tweet about what he's actually cooking? ;-)

  • David Frankk

    I kinda agree with what The Rock has to say. Though I have been active on most social media, Twitter is just not my thing. I smell ya Rock !

  • Nora afterschool

    I am someone who follows the Rock on Twitter and re tweet him often. I have tons of his tweets as my favorites. He really does have a great way of reaching people. I have often used his tweets in my classrooms with at risk students to help them have some inspiration. They often ask me how do I know that? or "The Rock really said that?" He's real and people love that about him. 

    It has been great to be able to inspire through his tweets. Love that he personally writes them. Thanks Amy Jo for getting him to start tweeting.My question is does someone look at the tweets he gets to fine tune what his audience would like to see more of? Nora

  • Josephcurtmackenzie

    Though I stopped watching wrestling when Mr.T joined the frey and completely turned off for good when Denis Rodman came on the scene I have always like the good guy role played by the Rock...I only learned to appreciate the professional side more when after having kids we started watching his family movies...now I am a huge fan of that guy and have been following him for the past 3 months and appreciate and read every tweet with interest. 

  • Alec McNayr

    Not only can this be personally fulfilling, it can be a lucrative bargaining chip. A celebrity (especially an actor) is worth more to his/her projects if they are bringing millions of fans to the deal.

  • Guest

    Interesting but what does it get him? Does he make, thousands more dollars a year, millions?
    A metric and success story is great, but what is the end goal? capitalizing and monetizing that "success". I'd be more interested in those figures. In watching his stream, many of the tweets aren't his, they are obviously done by an assistant, how does that factor into the equation.

  • Bill Benson

    And you know many of Rock's tweets are actually from his assistants...how?

  • Kenrick Fernandes

    Craig's actually right. Most celebrities have an assistant to write stuff for em. Do you think Rock wrote all his dialogues on wwf/wwe ? Ofcorse not. The same way even Obama admitted that the tweets from the whitehouse aren't his unless the end of the tweet is signed by his name. 
    What these assistants do is carefully put out tweets according to specific buckets which generate engagement. 

    Social media is money

  • Candace Nicholson

    Yes. There are a number of celebs who have their assistants tweeting and posting for them on Facebook. The Rock is simply not one of them. And he's not the only celeb who puts his fingers to the keyboard. The main difference is that other celebs who tweet aren't as famous as The Rock so they don't get as much attention for doing their own typing (J. August Richards, Grant Bowler, Kimora Lee Simmons, Bill Burr, etc.)

    If you choose to believe otherwise, fine. But The Rock's writing voice is very
    distinct. And yes, the majority of his promos in the WWE were written by
    Dwayne after the Rocky Maivia gimmick failed and he turned heel.

    I think Obama's not busy tweeting because he's busy running the country. I think that's a justifiable excuse. Most celebs aren't doing anything remotely as important as the President.