Disney First to Make ‘ESPN The Weekend’ Announcement

In my first two blog posts, I discussed my desire for Disney to use social media to explain why certain decisions are made. This “peek behind the scenes” is what I love to see from Disney.

Around 5:30 p.m. Friday, news began to spread that Disney was ending ‘ESPN The Weekend.’ While I first saw the story on WESH.com, the story quickly spread on Twitter and Google+. The response was fairly typical with some upset the event was ending and others seemingly okay with the cancellation. Here’s an excerpt from that WESH article:

“In order to focus our efforts on ESPN’s growing year-round presence at Walt Disney World Resort, we have decided to no longer host ESPN The Weekend. Moving forward, our focus will be on creating events like the new ESPN RISE Girls Showcase and the ESPN RISE Games, which provide a stage for tens of thousands of athletes from around the country,” Disney Sports Media Director Darrell Fry said.

While I was happy to see the explanation in the article, I was again sad that I was hearing the news (and reading the reaction Tweets) before hearing directly from Disney. However, this time, my disappointment was very short-lived. A few minutes later, I discovered Disney actually first made the announcement on the Disney Parks Blog. Unlike the monorail changes, and several other announcements over the past few months, an official Disney website was the first place a the change was announced.

Because Disney was able to announce the change and include a “here’s what we’re going to do now” by including plans for a year-round focus on ESPN events, Disney was able to give the explanation before everyone started “freaking out.” I think “more events throughout the year” makes sense to most people and kept the possible backlash to a minimum.

The Disney Parks Blog has certainly been a source for big announcements in the past, but this was a great example of a fairly significant announcement that was not leaked or mentioned anywhere else before Friday afternoon (at least from what I can find). I felt Disney handled the announcement well and I look forward to the new ESPN events “throughout the year.”


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Disney and Google+

Finally, Facebook has a viable competitor. And this time… it’s serious.

What is Google+?

Google+ has burst onto the social media scene, creating a buzz similar to when Twitter went mainstream in late 2008-early 2009. In the past two weeks, G+ has over 10 million users. However, many Facebook loyalists are asking: What’s the big deal with G+? It’s just like Facebook, so what’s the big whoop? If you share these thoughts, then it’s simple: you haven’t used G+ or you haven’t spent enough time with it. Just FYI: this blog will be less about explaining G+ and more about how Disney can successfully utilize the new social media service.

G+Businesses

First thing, Google has not yet opened up Google+ to businesses. Google says it will launch a select group of business profiles possibly later this week. Last week, Google was inviting businesses to apply for the coveted pilot run, however the submission form quickly filled up.

Right now, if you search around G+, you will likely find several businesses profiles. However, these are slowly being deactivated by Google until the official business pages are enabled. While some companies have ignored Google’s warnings and are evidently impatient, these companies should be reminded of the initial mess on Facebook when businesses started creating profiles before pages were created.

One company that has been allowed to keep its business profile is Ford Motor Company. As of Monday, over 5,000 people are following the company. While many of those people are likely Ford fans, I would bet that at least some are following Ford just to observe how they are using Google+. So far, the company has used its G+ page to promote a big announcement made via webcast, to promote a live chat and simply to ask people “What do you want from us?” Some of those responses included Hangouts with car designers and one person actually asked for a job.

With so many companies scrambling to be in the first group to use Google+, I really want to ask them “What’s your plan with G+?” You don’t just create a Facebook page or a Twitter account: you have to create a goal for these accounts and how you plan to manage your social media presence. Are these companies simply wanting to be first? Or do they actually have a clear goal for how they want to use G+?

There are dozens of great ways companies can use Google+ to better communicate with employees, however what can G+ business pages offer to the customer? Here are some of my ideas: Large Hangout events with followers, a type of real-time chat with customers (possibly integrated with Gmail), a message board for customer issues with the company (similar to a forum), a better integrated “check-in” service (think Foursquare) and an overall easier way to communicate directly with a company.

Disney and Google+

One of the first things I considered when thinking about Disney and Google+ was how G+ could easily replace the existing Disney Parks Blog. If companies are allowed to create public circles of contributors (which many expect), you could follow the Disney Parks Blog Circle and see each of the blog writer’s posts on G+. While it would likely never actually replace the Disney Parks Blog, the company could use G+ to promote these great posts.

Now the most important question: What new things could Disney do on Google+? I am so desperate to see Disney interact more with its customers. I think G+ would be the perfect place for Disney to commit to communicating with its fans and customers. What do you want from Disney that is not already provided through Facebook and Twitter? What are your ideas for Disney and G+?

Monorail EMH Changes (and Twitter outrage)

On Sunday, WDWMAGIC.com reported that Disney would stop monorail service during Extra Magic Hours at Epcot beginning July 11 and at Magic Kingdom on August 1. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“This means that in both cases, the monorail will not be able to return guests back to their resorts after evening Extra Magic Hours. Guests will instead be transported by bus and boats where available. Morning Extra Magic Hour service has not been affected. All indications are that this is a permanent change.”

