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Disney Parks Prove to be Big on Magic, Short on Social Media

Craig Carter.

Recently, my family and I went to Orlando to escape the arctic tundra that is the North Carolina winter and go to the happiest place on Earth. While there, I figured I'd see what kind of social media efforts were present within the Disney parks. As the Disney Corporation is one of the great marketing forces on the planet, I figured it would be a time for me to take notes and learn from the great masters behind the Mouse. However, what I found was quite to the contrary.

My first stop was at Epcot (my personal favorite). I whipped out my smartphone and started looking for @Epcot so that I could start following the park and see if I could get access to any exclusive information or other web-based goodies. Unfortunately, finding an official Twitter profile proved to be quite difficult.

Upon entering the turnstiles, I approached two of the extremely friendly park staff and asked, "Is Epcot on Twitter?" At that moment I experienced a bit of déjà vu, reliving the times from a few years ago when I would I bring up the phrase "social media" and people would look at me like I had just spoken in Finnish. They turned to each other with puzzled looks and then replied saying they weren't sure but directed to me towards Guest Services.

Now, at this point I started getting worried because there's something you need to know about Disney park staff. They are as a whole perhaps the most outgoing, bubbliest, friendliest, knowledgable people in the entire world. If they didn't know, that was a fairly good indication that no one else would either. Nevertheless, I headed to guest services.

Even the person behind the desk didn't know off the top of their head if Epcot was on Twitter. They had to go into a back room and check. After a minute, they returned to tell me that the 6th most visited theme park in the world DOES NOT have its own Twitter account. I'll pause for a moment to let that sink in whilst you browse some of my Instagram photos.

Walt Disney World does have its own Twitter account, and all the parks are under the umbrella of @DisneyParks. They do a decent job of interacting with fans; however, if you don't include their handle in your tweets, they probably won't respond or retweet. During my trip, I composed 64 tweets about the parks, many of which included Instagram pictures and hashtags such as #Disney, #Epcot, #SpaceshipEarth, #AnimalKingdom, and #HollywoodStudios. The fact that I didn't at least get some type of response means they probably don't have a system for picking up keywords.

Between rides and taking pictures with the characters (Minnie blew me a kiss by the way, no big deal) I came to an even more shocking conclusion: The parks are doing quite well without social media.

I know. I know. How dare I say such blasphemy! But really if you pause for a moment and think about the areas that social media addresses, you can understand my point.

  • Customer Service - If you can't find someone to help you in the time it takes you to write a tweet, you must be outside of Orlando. Like I said before, the Disney park staff are some of the friendliest people in the world and they are always more than happy to assist you. The only way a complaint would go unaddressed is if you just complained for the sake of complaining, which would  make you THAT guy...and no one likes THAT guy.
  • Sales - I grabbed a few souvenirs from the numerous gift shops. While waiting in line, I glanced at a few of the registers. I'd say they consistently averaged around $90 a head...so they're doing pretty well in that area.
  • Exposure - Do you know anyone who doesn't know what Disney World is? 'Nuf said.

Now, just because they don't need social media doesn't mean they don't need social media, if you catch my drift. As masterfully as they operate their parks, they could always use social media to enhance the park experience and the Disney brand. Here are a few of my ideas:

  1. All parks need their own Facebook page and Twitter account - I don't need to go into much detail here. It just seems necessary that these massive attractions need their own social presence.
  2. A Hashtag for Every Ride - Now hashtags can get out of control, but if anyone can do it in a subtle, tasteful way, it's Disney. Besides, if #ItsASmallWorld can't become a trending topic, I've lost all faith in humanity.
  3. Rewarding active followers - Getting to meet Disney artists and Imagineers, behind the scenes tours, special merchandise, etc. Keep it exclusive to the social media users, and park attendees will jump on the chance to follow Disney's social channels.
  4. Find the Hidden Mickeys contest - Hundreds of Mickey Mouse logos are hidden all over the Disney parks. Creating a microsite where you could upload pictures (which would be recognized in a QR-code-esque manner) and complete a checklist for rewards would add a fun easter egg hunt to the park experience.
  5. The Disney Day Planner - Between all the shows, rides and lines, it can be difficult to fit all that magic into one day, even more so if you're traveling with a big group. I propose a Facebook tab designed to help you plan your day with Disney. Enter information about the size of your group, age range, and what you're interested in (i.e. shopping, getting pictures with mascots, roller coasters) and it will print a full itinerary, including everything from when to stop for lunch to when to pick up a fastpass.

What social experiences have you found in theme parks? Share in the comments!

P.S. I strongly recommend going the week before Christmas. The weather is fantastic and the most I waited for a ride was probably 20 minutes.


