The Ragan conference team was at Walt Disney World when the world changed.
It was March 11, 2020, the night before the first of two jam-packed days of sessions for Ragan’s annual Social Media conference in Orlando, Florida, and everyone was grabbing a meal before hitting their pillows ahead of what would be a busy day the next morning. That’s when the NBA announced it was postponing its season due to the COVID-19 virus and events began to move very quickly.
Disney World would close its gates later that weekend. Ragan hasn’t had an in-person conference since.
Now, after months of working from home, reinventing conference products for virtual environments and hours and hours of video calls, the Ragan Disney Social Media Conference is headed back to Disney World Sept. 9-10.
“Going back to Disney World for our first in-person conference since March 2020 is like the opening act of a new show for us,” says Ragan CEO Diane Schwartz. “We’re not going ‘back’ to the way things were, but we are returning to one of our most coveted conferences … and giving our attendees an incredible learning and networking experience.”
It’s an opportunity for the Ragan community, communicators, marketers and industry leaders, to reconnect with each other and celebrate the return of gatherings, networking and of course, the magic of Disney. “After a difficult 16 months, the magic of Disney World is back, and I can’t wait to see our community in person and be in the same room with many of my Ragan colleagues after meeting in Zoom boxes for more than a year,” Schwartz says.
It’s fitting that Disney World should host the first in-person Ragan Conference since the start of the pandemic, Schwartz notes.
“My strongest memory of the conference in March 2020 is us being among the last conferences at Disney World and feeling fortunate to have held the conference successfully,” she says. “It was surreal and yet even then we did not know how tragic the next year would be for so many. We return to Disney with a world changed by the pandemic and, in September, we will honor the losses and celebrate our resurgence.”
A magical destination
The Ragan Social Media Conference at Disney World has been a fan favorite for many years. Attendees point to the event as instrumental in their career growth, citing important keynotes, hands-on trainings and a community of welcoming peers.
“My favorite memory is from the first Ragan Disney Conference I attended in 2015,” says Don Helbig, area manager for digital marketing, King’s Island. “At the pre-conference workshop, Mark Ragan spoke about adopting a brand journalism approach to PR and social media. I remember Mark telling the attendees the printing press was now Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and to stop begging the media and become the media yourself. That resonated with me, that I could write and publish the story on owned and shared platforms instead of pitching it to the media.”
The session was a turning point for the 25-year communications veteran.” It was the start of seeing PR and social media differently, and doing it better.”
For Margie Dolch, senior communications specialist with Celanese, it was a conference session on editorial processes that first endeared her to the Ragan Disney experience. “There was also an emphasis on transparency and social storytelling [which] affirmed our company’s communications strategy to have a consistent and authentic voice,” she says.
“Our blog came to my mind several times over the course of the conference, especially when one speaker shared how to unearth the spirit of a brand through storytelling,” Dolch says. “She was talking about how a brand’s mission is its story. The more she talked, I couldn’t help but think how great it has been for Celanese to have created a space to give our employees a voice. Our digital channels have helped to pave the way for our company to build the culture we have today.”
Both Dolch and Helbig agree that the conference is a magical place for communicators to meet with their peers, share stories and tactics, and build a community for what can be a lonely profession.
“The people that you get a chance to hear and learn from and the networking opportunities makes it special,” says Helbig. “It’s the best of the best within their respective industries with representatives from companies like Facebook, Instagram, Walt Disney World, Wendy’s, NASA, Southwest Airlines, Coca-Cola, Target, NFL, NASCAR sharing their knowledge and offering key insights with you.”
“It’s the people,” says Dolch, “the Ragan team, the speakers and the attendees who come together to make this experience so special. That’s what has brought me back time and time again. You’ll learn new trends to connect with communication peers and to leave inspired and refreshed—and did I mention Donald Duck is my favorite?”
Bringing the magic back
It’s because the conference has such a unique place in attendees’ hearts that Ragan is looking to relaunch in-person programming with a return to the most magical place on earth.
“While Ragan has been hosting virtual conferences without pause for the past 16 months, nothing replaces meeting attendees in person, learning together in the same room and breaking bread or toasting one’s achievements in person,” says Schwartz. “While we will continue to host virtual conferences at least through the end of the year, we’ll be cautiously but anxiously presenting in-person offerings for those in our community ready and able to travel.”
For those who are excited to once again connect in-person with colleagues and friends, Ragan Disney offers the perfect opportunity to recharge with inspiration and training—and learn the latest tips on building your social media community in an increasingly digital age.
“Social media is constantly changing,” Helbig says. “What worked yesterday on social media doesn’t work today. You have to constantly adapt and stay on top of the latest trends. Attending a Ragan Disney Conference will expand your knowledge and skill set and provide you with insights and takeaways on the latest trends to better connect and engage with your audience across all platforms.”