Like everyone else, I have an opinion about this decision. However, what I want to discuss was the immediate reaction on Twitter after the article was posted online. As with any change at Disney, there will always be push back. I will share my thoughts on the change at the end of this blog, but I want to take a closer look at how Disney could have used social media to extinguish the Twitter firestorm on Sunday.

@EPCOTRNG, the Twitter account for the Epcot Explorer’s Encyclopedia, often has some of the most unique Disney-related tweets I see on Twitter. While a lot of the tweets are critical of Disney, the points are almost always valid.

So when I saw @EPCOTRNG asking (with tongue pressed firmly in cheek) why the Disney parks Blog was not covering the monorail changes, I laughed out loud. However, after thinking about it, this is honestly a valid question. When news breaks on Twitter, should the company respond? While I understand all situations are unique and different, should Disney have used Twitter to respond to the immediate criticism? If there was a legitimate explanation Disney could share, would it have made you happy to see the company defend its decision? I can hear people screaming now “That would never happen!” But why not? Why is it that companies can’t come out and respond to the public when being criticized?

Disney on Twitter – What if they responded?

One of my big problems with large companies is the majority refuse to commit the necessary resources to social media. While Disney is ahead of the game in some of their social media efforts (see the Disney Parks Blog and the large number of Facebook pages), they do lack a real “presence” on Twitter.

If there was an actual person monitoring the Disney Twitter account on Sunday, that person could have seen the negative reaction to the monorail changes and talked with company officials about whether they should respond to the criticism. However, we rarely even see Disney communicate with Twitter users even when tweeting questions like “What’s your favorite theme park?” so unfortunately, I would not expect this from Disney.

A tweet from July 13 about the changes.

I hear some of you screaming: “Disney doesn’t care what people are saying about something so insignificant.” For the most part, I agree with this. However, in the world of retweets and snap judgements, a valuable brand can take a serious hit on Twitter (see the Netflix backlash). Wouldn’t it be wise for companies to make a solid effort to stay ahead of bad publicity?

My Take

I wish Disney (and other companies) would better utilize Twitter and other social media platforms to communicate with customers. There is no better way for a company to win a customer than to make them feel equal to the company or brand. On Sunday, if Disney would have simply issued a statement stating: “We will still offer other great transportation from the parks during Extra Magic Hours including Disney World buses and boats.” While the statement is weak, wouldn’t you feel better to know that Disney is paying attention to us? Paying attention to you?

Quick Personal story: During a trip to Disney World, we had a terrible experience with the Disney buses. I won’t go into details, but I wrote an e-mail to Disney when I got back explaining what had happened. I went into detail about the situation and how it impacted our trip. The next week, I got a call from the head of transportation at Disney World. He was in a conference room with 3 or 4 other people and they wanted to talk specifically about what happened to us. I immediately felt important.

Now, imagine getting a similar feeling from a simple @ reply on Twitter. To know that a company is monitoring Twitter (and their own Twitter feed) and can respond to requests and concerns. I liken this interaction to the @DeltaAssist Twitter account, where Delta responds to requests and complaints in real-time. If Disney had this commitment, Disney could have seen the tweets and misconceptions about the monorail changes and sent out a response. What if Netflix would have responded to all of the customer complaints about raised rates in real-time? This could have given a whole new meaning to #DearTwitter (which was trending for most of the day on Tuesday).

If Disney, like most companies, feels that @ replying to a concern on Twitter just draws more attention to the problem (which is a completely valid concern), why not send direct messages? Disney could use direct messages on Twitter to respond directly to the person raising the concern. Disney could also use messages to interact with its followers.

Credit: @PlazaAndMainSt

My Take (on the monorail changes)

I am not as upset as most other Disney World fans. I will admit we rarely stay in Deluxe resorts, so the changes do not directly impact us. However, I still maintain that if there was an incredible demand for monorail service during EMH, Disney would keep it. There’s obviously no way the demand meets the cost of operating the service during this extra time. We all hate to see things taken away but I really don’t think this is worth all the outrage.

Your Take

What did you think about the EMH monorail changes? Do you think a company could utilize Twitter to respond in real-time to complaints/concerns? Do you think Disney could have said to address the fallout?

Disney and Facebook

For my first-ever blog post, I’ll take a closer look at Disney’s presence on Facebook and strategies the company uses to reach its massive audience.

Disney recently topped 200 million Facebook fans across the entire network of Disney pages. This number can be found on the “Disney Worldwide Fans” widget on its Facebook fan page. KUTV, a TV station based in Salt Lake, has a similar counter (and the numbers are fairly impressive for a local TV station). The widget is effective for Disney because it also highlights the 200+ other pages that Facebook users can “like” including Toy Story, Dory and Pirates of the Caribbean. This effort further reinforces the idea that Disney is more than just a mouse.