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32 thoughts on “Disney Parks Prove to be Big on Magic, Short on Social Media

  1. WYSMS

    Great article.    It's so frustrating when you have an old-guard in place and while they're "aware" of social media they feel like they just don't need it because business isn't hurting.

  2. WYSMS

    Great article. It's so frustrating when you have an old-guard in place and while they're "aware" of social media they feel like they just don't need it because business isn't hurting.

  3. rhocelli

    Great read! I've seen Disney be active in Location Based Social Media in a more branding perspective. When Gowalla was still a hot item, Disney partnered with them to create custom stamps for their most popular rides. So that the guests can collect these "stamps" for their Gowalla passport.

    But I sure do wish they did. They could do some great things!

  4. Jan Wong

    Wow, I didn't know they weren't on Twitter at all. It's true though - there are many businesses out there that are comfortable in how they are operating now and feel that there is no need for social media. 

  5. Jan Wong

    Wow, I didn't know they weren't on Twitter at all. It's true though - there are many businesses out there that are comfortable in how they are operating now and feel that there is no need for social media. 

  6. Judy Caroll

    Thanks for sharing this Craig.  What's sad about some businesses today is that they are too quick to jump on the social media bandwagon without giving serious thought about how it fits into their marketing strategy. I think For Disney parks, social media for now doesn't fit into their current need that's why they prefer not to have it.  

  7. Judy Caroll

    Thanks for sharing this Craig.  What's sad about some businesses today is that they are too quick to jump on the social media bandwagon without giving serious thought about how it fits into their marketing strategy. I think For Disney parks, social media for now doesn't fit into their current need that's why they prefer not to have it.  

  8. leona

    Hi! The parks do have their own twitter channels, certified and everything :)
    Also, your ideas are brilliant - especially love number 3 - but they're nearly all active on the Disney park Facebook tabs.

  9. MomMaven

    Hmmm my opinion differs somewhat. I "chat" with DisneyParks on Twitter  occasionally. The Gowalla partnership was great...until Gowalla closed. Other than that I believe Disney's social media plan relies on the very large, very informative and very friendly online Disney community to do its work for them. The new addition of the Disney InsidEARs program is a way to help train the top Disney social media folks to reach out to others via their blogs, twitter and facebook. A fan recommendation goes farther in most people's books than a recommendation from the company itself. Why pay for social media coverage when you get it all day, every day for free??

  10. MomMaven

    Hmmm my opinion differs somewhat. I "chat" with DisneyParks on Twitter  occasionally. The Gowalla partnership was great...until Gowalla closed. Other than that I believe Disney's social media plan relies on the very large, very informative and very friendly online Disney community to do its work for them. The new addition of the Disney InsidEARs program is a way to help train the top Disney social media folks to reach out to others via their blogs, twitter and facebook. A fan recommendation goes farther in most people's books than a recommendation from the company itself. Why pay for social media coverage when you get it all day, every day for free??

  11. Jones

    Magic and so called Social Media don´t get along well... There´s already too much of that nonsense at Disney parks. Disney is, in essence, a nostalgic experience - and as far as I can remember, they used Magic Mirrors in the fairy tales, not tablets...

  12. Lenny

    There are plenty of Social Interaction points with Disney, you just have to be aware that Social Networking is not "How" Disney has done business in the past. However, they've recently started an initiative to find talent using social networks like Facebook and Twitter.  Just search #DisneyJobs and you'll see a slew of Twitter feeds from various business segments in their organization.  I'm certain, as they find new business needs that justify social networks, they will expand.

  13. BusyWorkingMama

    Awesome article.  I'm heading there for the Disney Social Media Mom conference in April...will be interesting to see if any of the topics of discussion center around Disney's social media efforts.  I like the Find the Hidden Mickey concept!

  14. BusyWorkingMama

    Awesome article.  I'm heading there for the Disney Social Media Mom conference in April...will be interesting to see if any of the topics of discussion center around Disney's social media efforts.  I like the Find the Hidden Mickey concept!

  15. Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia

    Just a note - from someone who does it partially for a living - Disney relies on 3rd parties to do their social media dirty work. As someone who has actually worked inside the company as well, there is literally the discussion internally that "We can't do it better than they can, so let them keep doing it."

    There has been some change on that front recently as Disney tries to control the message - as every misstep they make is recorded in painful detail and retweeted hundreds of times - but they still generally believe that all the little private websites and other such things are to be treated laissez-faire.

    Even their newest initiative - InsidEars - directs you to other people's website and twitters and blogs that Disney just roughly keeps in a categorized list for easy reference. "Are you an Epcot fan? You might like Epcyclopedia.com and the Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia" - or at least it will say that once I put the blog and book up on there once it comes out of beta testing ;)

    Quick note - as for hashtags and such - pretty much everyone in the parks uses Foursquare. Disney tried to tell people to use GoWalla even with special badges and tours listed on the website.. but GoWall changed their format and everyone left.

