White himself is a social powerhouse, too, with more than 2.3 million followers on Twitter. (NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, by comparison, has 345,000.) Well over 400 UFC fighters are active on Twitter, and for good reason -- in 2011, the league became the first to offer athletes bonuses for outstanding Twitter engagement and creativity. The UFC's most-followed fighter, Anderson Silva, now has 2.8 million followers.
On Facebook, where it has nearly 1 million likes, the UFC became the first sports organization to stream a live event when it broadcast a series of preliminary bouts for UFC Fight Night 23 in January 2011. Its YouTube channel has more than 333 million total views and the company says its individual videos average more views than the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA combined. Pinterest and Spotify have become other areas of social emphasis more recently.
White will keynote the BusinessNextSocial conference in January to give other industry leaders insight on the UFC's amazing social success, but he gave Mashable a quick rundown over the phone in an exclusive interview this week. Read on to learn more about how he built one of the sports world's most engaging social media empires.
Q&A With Dana White:
Social media has been a significant part of UFC's success. What were the biggest things to happen in the social space for you in 2012?
There's just so much, it's hard to pick one thing. It's literally how we operate now. I do everything through Twitter, YouTube or the Internet somehow. I communicate with fans literally every day online, so I'd have to say 2012 was definitely the year of Twitter for me. I definitely got more into Twitter, and YouTube too. The video blogs are pulling huge numbers now, and that's the power of the Internet and the ability it gives us to talk directly to our fans. It's so powerful and information moves so fast for so many people. It's an exciting time for someone in a business like this because you can interact with so many people directly.
You're recognized now for being leaders, but how did the realization of the role social media could play for you guys come about? Was there one moment?
I think it goes back to one night when I was watching Larry King and they started the battle between CNN and Ashton Kutcher to see who could get to a million Twitter followers first in 2009. That got me really intrigued in social media. But if you look at the history of the UFC, we've always been doing this in a way. It used to be that we weren't even allowed on TV or pay-per-view, so we always spoke to our fans through the Internet. If you wanted news, you'd come to UFC.com. The way we stayed alive during the dark ages was through the Internet. We've always been online and ahead of the curve. Now this is the future, but we're used to it because it once it was all we had.
Does one platform stand out for you most as far as being useful and effective? Are there any you use that people might not be so aware of?
Facebook is really huge for the company. For me personally, Twitter and YouTube are my two biggest ones. But I also go into fan chat sites to hang out and talk with fans. It gives me my personal connection with the fans, to see what they're bitching about and what they think is good. You get a lot of stupid shit, but I like to be plugged in and there is a a lot of useful information in there too.
One of the most notable things you've done was offering Twitter bonuses for fighters in 2011. What was the motivation behind that and how has it worked out?
I think when a lot of people first look at Twitter it's like, "Seriously? You just walk around and talk about what you're doing all day? Who gives a fuck?" But then it gets very addicting and you see how useful it is, so we had to give them a little bit more incentive to take the initiative. We knew they'd like it, and it couldn't have worked out better. Today we have 475 athletes under contract and every one is active on Twitter -- and you've got them on Facebook too -- with followings that range from 20,000 to 2.8 million.
Beyond just UFC, what are some of the social media and digital marketing trends you see developing over the next year or so in the sports world?
Overall, I think it's going to keep becoming a bigger and bigger part of what everyone does. As big as it is already, more and more people will just keep getting on board. Ever since I've been on Twitter, my number of followers has kept going up and up. Social media is just the best way to give and receive information today.
What kinds of digital innovations can UFC fans expect to see in 2013?
We were the first organization to stream a live sporting event on Facebook last year, and we started doing a lot more with Spotify in 2012. So we'll keep building on the things we've done, obviously, but most of all, we are super aggressive when it comes to any form of social media. Any new thing that comes out with the ability to enhance our show or my ability to communicate with fans and give people more behind-the-scenes access, you know we'll be all over it.