State of Online Media and Disney Media Events

I was just reading a really long thread on LaughingPlace.com‘s message boards. It covered a range of topics, but is generally concerned with Disney Park’s social media efforts, including inviting online media to events & and some perceived special treatment for certain websites. I’ve been invited to many events, having just returned from one that showcased Disney World’s resorts and the Star Tours 2.0 re-launch. Naturally, I have some thoughts on the matter. Here’s an abridged version of what I had to say over there:

Long time readers of The Disney Blog will recall that I have long been an advocate for Disney to get into the blogging and social media game. I was happy to take a meeting or two and a few questions about blogging and social media strategy when Disney World was laying out the plans for its blog. While I’m not totally happy with the current direction of the blog, it’s better than the complete lack of communication we used to get from Disney. I’m a believer that the more great Disney blogs (official and unofficial) we have out there, the stronger our fan community will be.

Obviously, as I’m part of the group of bloggers and website owners who get invited to Disney media events, I have a certain bias. I believe The Disney Blog should continue to be invited as part of the media. But I don’t have any illusions that my circulation (estimated at above 400K article views a month) reaches as many of Disney’s target market as some of the traditional media does (Local news stations, morning shows, even Disney travel planning authors and websites (such as LP.com)). But I begin to rival some magazines and radio audiences. Add to that the fact that my demographics lines up pretty well with Disney’s target demographics and I think that’s a pretty strong case for inviting me to media events. I don’t expect the same treatment as Good Morning America or MyFoxOrlando and I don’t get the same treatment. I’m fine with that. Most of the time I get what my audience needs.

I quickly want to address Disney Park’s push on social media. I don’t see it as a replacement for traditional media, but rather as an addition. When online media is invited to Disney media events it’s not at the exclusion of traditional media, but as a supplement to it. That goes with the whole trend of the internet. Everything is getting spread out and coverage can come from anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Photos of the BTMRR Accident at Paris Disneyland, some guest snapped them. Photos showing the sad & rotting condition of the Sailing Ship Columbia before a cleat was torn out from its rotting wood and killed a guest, that came from online media.

Now, I know I have a role to play with The Disney Blog (or you might say I’ve chosen a niche I’m comfortable with). It’s not to be the most critical of online media, but I’m also not the most fanboy either. I pretty much call them like I see them, which is usually through some pretty thick pixie dust filled filters, since that’s how I live my life. You can choose to read what I write or not, that’s the glory of The Interwebz. I’m thankful every day for the people who choose to read what I write.

I’m thankful every time I get invited to a Disney media event. Because frankly, they don’t have to. They could go back to the way things were in 1998 when I had to arrive early to stake a spot in the crowd and get my quotes only from personal contacts. Then, in 1999 when the US Women’s Soccer Team won the World Cup for the first time everything changed. Laughing Place was invited to cover a media event as press for the first time. Doobie took photos and I ran around with a notepad and interviewed guests (screaming young girls attired in their soccer gear). I’ll never forget watching the LA Times reporter see me interview two young girls then heading over to ask them some questions too. The next day, before my story could run in Laughing Place, the LA Times had an interview with the same girls. I was crushed, but also elated. (Btw, I have a communications/journalism background, so I wasn’t just winging it out there.)

After that we were invited to a few window dedications and then larger events. Then a few other online media sites were added to the list. Eventually the trend spread east, where guidebook authors and travel planners (who also ran websites) had been invited for sometime, but around 2004 they started inviting a few select other sites as well. It wasn’t really until 2008 that Disney World started inviting more online media. In 2009 the Mommy Blogger program took off and the Disney Parks Blog found its footing. Since then, everything has been riding a crescendo that corresponds to the accelerating pace of the online marketing revolution. Disney is riding that wave, just as we all are.

Eventually it will all level out, but for now I’m enjoying the ride. Just remember, we have former Disneyland President Cynthia Harriss (and her 1999 era staff) to thank for online media being accepted as press.

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9 Responses to State of Online Media and Disney Media Events

  1. Adam Britten says:

    I personally would like to see Disney accept “web 2.0″ more into their promotional mix. I think they are missing out on a crucial form of relatively cheap marketing. I was impressed when they started offering special Disney Gowalla badges (even though I wished they had partnered with Foursquare instead. Gowalla recently announced they will no longer be operating as a check-in service…who didn’t see Foursquare winning that battle?)