Disney created their Facebook page in July 2010 and hit 394,000 fans in August when the company started posting regularly. Disney hit 100 million fans in December 2010 and recently topped 200 million fans in July 2011. According to Disney, 60% of their fans live outside the U.S. and 70% of fans are female.

Content

Developing a strategy for a Facebook page is probably the most important thing a company must do. Having a clear goal is vital to success on Facebok. In regards to content, Disney has taken the “interaction route.” The posts on the Disney Facebook page often include images, questions and quotes. These types of posts are intended to promote more comments and “likes” and it’s obvious Disney chose this strategy to encourage its fans to share Disney with friends. During the recent Facebook/Skype announcement, Mark Zuckerburg told us in his ever-so awkward way that sharing in social media is growing exponentially (via techcrunch.com).

While some say they would like to see Disney share more “behind-the-scenes” pictures and information in their posts, Disney has obviously decided their “fluffy” posts will help promote their brand on Facebook. An example of a recent post on the Walt Disney World page: “YAY or NAY? Letting the kids stay up past their “normal” bedtime during a Walt Disney World vacation?” Does this post give much insight into Disney? Well no, but it will further spread the idea of a Walt Disney World vacation through Facebook as people respond with their comments and share the post with friends. According to an article on ignitesocialmedia.com, Disney has succeeded with this goal. The engagement rate for Disney is four-times the rate of  MTV’s Facebook page).

Mashable reports Audi has the most engaged fans on Facebook. For each status update, the automaker receives more than 225 “Likes” per 100,000 fans, which even bested Lady Gaga.

There is no clear reason for the high engagement rate other than the company like-gating videos and other content for users, requiring them to like the post before they can view the content. Audi is a great example of likely stumbling upon a great social presence on Facebook and then making the best of it.

Facebook Applications

On the Disney World and Disneyland page, fans can use the “I’m going to…” tab to plan their Disney vacation and the “Share Memories” tab as a part of Disney’s “Let the Memories Begin” 2011 campaign. Both of these applications are well-built and more than serve their purpose.

The “World of Color” application on the Disneyland page however is pretty weak. The video player is not properly sized and the application does not serve much of a purpose.

My Take

Overall, I like what Disney does on Facebook. While as a diehard Disney fan I would love to see more behind-the-scenes videos and stories, I understand that diehard fans are certainly in the minority on Facebook. I also like how Disney uses Facebook to further promote their brand with “fluffy” questions and movie quotes. The Disney brand will always be the most valuable thing Disney owns.

One thing I would like to see Disney (and most companies) do more is interact with their audience. It has always been a special thing when you received a response from a large company like Disney. However, now with social media, companies like Disney can send replies to customers/fans and thousands of other customers/fans get to see these responses. These types of interactions go a long way in building a positive image for the brand or company. Even if it’s the simple “liking” of a comment on a post, people notice these things.

Your Take

What do you think about how Disney uses Facebook? Do the posts seem robotic and scheduled? Do the posts make you want to engage in the post or conversation?

What the? Why am I here?

After spending too much time debating a topic for my first-ever blog, I stumbled across an article with the simple bold headline “Blog Your Passion.” That’s how we got here. Alright guys… cue the opening:

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Scott Gustin and I’m the head “Web Guy” at MyFOX8.com and WGHP-TV, a Fox affiliate based in High Point, North Carolina. Over the past year, my company’s reliance on social media has grown exponentially. Seeing the impact that social media can have on a business (our web traffic has more than doubled since last year) has triggered my interest in looking at companies and evaluating their use (and often misuse) of social media. So, what better company to analyze than the biggest entertainment company in the world.

I have always had an interest in Disney. As a kid, most of  my favorite movies were Disney movies. However, it wasn’t until high school until I found a real passion for Disney and especially Disney World. Without boring you with the details, after a visit to that happy place in 2000, I was hooked. Ever since, I have found myself constantly checking Disney websites  for the latest news from Disney World.

Now, the real question: What the heck is this blog going to be about? Disney has increased its social “awareness” over the past few years with the Disney Parks Blog, various Facebook and Twitter accounts and multiple social efforts within the parks. However, Disney is also often critiqued for their social media strategies and efforts. The primary topics on this blog will include existing social media projects, upcoming projects and new strategies coming from Disney Parks.

Some of the future topics will include: The Disney Parks blog, the @TodayatWDW Twitter account, the use of Twitter for Star Tours 2 and Little Mermaid premieres, Tweet-ups in the parks, Disney’s lack of communication with followers on Twitter, the use of social media during the upcoming D23 Expo and other forward-thinking ideas from ‘The Mouse.’ I’ll also hopefully feature some of the social media leaders within the Disney community.

Just to be clear: This blog will never be a Disney bash-session as there are plenty of those around the internet (see most forums nowadays). I want to take a look at the good the bad, what works and what doesn’t, the successful and the unsuccessful.  The goal of the blog is to discuss ways Disney can use new technology and social media to provide a better overall experience for its customers and fans.

Now let’s get started. The first entry will take a look at Disney’s strategies on Facebook. Enjoy!