    And one more hashtag note - Epcot's new tipboard (install fall of last year) opened with a functionality to show tweets which had an Epcot-related hashtag.

    Park guests and internet fanbois used the hashtag to talk about Harry Potter rides over at Universal and generally make fun of problems the parks had. Disney dropped the functionality and never looked back.

  16. Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia

    Just a note - from someone who does it partially for a living - Disney relies on 3rd parties to do their social media dirty work. As someone who has actually worked inside the company as well, there is literally the discussion internally that "We can't do it better than they can, so let them keep doing it."

    There has been some change on that front recently as Disney tries to control the message - as every misstep they make is recorded in painful detail and retweeted hundreds of times - but they still generally believe that all the little private websites and other such things are to be treated laissez-faire.

    Even their newest initiative - InsidEars - directs you to other people's website and twitters and blogs that Disney just roughly keeps in a categorized list for easy reference. "Are you an Epcot fan? You might like Epcyclopedia.com and the Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia" - or at least it will say that once I put the blog and book up on there once it comes out of beta testing ;)

    Quick note - as for hashtags and such - pretty much everyone in the parks uses Foursquare. Disney tried to tell people to use GoWalla even with special badges and tours listed on the website.. but GoWall changed their format and everyone left.

    And one more hashtag note - Epcot's new tipboard (install fall of last year) opened with a functionality to show tweets which had an Epcot-related hashtag.

    Park guests and internet fanbois used the hashtag to talk about Harry Potter rides over at Universal and generally make fun of problems the parks had. Disney dropped the functionality and never looked back.

  17. Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia

     One more note - @cavadeltequila:twitter is the tequila bar in the Mexico pavilion that was added to the park recently. It's run by a third party that operates within the park. They tweet frequently, interact, and run drink specials and social media "show this tweet" deals. So, there's that aspect to. It's a matter of not going to Disney directly, really.

  18. Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia

     One more note - @cavadeltequila:twitter is the tequila bar in the Mexico pavilion that was added to the park recently. It's run by a third party that operates within the park. They tweet frequently, interact, and run drink specials and social media "show this tweet" deals. So, there's that aspect to. It's a matter of not going to Disney directly, really.

  19. Craig Carter

    Thanks for the comment. There's a lot of interesting information that I was not aware of. Disney is definitely unique in that it has a very large and positive fan base. However, even if you're getting a lot of coverage, that coverage isn't always positive. In my experience, when companies are more actively involved in social media, they can more easily respond to concerns and mobilize their fan base. Like I said in my post, they don't necessarily need it, but it can't hurt.

  20. Craig Carter

    Thanks for the comment. There's a lot of interesting information that I was not aware of. Disney is definitely unique in that it has a very large and positive fan base. However, even if you're getting a lot of coverage, that coverage isn't always positive. In my experience, when companies are more actively involved in social media, they can more easily respond to concerns and mobilize their fan base. Like I said in my post, they don't necessarily need it, but it can't hurt.

  21. WBW

    Disney World is very unfriendly to bloggers and I believe it comes from a PR department who is old school journalism based and doesn't know anything about new media or social media. This makes no sense to me considering the fact that bloggers are all FREE advertisement and we run our mouths when we feel like we're being intentionally shut out/up. Disneyland has definitely caught on to the power of the "mommy blogger" and is using them VERY effectively to get more people to the parks. Perhaps Disney World has become a little to big for its britches and simply believes that there's no need for them to advertise. I wonder what Walt would have to say about that. In a "world" based on "plussing" I'd say this area of social media is pretty un-plussed! It is pretty much impossible to get a press pass to anything, no matter how menial. They've set up their own club which has made even conferences invitation-only and nobody understands the rational behind who is chosen and who remains un-chosen. Even sites with large page views are denied press passes, even when they're not asking for park tickets! Its definitely one area that upper level execs need to to take a better look at because they are so far behind the times they cant even FIND the times! Great article!!! Hope Disney World gets it together like Disneyland soon!!!

  22. not an insideEar

    But they've only picked people to be a part of the insidEARS who never give money saving tips, never ever give any critical review of anything, and only pump out propaganda a-la Mom's Panel. Its not even unbiased journalism.

  23. Craig Carter

    I've checked and I don't believe they do. Even the park staff said they don't. I also looked at Disney's Facebook page and couldn't find any tabs similar to the ideas I came up with. If you can find them, please send me some links. I'd love to have them for research.

  24. Craig Carter

    I've checked and I don't believe they do. Even the park staff said they don't. I also looked at Disney's Facebook page and couldn't find any tabs similar to the ideas I came up with. If you can find them, please send me some links. I'd love to see them.

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