    I know I’m branching out a little from your post, but I agree with the sentiment. Blogs are becoming more mainstream because of their ability to target specific psychographics. While you may not have the same reach, your readers are of a different breed. The average parent watching Good Morning America will be familiar with Disney, but it will take a lot of pushing to get them to book their next vacation. A reader of your blog is more likely to jump at the chance to buy a ticket because they see extended coverage about Star Tours or the Fantasyland expansion, or anything like that. (Kind of taking the opposite point of view as the LP thread here. One poster claimed over and over again that people reading these blogs are already Disney customers and don’t need to be “sold to.” I disagree, as fans of the company can be turned from customers into repeat customers.)

    I hope to one day work for the Mouse’s marketing department, perhaps in the future when they become even more accepting of non-traditional media. I read through that thread on LaughingPlace, and the argument was brought up that all Disney social media efforts are “one sided” and always presented in a positive manner. Obviously, Disney isn’t going to let any of their employees, Thomas Smith especially, trash the company on the internet, but it would be nice if every single post didn’t sound like it had gone through layers and layers of corporate approval. Disney lacks a certain sense of authenticity, but as the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world it will obviously take some time for genuine individual voice to creep in. (And it will be a LONG time before Disney lets their head of social media start responding to Mickey-bashing and flame wars on message boards, like a certain poster on LP was calling over and over for him to do…not gonna happen.)

    It did seem that most of the LP thread was fueled by one or two people who apparently have an anger issue. I think that a resistance to these new forms of media is understandable, but I think a few years from now executives will finally realize their true potential, and the general public will appreciate the use of new tactics. (Personally, it’s been a long time since a radio or magazine ad convinced me to buy a new product or service, but I frequently try a new restaurant or go see a certain movie because of what I see on Twitter.) But, you can’t please everyone. Some people will always be drinking their haterade.

  2. Amanda says:

    I think one piece of this that often gets lost is that Disney doesn’t do their own blogger outreach – they employ third party agencies to do that for them. And in a company as large as Disney, different divisions employ different agencies based on their specialties (one for Walt Disney Studios, one for Consumer Products, etc), so it’s a muddled system. And sadly, in most public relations agencies, “blogger outreach” is something that is usually delegated to assistants or junior account executives.

    A PR/marketing agency’s job is to get their client’s message across to that client’s target audience. In Disney’s case, their primary audience is moms – moms who make the purchasing decisions, moms who organize the family vacations, moms who decide what their children watch on television. The “Disney fan” audience is less important, because we’re already “in” – we don’t need much convincing to take a trip to WDW, or see the latest Pixar film. So when the agency’s assistants (or interns) make up the blogger lists to invite to various events, the blogs that don’t fit the target audience don’t get invited. It’s that simple. And speaking as a non-parent who doesn’t get invited to things, yeah, it’s annoying. But Disney isn’t the only company with this kind of social media strategy, and unless I have a kid, it’s not going to change my situation.

    One place where Disney really does need to improve is on Twitter. They have a zillion different handles, but never interact with their followers. The whole point of brands using social media is to give their company a voice – something genuine that people can relate to. The Disney accounts just tweet press releases and blog posts into a void. I’m not suggesting they respond to every single person who tweets at them, but they can certainly RT some tweeps once in awhile. But again, this would require someone at the various Disney divisions that are on Twitter to actually be using social media – because an agency can’t (or are usually not allowed to) tweet responses on behalf of the brand without running those responses by the client first, which takes too long and then defeats the purpose of tweeting.

    That being said, I do think it’s great that bloggers are invited to Disney events, and I always enjoy reading your recaps of them. But man, I wish I was invited to the Disney Dream Christening Cruise :)

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  8. Adam Britten says:

    Amanda – I agree with everything you said. I follow many of Disney’s Twitter handles, and it seriously bugs me that the only things they tweet are screen grabs from Disney movies, quotes from Walt, or other dumb things like that. I get excited when they do “Disney trivia” but then they RARELY acknowledge the first person to get the correct answer. There’s little to no interaction, which like you said, goes against the nature and purpose of Twitter.

  9. Whit says:

    I’m a firm believer in media outreach including online outlets (in addition to traditional) at PR events. I think you (John) and the comments left above (well said, Adam and Amanda) are spot on in regard to social media and Disney’s under-utilization of it. I don’t know if it is a result of rules and restraints or an ignorance of the concept in general, but they could be doing great things — Disney things, if they took the time to understand the opportunities available to them.

    I also have thoughts on how blogs and bloggers are chosen for events, but they make me sound like a big whiner.

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