Disney taps into the market that really has influence: mums

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 June, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 June, 2015, 6:00am

Wendy Wright is a home-schooling mother of two, a prolific blogger and a self-described "Disney nut". Her cats are named Mickey and Minnie, and her blog is filled with advice for visiting Disneyland, tips for holding Disney-themed parties and reviews of Disney movies.

Wright's enthusiasm for all things Disney eventually drew the attention of the Walt Disney Company, which invited her to join a carefully vetted group of about 1,300 Disney Social Media Mums. The group of mothers - and a few fathers - are part of a Disney effort to incorporate the enthusiasm and influence of parents into its marketing efforts.

Wright isn't sure why she was picked, but guesses her online postings about Disney helped. "There's been a lot on social media about our trips to Disney," says Wright, who writes about technology, entertainment and other subjects from her home in Phoenix, Arizona. "It's very obvious we are a Disney family."

Disney mums are not paid, but they receive perks from the company for their efforts, including - for some - deeply discounted, four-day family trips to Walt Disney World for its Social Media Mums Celebration, an event that is part holiday and part educational conference.

Disney does not tell the mothers what to write or tweet about, and it doesn't require them to post. Still, this year's social media mums' event in May generated 28,500 tweets, 4,900 Instagram photos and 88 blog posts full of ride reviews and videos of children meeting Disney characters. And the mums' postings are overwhelmingly positive.

The theory is that mothers with a large online presence have the ability to influence travel and entertainment planning of other mothers. "For a big chunk of our guests, it's the mums who are making decisions," says Tom Staggs, Disney's chief operating officer.

The mothers say they like having a connection to Disney - as well as the possibility of scoring a spot at the Social Media Mums Celebration, which was first held in 2010. Each year, the theme parks division emails invitations to 175 to 200 people.

This year, the mums made #DisneySMMC a trending Twitter topic on the day the invitations went out. "A very magical invite with pixie dust arrived!" Wright tweeted on March 21.

In the run-up to the celebration, the invitees posted on Pinterest the Frozen-inspired outfits and Mickey Mouse-adorned handbags they planned to bring to the event.

Exactly how Disney chooses its social media mums is a mystery, stoking online speculation about the secret formula. One blog post that offered advice on how to get picked was shared 1,600 times.

Disney executives will only say they look for mums who fit its family-friendly brand, use multiple social media platforms and are active in their communities offline.

The mums include bloggers and book authors as well as radio, TV and YouTube personalities. Only a minority are superfans who write primarily about the company's products and theme parks. This year's celebration attendees had a combined Twitter following of five million people, or about 27,000 each.

Rachel Pitzel, a mother of two in Los Angeles, applied for, and was accepted to, a social media event the company held in Arizona last June. This year, she was invited to the celebration in Orlando, Florida. "You feel like a kid again," she says.

But the invitation doesn't come free. Attendees get deep discounts, but they still pay for their packages, which include three nights at Disney's Yacht Club Resort, theme park tickets, fast passes to skip queues and a beach-themed party. They also pay for their own transport.

Overall, mums spend US$3.2 trillion annually in the US economy, says Maria Bailey, a consultant who advises Disney on its social media effort.

"I have clients who call and say 'I want to do what Disney is doing'," Bailey says. "Companies want to capture the mum market." Reuters