POP QUIZ! What’s the ONE thing that you can’t forget to take with you on a trip to Disney World? 🤔 Any guesses? That’s right! It’s your…smartphone!
We used to be able to plan Disney World trips without looking at a screen, and while it’s still technically possible, it’s much more challenging. Nowadays, you essentially need your phone for everything from checking wait times to mobile ordering your food, not to mention the endless vacation photos that you’re going to want to take. And after the trip (or during the trip!), it all goes up on social media! The age of social media and smartphones has had a pretty major impact on Disney World in the last few years, causing them to make some BIG changes.
Today, we’re taking a look at just how much Disney World has changed in the age of social media. If you were essentially born with a smartphone in your hand, some of these might not even be changes you’re consciously aware of. For others who grew up with brick cellphones or before cellphones altogether, you’ve likely seen the impact play out around you, but have you noticed just how MUCH Disney has been affected? Let’s dive in!
Disney Has Less Control Over the Message
With the introduction of social media, there’s one big challenge that Disney World faces when marketing — they can no longer control the message. Gone are the days where the only things you saw about Disney came FROM Disney.
Disney now has to manage (to the extent that the can) the message of influencers and content creators who can say essentially whatever they want, whenever they want. In the world we live in now, everyone can have a platform to speak their thoughts and opinions…whether positive or negative toward Disney.
What does that mean? Well, basically there are a million points of potential disaster for Disney.
At the end of the day, anyone can take photos in Disney World. Anyone can post their personal review. Anyone can say what they want online, and whether or not it’s totally true, the people of the internet will decide how they feel about it. Those online comments may affect other guests’ feelings about Disney World, sometimes in the long term.
A social media post related to Disney could go “viral” and before they know it, Cast Members might start getting asked about “secret menu” items, hacks, difficult recipes that they maybe made as a one-time thing, staged character interactions (like that Andy’s coming incident), and more that guests were never truly supposed to see or know about.
A guest may post about their individual experience and others may think it is a standard thing that all guests should expect, when in reality it may have just been a one-time occurrence.
Evacuations, rides breaking down, technical difficulties — everything is more visible to the masses all with the click of a button. And guests don’t miss a single scratch. That can be good for fans so that they know what to expect ahead of their own trips. But it can be dangerous for Disney, as they have to deal with whatever images those fan photos portray and what implications come with them.
“It’s totally sold out.” “It’s disgusting.” “It’s ugly.” “It’s gorgeous.” With thousands of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts out there, there can be a lot of (sometimes conflicting) messages, and a lot for Disney to try and manage to make sure (to the greatest extent possible) their message and whatever the truth is ultimately gets out there.
News Travels FASTER
The other thing about social media is that it moves FAST. Like, 100x the Energizer Bunny fast!
On any given day, Disney could get caught up in a media storm or controversy because news travels MUCH faster than it used to. Not only that, but interpretations of situations and stories can be varied, and it’s easy for Disney to get caught in between the many sides of an argument.
We’ve seen Disney deal with a number of these kinds of political or highly divisive issues multiple times over the past few months and years.
Whatever Disney or Disney fans say will quickly flood social media channels, and there’s no real ability to put the toothpaste back in the tube once it’s out, if you get what we mean.
From Disney’s own CFO saying that cutting portion sizes in the parks would probably be “good for some people’s waistlines”, to Disney’s handling of the Port Neches-Grove High School marching band performance that activists called a “racist depiction of Native American culture,” and all of the situation surrounding Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Act and Disney’s responses to it (and initial lack thereof) — it’s ALL been played out on social media.
Say something, don’t say something — the court of social media tends to rule swiftly and quickly in most situations. In essence, there’s a lot less room to make mistakes and mistakes that are made might not be as easily forgiven. Statements that maybe would have only made local papers or random corporate reports are now easily viewable and spreadable for the world to see.
Because of social media, Disney World likely has to do much more “damage control” than in the past. When guests are unhappy, word spreads fast, and then Disney has to not only deal with the original problem but those who read about it on the internet and are now upset by association. That can be a very tricky balancing act.
Do YOU agree with some of Disney’s most controversial changes? Click here to see our list and let us know!
