How Walt Disney uses social media to connect with audiences

Social media may have brought a wholly new way for brands to engage with consumers – but in an digital environment where attention spans are short and content is abundant, how do you stand out and make an instant connection?

Shira Feuer, head of social media EMEA for The Walt Disney Company, told The Economist’s Big Rethink conference the proposition was simple – to get attention, brands need to create something that is of value to the consumer.

But how does a brand define what is valuable? How does it know what consumers want to connect with across social media?

The answer is a simple one, according to Feuer. Anything that appears in a Twitter or Instagram feed that causes a user to pause and look has inherent value and is therefore the kind of content that brands need to focus on.

To achieve this, she said, brands need to make themselves interesting across social media, so that users wanted to share and engage with their content.

The Walt Disney Company, Feuer admitted, wasn’t stuck for inspirational content – after all, they’ve been creating films people love since the 1920s – but on social media that doesn’t necessarily count for a great deal.

Across Twitter and Facebook, she added, users can quickly stop enjoying things they previously loved if the proposition isn’t right. The trick for Disney, she said, was to position its franchises across social media in a way that captured the essence of what people love about the films.

One of the ways Disney does this is by coupling key dialogue with film stills across Twitter, in the hope these messages tug the heartstrings and encourage people to share these tweets.

Here’s one example from The Fox and the Hound:


Getting social media assets right, Feuer added, means finding a hook that keeps people interested in your brand and not trying to do too much more than that – simply concentrate on those pieces of content that make people pause and look again at their feeds.

Feuer highlighted the launch the Star Wars Instagram feed as an example of not doing more than is necessary.

For the launch, Disney simply put up a photo of Darth Vader taking a selfie.

The promotion seems to have worked quite well. More than 66,000 Instagram users have liked the image in the four months it has been online and the Star Wars feed now has almost 400,000 followers.

This kind of promotion also works to highlight events. To mark the traditional start of the family travel season in the US, Disney runs an all-night extravaganza at both its major theme parks. To get the message out on Twitter, the firm came up with this tweet and hashtag to act as an invite (also see the video in the header of this post that has been watched by more than 1.2m people):


Tweets and Instagram updates about films to which people already have an emotional attachment are all very well, Feuer added, but what do you do when you have a new movie to promote?

For the launch of Frozen, Disney took a different tack. In the months leading up to the film’s première, the firm sort to slowly drip feed pictures of its new characters onto Twitter. Over time it also added a series of character-themed Facebook buttons that could be used in conversations across the social network. Then, after launch, Disney changed its marketing policy to focus on the film’s music. The hope was that once people had seen the film – and formed an emotional bond with it – they would want to connect with the songs.

Disney added stills and quotes from the film to its timeline and asked its follows to “Share ‘Let it Go’ if it’s stuck in your head”.

Of course, Feuer added, using social media as an ‘instant marketing’ channel isn’t just about creating content that can be pushed out at the audience. Another critical factor was to embrace what fans did online around film franchises and to help people express themselves.

Once people are doing this and you’re re-tweeting it, then your social media content marketing must be in pretty good shape.