NEW YORK - Disney has upped its social-media profile 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.
"We're inviting our guests to share their family memories online and in the parks. We're making them the center of this campaign," Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said last month at a New York event launching the site, www.DisneyParks.com/Memories.
Disney also plans to use content submitted by fans in TV ads, brochures, print ads, and other marketing.
"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.
The Memories website is part of a new Disney campaign the company is calling "Let the Memories Begin." A national TV ad for the campaign was created from videos posted online by fans. Starting in January, the parks will project images of guests onto Cinderella Castle at Disney World in Florida and the It's a Small World attraction at Disneyland in California, though a spokesman said most of those projected images would be shot by Disney photographers.
Staggs called the initiative "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, chief executive officer 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."
Webb pointed to Ford Motor Co.'s Facebook page, where consumers upload photos of their cars, as an example.
She noted that the new Disney site enables the company to capitalize on the booming popularity of mobile devices.
Peter Yesawich, chairman of the Y Partnership marketing firm, was commissioned by Disney to study how consumers view vacation memories. He concluded that social media sites are "the new scrapbooks" and that Americans are increasingly "trying to capture those memories in real time and posting them online to share with friends."
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!"
Staggs said the campaign allows "real fans to become the stars," and Dickson said Disney would benefit 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 Memories site will be moderated before it is posted. Depending on the volume of submissions, Disney hopes to post what guests send in within one to four hours.
In addition to photos and video, the site 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.