Off The Ropes: Zack Ryder is WWE’s Nikola Tesla by Hab Rich

When you flip the light switch in your home, chances are you don’t think of Nikola Tesla. Similarly, when you watch a WWE superstar’s entrance, you probably don’t think of Zack Ryder, but you really should. Though he’ll never likely get the credit he deserves, Zack Ryder is a professional wrestling pioneer in regards to his use of social media to get over with fans. Let’s look at some of the ways in which his utilization of social media has impacted the WWE product we see today.

Twitter handles, you can’t miss them and there aren’t very many superstars without them. Twitter handles are now seemingly an integrated part of WWE’s superstar entrance graphic, usually right below their name in a smaller print. You can thank Zack Ryder for that. While we’re in the Twittersphere, we might as well talk about the ways in which it’s used to maintain storylines and feuds. Remember that (not so) “Once in a Lifetime” feud between The Rock and John Cena? With The Rock’s part time schedule keeping him off television, he and Cena used Twitter to keep up their year long build to WrestleMania 28. You can thank Zack Ryder for that too.

Long before Michael Cole instructed us on which hashtags to use during certain matches, it was Zack Ryder who at the end of every episode of “Z! True Long Island Story,” implored viewers to like and comment on his YouTube page (LongIslandIcedZ), like him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter. The show in itself was also a marvel, because it allowed Ryder to connect with his growing fanbase despite very little on-air time on Raw and Smackdown!

I just have to make it known, however, that in no way am I suggesting that Ryder singlehandedly engineered or greenlighted the way WWE uses social media. He was the first superstar to make social media his gimmick, if you will; in my book, being the first to do something makes you a pioneer. If you’re one of the fans looking for me to crap all over the big, bad WWE for stealing Ryder’s ideas, only to send him down to NXT, then you can stop reading now. What I am attempting to do is bring awareness to Ryder’s impact on how the WWE uses social media.

What impressed me about this idea was that it was so far ahead of its time and 100% original. Even more impressive is the fact that except for maybe the necessary equipment (camera, laptop, etc.), all it took was time and effort. Zack Ryder didn’t have a scrolling Twitter feed the way the WWE does today, but who needs a scroll when you have the power of free advertising through YouTube?

WWE promoted the video sharing app Tout on live television almost ad nauseum, but it never really took off the way they thought it would. Maybe WWE’s partnership with Tout wasn’t very lucrative, but then again it wouldn’t be, especially in comparison to the free (somewhere in Bikini Bottom, Mr. Crabs is seizing up) advertising from YouTube. The same free advertising that Zack Ryder manipulated to his advantage and gain traction in WWE and an undeniable bond with his fans.

It would be great if WWE gave Zack Ryder his props in the form of a ‘did you know’ since we love those so much. Instead of asking whether or not we knew WWE had more Facebook like than most of the major American sports, how about asking if we knew that in 2012, Zack Ryder was listed in Sports Illustrated’s “The Twitter 100,” a column dedicated to the top 100 most influential athletes on Twitter? With the WWE’s clamor for legitimacy for its superstars and divas, seeing them partner with ESPN here recently can only increase their exposure to new audiences, which is never a bad thing. Had Ryder been listed today as an SI Twitter 100, I’m sure WWE would remind us of it as much as they reminded us of the price of the WWE Network.

***On a quick side note, I don’t know what Jonathan Coachman was doing or has done behind the scenes in bringing WWE and ESPN together, but he should be commended, just saying.***

Make no mistake about it, you either hate the way WWE bombards you with social media cues, or you’re just okay with it. I’m not convinced that there are members of the WWE Universe who would actually admit to loving it. If I’m wrong, tell me in the comment section. Personally, I’m indifferent but at the same time, I must give respect and props when due, and when you’re looking at something as impactful as social media and the way WWE uses it, there’s no way you chart that course of history without mentioning Zack Ryder.

Ryder is currently working with NXT as one half of the tag team, The Hype Bros. along with Mojo Rawley and I’m pretty sure he still has many goals to accomplish in the WWE before hanging up his boots. No matter which personal goals he achieves before he does retire, Zack Ryder’s place in WWE history, in my humble opinion, is already cemented as a visionary. So in the case of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, I think it’s fairly easy for wrestling fans to say who’s who when it comes to Zack Ryder and the WWE in relation to the power of networking and advertising through social media.