It can be a challenge to bridge the gap between a predominately physical business presence and the increasingly important digital space. If you do business primarily in a brick and mortar location, what can you offer your customers not just to bring them in, but engage them with your business online?

We think the Disneyland Resort — the subset of the Walt Disney Company that operates Disney’s California parks — has adopted a uniquely social way of interacting with the millions of visitors who vacation at their parks every year. And even if your business doesn’t have the size or budget of Disney (few do) we think there’s something to be learned from the social strategy behind the Disneyland Resort.

A History of Disneyland on Twitter

Before 2012, Disneyland had a fairly standard corporate social presence on Twitter. The @Disneyland account would tweet about park hours, news, and upcoming events, but offered followers nothing in the way of interactivity. The account didn’t respond to any queries passed its way and the only retweets would be from other Disney properties.

Still, as the account of a major Disney destination, it had garnered 240,000 Twitter followers, which many would see as a success — even if that only worked out to be a tiny portion of the park’s 15.9 million annual attendees.

As the resort prepared to relaunch the long-struggling Disney California Adventure park, it cooked up a new social strategy to coax visitors from the busy Disneyland turnstiles and into the revamped DCA . In May 2012, the company launched a new Twitter presence, @DCAToday, that was all about interaction.

If visitors had comments or questions about the park on Twitter, addressed to the @DCAToday team or not, the account would respond. Whether you were looking for a good place to eat, a quiet place to take a break, or wanted to know about the park’s schedule, @DCAToday aimed to offer advice.

The @DCAToday Experiment

The speed of digital dialog can be a double-edged sword for businesses, because if you invite customers to interact with you they’re going to expect speedy response times. Combined with the fact that customers at Disneyland already have high expectations of Disney customer service and there were a lot of ways the @DCAToday experiment could have led to unhappy — and complaining — customers.

However, it was a reasonable risk for the park to take — Disney California Adventure was the less popular of the two parks at Disneyland Resort, and with fewer eyes on this branch of its social presence, Disney could afford to experiment with social strategy.

The company clearly hedged its bets by making sure the account had the staff to meet the challenge of responding to, potentially, thousands of customers every day during typical park hours between 10AM to 10PM. Each staffer had to be highly knowledgable about the park to able to provide quick answers to visitor questions, but they also needed to be provide those answers in a way that was consistent with overall park messaging and the Disney voice.

After the account became active, it averaged over 70 tweets a day, all of which were delivered with the expected Disney good cheer — and often jokes, smiley faces, and exclamation points. Questions were answered within minutes — meeting and beating the average park-goer’s expectations — and the account would also retweet park photos, wish visitors a good day (or good night), and even hold contests where you could find a member of the social team in the park and get a prize in exchange for a tweet.

Building on @DCAToday’s Social Success

The strategy, vastly different from what Disneyland had used previously, was a hit with park-goers. Satisfied followers meant quick growth for the account, which had reached 15,000 followers only three months after its creation — and even though that was still just a tiny fraction of the park’s visitors, it was a sure sign of a solid social strategy.

The success of the small-scale rollout of the DCA account didn’t go unnoticed, and soon Disneyland opened its own Twitter account with a similar strategy. @DisneylandToday launched in December 2012 — just seven months after @DCAToday’s launch — and performed almost identically to the @DCAToday account, only for a different park.

With both accounts actively engaging with park fans and visitors, it became increasingly common for followers to send messages and questions to both @DCAToday and @DisneylandToday, especially if they were asking a question about the resort as a whole that could apply to both parks.

Maintaining two accounts that were more or less performing the same role was making less sense, so Disney merged their social presences into the single @DisneylandToday account in March 2014, which now actively answers questions about both parks as well as the entire resort area, continuing the lighthearted tone and quick response time started by the DCA social team.

Though this particular social effort hasn’t made an appearance at other Disney parks, its continued success at Disneyland — @DisneylandToday has grown to 132k followers and averages over 80 tweets per day — we may yet see Disney expand this strategy further.

What Can We Learn From Disney’s Success?

There are several important lessons we can learn from how Disney approached social interaction. First, Disney recognized the power of engagement — and good customer service. By reaching out to customers where they were already talking about Disney parks and interacting with them, they could improve the quality of their visit and encourage them to talk about the park on social channels.

No matter what business you’re in, engaging your customers socially can help generate great social buzz — which was exactly what Disney wanted when it relaunched the Disney California Adventure park.

The way Disney rolled out this new social program was also a smart move. The company took a new social idea and tested it out with a relatively small — at least small for Disney — group of customers. But Disney also recognized the need to have a strong social team behind their efforts — because if the @DCAToday account didn’t live up to customer’s expectations of service, their complaints would generate distinctly negative buzz.

Finally, when it was clear the strategy was a hit, Disney expanded it to gradually cover the entire resort area while maintaining the bar of quality the initial rollout of @DCAToday set.

[Image credit: Kirt Edblom]