Visual is King 👑
Social media has plunged us into the age of digital photos, which means that marketing these days is entirely different. Nowadays, the way that things look — food, hotels, rides, etc. — has become much more important because photos of each item will likely be plastered all over the internet for everyone to see FOREVER.
This also means that the image has to be consistent! Brands often take staged, beautiful photos to promote things online, and Disney World certainly does that too. But, Disney isn’t afforded the luxury of having those photos be the only ones guests will ever see.
If guests show up and realize that an item or experience isn’t the same as what was advertised, they’ll share their own pictures online and Disney will be stuck addressing the situation.
So, that cupcake can’t just look good in a promotional photo. It’s got to look good every day, every time a guest buys it, in every single instance.
And if it doesn’t look good — you can bet the world will find out about it via social media. That puts a lot of pressure on Disney to deliver 24/7, 365. And quite frankly, as Alexander Pope once said, “to err is human.” Considering the fact that Disney World is operated by humans, it places Disney in the situation of having to reach for a goal of absolute perfection that might not always be attainable.
Marketing Has Changed
This photo-heavy social media society has also opened up many more marketing opportunities for Disney, which can, in a way, be good! Now, Disney can make heavy reliance on FOMO (fear of missing out) to attract guests to the theme parks.
They encourage visitors to post their experiences online with hashtags and photo ops and Disney Parks even has a series of social media accounts where they share unique offerings and limited-time specialties. They especially like to highlight fun experiences on TikTok, and their videos have been viewed by millions of people.
To encourage social media sharing, Disney has focused a lot in the past few years on making Insta-worthy moments and setting trends. We’ve seen this with the new PhotoPass opportunities, like where they introduce special Magic Shots and superzoom pictures. (They also went really hard on the Instagram wall trend for a while.)
If they can get more guests to share pictures of all the fun they’re having at Disney World, those guests’ friends and followers may feel like they’re missing out if they don’t also visit Disney World soon, and that might finally encourage them to “take the leap” and book that next Disney trip!
Things like Instagrammable photo walls, gorgeous treats, character interactions, and more can all encourage guests to post photos on their own accounts.
See your friend Sammy having an AMAZING trip in Disney World? Oh my gosh, did she just post a photo of a DOLE Whip? No way — she ate at a character meal with Mickey Mouse?! Oh man, I’ve got to do that! When’s my next Disney trip? Should I book one for next month?
And just like that…BAM! Disney got another trip to be booked! (The FOMO works!)
Disney Had to Make a Big Choice
And finally, the age of social media and smartphones has forced Disney to make some big choices about the way that they run the parks and how guests organize and manage their days in the parks. Essentially, Disney had to decide if they wanted to dive into the culture of technology and smartphone-adaptable features, and they did…BIG TIME.
What do we mean by that? Well, today you can plan an entire Disney World trip in the palm of your hand, straight from the My Disney Experience app. Over the past several years, they’ve introduced features like the ability to check wait times through your phone, Mobile Ordering, and even MagicMobile, which allows you to basically use your phone as your park ticket.
You don’t even need a room key to enter your hotel room — you can open your door right from your phone! Mobile Merchandise Check-Out, Mobile Dine Walk-Up Waitlist, and Mobile Dine Check-In are just a few of the other things you can do through your phone now.
On top of that, Disney World introduced Disney Genie in 2021, allowing guests to use a free digital feature to plan their day in the parks (based on pre-selected preferences). Along with Genie came Genie+ and Individual Attraction Selection, which brought the end of FastPasses and FastPass kiosks.
We’re all relying on our smartphones now more than ever before for a Disney World vacation, and Disney has recognized that. (They even sell portable chargers and a variety of phone accessories in the parks!)
So all in all, the age of the smartphone and social media has changed Disney World a great deal. And it’s likely just a taste of what we’ll see in the future. What will new technology bring to Disney’s marketing and their online image? How will new social media platforms, new phones, or just new topics change how Disney handles things 2 years, 5 years, or 10 years from now? It’s not clear, but you can bet we’ll be watching and sharing all the updates with you.
Stay tuned to DFB for more Disney World news!
What do you use your phone for when you’re in Disney World? Tell us in the comments!