Monday, March 10, 2014

The Disney Affinity Clarification

A little housekeeping before I get started with today’s topic: To date, the most-read post on this blog has been The Walt Disney World Ticket Price Inflation, my article on how Walt Disney World ticket prices have changed over time. It contained a lot of charts and numbers, and in an explanatory paragraph at the very beginning of the article I linked to the sources of my information and explained how I arrived at the figures that appeared below. The idea behind this was to allow any reader to verify the figures for themselves if they wished, and to demonstrate that I had not just made everything up.

I’m happy to report that even though I’ve always been prone to math errors, the information in the original version of the article was 99% correct. Unfortunately I did make one mistake, and it was a whopper. I might never have realized it, except that an online article in Bloomberg Businessweek, an actual grown-up organization that presumably employs real journalists, ran an article in which they quoted the passage from my blog post that contained the mistake. A nice person left a comment alerting me to what had happened, and I corrected my post and emailed the Bloomberg reporter to let him know about the mistake. I never heard back, but the article has been corrected, so I guess he got the message.

I have to tell you, I’m very flattered that a reporter for an established business magazine considered me, a random blogger, to be a reliable-enough source that he simply quoted my math without checking it even though I had provided the means to easily do so. Or maybe it makes me weep for the once-proud profession of journalism, I’m not really sure.

And now on to today’s topic: personal branding!

Thanks to social media, anyone can have a platform to broadcast their random neural firings to the entire Internet. With a little forethought, you can sign up for multiple social media services—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.—and create a sort of cross-platform alternate identity for yourself. Social media experts call this a “personal brand”. The thing is, unless you’re already famous nobody is going to care about your personal brand. So what a lot of people do is associate their online persona with a famous, previously-existing brand that people like. For example, Disney.

Just about anyone can start a social media account that focuses mainly on Disney and quickly attract at least a small audience. I found this out by accident; I started with this blog and regular posting on a Disney message board, and now I have over 1,260 Twitter followers and over 200 followers apiece on both Tumblr and Instagram. And—I can’t emphasize this strongly enough—I’m not really trying to attract people. Whereas many bloggers pay careful attention to which of their posts get the most hits, and then tailor future posts along those lines to maximize their pageviews, my creative process goes more like this:

The most popular social media post I ever made is a picture on my Tumblr of Cinderella’s Castle in 1972 that I got from an old family photo album. I just scanned it and posted it without any attempt at witty commentary, and it’s been liked or reblogged over 4100 times. That’s a pretty tiny number in Internet terms, but for me it’s huge because (and I emphasize this) I am not really trying to attract an audience. And it underscores the point I’m making, which is that any social media post associated with a beloved brand will automatically attract some level of attention. It has nothing to do with the person making the post.

But a lot of bloggers are trying to attract and grow an audience. The truth is that this Internet version of attention can be a little seductive. It’s nice to make some kind of social media post and instantly have several likes or retweets or whatever. And since most companies are aware of the power of social media but don’t really understand it, someone who’s really good at attaching their “personal brand” to a corporation may even be seen as a powerful influencer and treated to free stuff by that corporation, in hopes that they can somehow reach a huge audience that the company with its multimillion-dollar advertising budget cannot. But in order to enjoy that level of popularity in the world of Disney-oriented social media you pretty much have to be at the theme parks constantly, posting pictures and tweeting tidbits of “news”, like a sign at Pecos Bill’s getting a new coat of paint. And if you’re at the parks that much it’s hard not to notice how they’re getting continually worse. The fact is that for many years now the American parks—especially the ones in Florida—have been run according to this flowchart:


It’s impossible to spend a lot of time at the parks—or participate in the online Disney fan community—without figuring this out. For the average person whose “personal brand” isn’t inextricably linked to the Walt Disney Company, this would completely turn them off the place. “To heck with those dirtbags!” they’d say to themselves. “I’m going to take my vacations elsewhere from now on!”

But what if your entire Internet identity and social media following is predicated on a constant stream of pictures and news Disney theme parks? Then you have a couple options:

  1. Stop going to the parks and run the risk of losing most, if not all, of your social media followers.
  2. Keep going to the parks, ignore the bad things that are happening, and continue posting pretty pictures of Cinderella Castle or the Citrus Swirl you’re having in front of the Tiki Room.

So why am I saying all of this? Well, my online identity is very much associated with Disney. In the past I may have even called myself a “Disney fan”. But, if you’ve followed my postings and tweetings for a little while, you’ll notice that I’ve become progressively more disillusioned and disgusted with the way the Parks and Resorts division of the company is run. The Cut Costs/Raise Prices/Repeat business model has, for me, made the parks a simultaneously unpleasant and expensive place to be. I haven’t set foot on Disney property since 2011 and have no plans to do so in the near or distant future. But I’ve learned something from all this: I was never really a Disney fan at all.

Although I’ve been exposed to Disney entertainment all my life and usually liked it well enough, the first Disney-related thing I really obsessed over was EPCOT Center’s Future World. Why? Because it so perfectly spoke to my preexisting interest in science fiction and futurism. And as Disney’s focus on that kind of thing died away and attractions with that theme were removed forever, my interest in the parks atrophied. Believe me, I would love nothing better than for them to be great again. But the company would need totally new executive leadership and a complete restructuring of the Parks and Resorts division, not to mention an investment of billions upon billions of dollars to reverse the damage from the last 20 years or so, for that to happen.

So I have a choice to make. I can keep writing the same few posts about what’s wrong with Disney World, which would just bore us all to death. Or I can write about other stuff, instead. After all, the little “What is futureprobe?” box at the top of the sidebar says that, in addition to being about EPCOT Center, this blog is also about Star Trek and other optimistic visions of the future. So I’m pretty sure I’m allowed to branch out a little. Don’t worry, I’ll still write about Disney-related things now and then and I’ll continue to talk about the company on Twitter and post pictures of the parks as they once were on my Tumblr. But the focus of this blog will shift.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride. If not, then that’s okay, too. It is, after all, a very big Internet.