Even at a company as huge as Disney, it can be easy to get roped into believing that missing out on the trendiest social media toy could be a disaster.
Every once in a while, someone will approach Thomas Smith, social media director for Disney Parks, to say something like, "If we don't get on GetGlue, we're going to die." Addressing an audience at Ragan Communications' Employee Comunications, PR, and Social Media Summit at Microsoft Headquarters last month, Smith said he talks those people off the ledge by paraphrasing Walt Disney:
"We want to make spaces where people connect, they find happiness and knowledge."
New technology plays a role in that, but it's not one of the three things that power Disney Parks' social strategy. Smith focuses on people, storytelling, and experiences.
Disney Parks' public blog, which serves as the hub for its social media presences, has more than 70 authors, representing basically every unit of the operation, and that number is growing. Smith said he thought it was really important that those authors' names be included on every post, so that readers could really get to know the writers.
"People connect with people," he said. "Not brands or logos."
The truth of that statement has been borne out in the blog's live chats with Disney Parks employees and "imagineers."
"We didn't know what to expect," Smith said of the chats, but each has led to tons of interest and an overwhelming number of questions from participants. To keep things lively, the social team peppers the chats with multimedia items such as images and videos.
Smith said he gives his bloggers the freedom to let their sense of curiosity—the questions "What if?" and "Why not?"—drive them, which results in content that is "a social media director's dream."
For example, one blogger just decided to go out late at night with a fog machine and a disco ball to grab what turned out to be a pretty stunning photo of the Mickey Mouse statue at Walt Disney World. No one asked him to do it, Smith said. He just did it to see what would happen, and came back with a blog post that netted 60 comments.
The blog includes lots of videos as well, all of which put blog personalities front and center, learning how to dodge a punch with Indiana Jones stunt show performers, techniques for making pizza at one of the park's Italian eateries, or hula dance moves at the new Hawaiian resort.
"That's how we treat it," Smith said. "A daily show."
That commitment to making the blog like a daily news show extends to planning, too. Bloggers post seven or eight blog posts every day, and they're meticulously scheduled out in a chart that looks a lot like a news program rundown. That planning happens months in advance.
About 10 percent of the content recipe is what shows up on the public blog, Smith said. The rest is content planning, gathering, production, publishing, syndicating, and analysis.
Though there's no public indication of them, Smith and his team create posts each week that fit into daily series such as mystery image Monday, wildlife Wednesday, and throwback Thursday.
"It builds that baseline for an editorial calendar," he says. "We wanted people to anticipate this content."
Keeping an eye on searches has helped the team know exactly when people are anticipating specific items. For example, Disney Parks' search engine optimization team found out people were searching for Christmas-related events as early as July or August.
"We weren't even thinking about our first blog post then," Smith said. "Social is the shiny object, but search is still very powerful for us."
Still, planning out content doesn't mean much if you don't have great stories. Smith said he tells bloggers they should create stories "so good they're contagious." One such story was a video about building the new queue for the Haunted Mansion attraction at Magic Kingdom Park. Another is about hats that light up in time with the World of Color attraction.
"Our bread and butter, by far, is behind the scenes," Smith said. "We have all these geniuses who are working behind the curtain."
"Everything we say will not be remembered, but how we make you feel will last," Smith said.
That feeling could come from something as simple as getting a Twitter question answered late at night, he said. But it really shows in the meet-ups at parks around the country. Disney Parks first tested them in California, where the team quickly discovered it could fill up 500 RSVPs in just a few minutes. People from all over the country flocked to join.
"The key formula to our meet-ups is to provide an experience you can't normally get in the parks," Smith said. That could be talking with an imagineer, everyone dressing in costumes, opening up the park after it closes, or an exclusive light show.
Hear more from Disney Park's social media team at the 6th Annual Social Media for PR and Corporate Communicators Conference at Walt Disney World.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.