Disney upped its social-media profile Thursday by launching a website with the sole purpose of showcasing photos, videos and other user-generated content from park visitors and fans.
It's part of a trend among corporations to connect with consumers, but it's a big deal coming from a company with such a carefully controlled image.
The site — DisneyParks.com/Memories — went live Thursday. Disney also plans to use the content submitted by fans in TV ads, brochures, print ads and other marketing.
The website, announced at a press conference in New York, is part of a new Disney campaign the company is calling "Let the Memories Begin."
A TV ad for the campaign debuting this week was created from videos posted online by fans in social media forums.
Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, called the project "our first user-generated show and our first user-generated marketing campaign."
"This is part of a larger trend we're seeing," said Amy Webb, CEO of Webbmedia, a digital media consulting firm that focuses on emerging technology. "More and more large corporations are moving in this direction. It's a way of organically growing the brand."
She pointed to Ford Motor Co.'s Facebook page, where consumers upload photos of their cars, as an example. "It's a smart strategic move for them," she said. "It provides a platform for people who are excited and proud of their Ford purchase."
She noted that the new Disney site allows the company to capitalize on the booming popularity of mobile devices. Indeed, photos released by Disney to accompany their announcement showed park visitors taking pictures of themselves, friends and family in the parks with their mobile phones. The new website will give them a place to send that photo in addition to sharing it with their personal social networks on Facebook and other sites.
"It's a big deal because No. 1, Disney is doing it, and No. 2, it's an expansion of the social media phenomenon," said Duncan Dickson, a professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management in Orlando, which offers a theme park major.
Dickson, who worked at Disney for nearly 20 years, said "people love to post those kinds of things on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and this gives them another outlet for it. I take my picture and Disney's going to post it on their website and people are going to be able to see me! It's the reality TV thing."
And Disney also benefits by getting authentic material for its ads. "I'm in Sheboygan and I see somebody like me enjoying themselves in the Magic Kingdom," Dickson said. "These aren't scrubbed actors perfectly placed in a Disney setting. These are real people, and the Joe Lunchboxes of the world can picture themselves there too."
All content submitted to the site will be moderated before it is posted. Disney did not immediately say how long the lag time would be or how users would know if their content was being used.
In addition to photos and video, the website will accept text from fans describing their memories of Disney visits.
Besides submitting via the new website, fans can submit material via Facebook.com/WaltDisneyWorld, Facebook.com/Disneyland, Youtube.com/DisneyMemories, or Myspace.com/DisneyParks.