Community Building and what Disney Fan Club can Teach Us – Part 2

For those of you just joining the series, I would recommend you read Part 1 where we discussed standard thinking on Community Building, shared some articles on the topic and then raised a point that real community building is not only the responsibility of the people in social media; it is the responsibility of the whole company.

In Part 2 of our series on Community Building we will cover three of the most potent lessons learned from the over 80 years of Disney Fan Club history.

1. Start with a Company People can Connect with

This is easier said than done. A company like Disney can naturally connect with people because stories have connected with people since we could talk. However, industries such as Computers, Organic Foods, Airlines and many more have taken naturally un-connected industries and connected with hundreds of millions of people.

The old line used around the Disney Fan club is that it all started with a Mouse. They are referring to Mickey Mouse of course.

The first character to come out of the Walter Disney Studios was actually Oswald the Rabbit.  Due to a legal battle the Walt Disney Company lost the rights to Oswald the Rabbit but it taught them a very important lesson. Your company has to own what people are connecting with.

When Mickey Mouse was created he was a loveable mouse. He was made of motherly and comforting round shapes and was adored by almost every moviegoer. His ability to engage an audience was the very start of the Disney community.

Once again it is easier for some companies to create something that people connect with, but if you can’t, you will never be able to create a community. Some common things that companies connect with their customers over are:

  • Brand Focus (start with why)
  • Local Community Involvement (building a park or running an event)
  • Emotional Connection (helping those in need and making you feel good)


2. Show People how the Magic is Made

Letting people know about the people, story and processes behind your company is often already a task for social media. This is probably the most powerful use of social media for community building.

The Disney fan club is a great example of telling the story without social media because it didn’t exist when they started.

Many people remember watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, one of several TV Shows, Specials and Movies made about the creation of Disney Land and Disney World. These video clips introduced viewers to the real people behind the Mouse, actual working drawings of the project and the value proposition of the parks.

Through these videos people not only felt like they knew what was going on but that they were part of the team working on the project. By fostering this connection they were able to draw millions of people into their products before they were ever available.

The creation of a TV show is beyond most people’s budget, but there are many alternatives that are probably just as good or better for your business including:

  • Creating a short YouTube series about team members and upcoming products
  • Offering tours of your company or inviting people to a conference just about you
  • Updating people on things like office upgrades, pranks and life.


3. Encourage Community Where it Naturally Forms

We often use terms such “Community Building” and “Creating Community” when we talk about community. However, this is slightly misleading. We can’t make a community out of thin air. People have to want to be a community, and when they do, they will show us how and where they want to be a community. When you find community naturally forming, it is then the perfect time for your organization to swoop in and incubate it.

Probably the most famous community that Disney Fans have ever participated in was also before social media: the Mickey Mouse Club. Not the 1950′s TV show but the original club started by enterprising theater managers in 1929. Theater mangers recognized that movie goers were starting to attend just to see Mickey Mouse shorts, and in an attempt to increase revenues, they ran Saturday Morning Mickey Mouse Clubs for children.

Other theaters wanted in so badly that they flooded Disney with requests for materials and instruction. In order to encourage this rash of community desire, Disney created officer buttons, sign up forms for membership cards, sheet music for the club song and special birthday cards.

Mickey Mouse Clubs became so popular they were formed in other countries and a live stage show was created and toured major US cities performing at Club theaters. The community grew so fast that Disney choose to no longer maintain the community and allowed it to run itself.

In Closing

These three lessons are only the tip of the iceberg on what other companies such as HootSuite, Intuit and Apple can teach us. However, wherever you find great community you will see companies:

  • With products that “connect” with their users
  • Sharing their past, present or future story
  • Participating where their community naturally forms

What other great communities can you think of?

What tips do you have for building real world community?

Will Fraser

Will Fraser is a co-founder of YUPIQ, a premier Viral Promotion Builder that makes it easy for anyone to create promotions that encourage and reward the sharing of their videos, webpages and special offers with friends.

Will has launched products into marketplaces such as MailChimp and Constant Contact. He continues to work with major social media, technology and consumer brands from around the world in order to help them reach their business objectives online.

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  • Guest

    Great article! 

    When you suggest nurturing community where it forms – would you suggest the use of forums in addition to social media? 

    In your opinion, what is the best social media channel to help nurture community? 

    Do you find there is a particularly interactive channel on Facebook, or do you find that companies and communities will gain more social media traction and interaction on a chat channel such as Twitter? 

    As for great communities – I would nominate Old Spice. They took soap and turned it into a social media firestorm. The memes and copycat/parody videos generated from the original commercial alone sent them viral.

  • Will Fraser


    Thanks for leaving a comment. 

    I think forums can be a tool if your community wants to meet on them. We have seen examples such as Facebook where they tried to encourage conversation between developers on Facebook itself but the developers preferred to use Stack Overflow. Now, if you go to the Facebook developer page it directs you to Stack Overflow and encourages community there. 

    WIth respect to the best channel, this is once again a bit of a hard one depending on your community specifically. Facebook has obvious appeal due to the huge adoption but things like Pinterest or Meetup could work if your community wants them too. 

    Old Spice did manage to create some huge buzz and a great Viral Kickoff. I’m not sure how much of a community they created as after their ad campaign ended I’m not sure how actively people are excited to talke to each other about Old Spice.