Social Media and Disney

by Mike Scopa
AllEars® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the June 22, 2010 Issue #561 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Mike ScopaBack several years ago when I first heard the term "World Wide Web" I really was not sure just what that meant. Once I truly understood the concept, it became easy to start looking at its potential and how it would be put to use.

Since I had become a Disney fan of the highest level, my thoughts were focused on imagining just how this vehicle would serve to quench my thirst for Disney knowledge. After all, this was being described as an information superhighway. I was hugely interested how this informational path would serve me, as someone who woke up every day looking for the latest in all things Disney.

It was obvious to me that the Internet was going to explode and it would give me what I wanted, and, sure enough, it did not fail me. AllEars.Net, which has gone through such names as Deb's Disney Digest and WDWIG, was among the first to bring me what I yearned for -- anything and everything I needed to know about Walt Disney World and beyond.

As much as I would like to give myself credit for anticipating what the Internet would bring me, what eluded me were several innovations that only a true visionary would see, such as:

-- The eventual use of the Internet as a purchasing tool to buy everything from books to clothes to even theme park tickets.
-- The emergence of about 4 billion forums where you could discuss everything from politics to diets to -- wouldn't you know it -- Hidden Mickeys.
-- The communication breakthrough of Skype, where you can talk to your uncle in any of the continental United States or your friend in the UK who you just happened to have met on -- what else? -- a Disney Forum.

These all pale in comparison to the huge impact the Internet has recently had on the way we now interact with one another. The Internet has become a sort of parent, giving birth to a child known as Social Media. Over the last decade this child has shown us an amazing explosion of social interaction that continues to grow each and every day. You could say that the emergence of the aforementioned Disney forums, chat rooms, and Skype was Phase One of the Social Media era. Phase Two may have started with something we know as MySpace, but the baton was truly handed to, and has been carried recently by, Twitter and Facebook.

Let's not forgot yet another new word brought to us courtesy of the Internet. Blogosphere.

This term was first coined about 10 years ago to describe the interconnection of blogs and how they form a community or social network, one that offers us the opportunity to express our opinions on everything from the meaning of life to who we prefer on American Idol. The term caught on and now it has become part of our vocabulary and appropriately describes what the Internet has become... a community of blogs. Everywhere you look there are blogs. If you can create a website then you can create your own blog. We are blog-bound.

Do you want to write a blog that concentrates on the history of popcorn? Knock yourself out. Are you interested in finding out the best hair gel for you? I'm sure there is a blog for that, and if there isn't on, well, start one.

So with all this happening it was just a matter of time before someone like Thomas Smith would come along and convince The Disney Company that it was time for them to have their own Disney Blog. Bang!

Thomas Smith is Disney's new Social Media Director for Disney Parks (a position that did not exist in the company two years ago) and under his leadership last September 28 the Disney Company launched The Official Disney Parks Blog and the rest as they say is history.

There was no fanfare, no huge marketing campaign, no promotional push at all. Just one day in September it appeared -- and the Disney community has received it with open arms. It has been a tremendous success as it has provided Disney fans with the latest information on what's happening regarding all arms of the Disney Company. The opportunity to disseminate information quickly, accurately, and even more importantly, as economically as possible, is very appealing to an organization or business such as The Disney Company, which depends so much on its customer base to be well-informed.

It was obvious that Social Media was made for the Disney Company and vice versa.

I had the opportunity of sitting down with Thomas Smith at the Atlantic Dance Hall at Disney's BoardWalk and we talked about his new position. Smith's take on the social media craze acknowledges, "Twitter and Facebook may not be around in five years; but social media will be." Smith, a former news director, talked about how the company's objective was to create a platform for all information to branch off from, but also recognized that the platform had to bring solid content and also allow the company to communicate even more with its guests than it had in the past. Smith also mentioned how the Disney Company saw the "value of entertaining, educating, informing and (the need to participate) in this space."

Smith sees his job as being "the best" in the company because he gets to experiment and describes the social media space as a series of experimental platforms. He loves that his leadership allows him to try some really unique things to help engage their consumers. He says they are trying to tap "all" their audience. "We don't have a specific audience," he remarks and points out that their audience ranges from the mom and dad who haven't been to a Disney park for a while, to the general media, and even the great Disney fan sites.

At the time of my visit with Smith he had a stable of about 20 authors providing content to the blog. These authors would "own their niche" and Smith adds that each niche was "exciting." The early categories were easy to choose. There were such topics as the Disney Parks, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Sports, Disney Weddings, and as recently as the last few months such subjects as food and merchandising have been added.

Smith shared how the Disney Company was focused on giving its audience what they want, and that the company would be "direct, open, honest, and informing" with this platform. "We want to be entertaining and storytelling," he says with a spark in his eyes. He smiled when he said that what resonates in the blog IS great storytelling like cast member profiles. Smith's face glowed when he described the "total switch... from writing news." And that the blog's content is so different because "there is so much passion with Disney!" This passion can also be found on the Disney Parks Twitter Page and Disney Facebook Page, both of which also are managed through Smith's office.

During my discussion with Smith I could see the love that he had for this blog, especially when he constantly mentioned how important the Disney Company felt it was to give their guests what they want and to recognize what is popular at that moment. One point Smith was happy to make was that guest comments are allowed on the blog because they are "needed and welcomed. We want to learn... it's a learning process," he admits. He put it best when he said that they wanted to be sure that guests brought forth not just the "rosy but also the critical comments" and added that everyone should know that reasonable criticism should and will go on the blog. It's important to be as open as possible and on topic.

Smith sees down the road that there is "an appetite for international news," which means more content from Disney parks around the world. Smith sees certain other niches that will be appearing in the blog and looks forward to seeing his team of authors growing.

I asked him to give me three wishes he would like to come true for the blog over the next 12 months. He sat back, thought for a moment, and then smiled and very eloquently listed them.

-- He has been so encouraged by the growth since the blog was launched that he wants this growth to continue. He wants as much content delivered to the guests as possible. More content each and every week.

-- In order to continue to grow Smith needs to see his stable of authors grow. The more authors he has contributing to the blog the more niches he has and the greater possibility to, as he puts it, "grow our reach."

-- There is a huge desire to engage more with everyone. That means not just guests, but with fan sites and basically the entire Disney audience. That is another goal.

Smith noted that he was excited to see cast members reading the blog and entering comments. That is something truly heartwarming for Smith to see, as well as the unexpected treasure of comments from Disney fan sites and the media in general. For Smith this means they are hitting the mark and that the content is seen as being useful. In his own words, "It was warming to see the appreciation for the work." He is really proud of what they have accomplished... and in my opinion he should be.

Social Media and Disney... I think they were made for each other.



Other AllEars® articles by Mike Scopa:


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mike Scopa has been a huge Disney fan for as long as he can remember. He first visited Walt Disney World in 1975 and has returned many times (how many? he's lost count!) since. Mike is a contributor to the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Cara Goldsbury's Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World, and has served as keynote speaker for MagicMeets. He is also co-host of the WDWTODAY Podcast and writes a regular blog, The View from Scopa Towers, for AllEars.Net:

In addition, Mike is co-captain of Team AllEars® -- the AllEars.Net Running Team that will participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in 2011.


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.