Forget Mickey, Disney Wants YOU

Even the world’s most famous mouse, Mickey, can’t stay away from social media. Recognizing that YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are the scrapbooks of the future, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts joined the social networking craze this week with a call for user-generated content. Guests’ own home videos and snapshots will be the centerpiece of Disney’s new “Let the Memories Begin” web and ad campaign, and that’s just the beginning.

The theme park pioneer launched a new website Thursday where, in five steps, visitors can share their Disney vacation memories with the world by uploading photos and videos or submitting their favorite story.

The campaign is part of an ongoing push by Disney to tap into travelers’ reliance on social media.   A study it commissioned earlier this year found that nearly half of family travelers had posted vacation photos to a social media site and one in five had shared their experiences in “real time.”

Raising the ante, Disney also announced that travelers’ uploaded photos and videos will be featured in Disney television ads, beginning this week, and in future print and online communications. Visitors can also upload photos to Disney’s YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace pages, a smart way to drive traffic to those sites.

And, as Disney is known to do, they made their splash into social media a little bigger and a little louder by also announcing plans to incorporate family memories into its theme parks with its “Let the Memories Begin” nighttime experiences. Beginning in January 2011, guest photos will be projected against the backdrop of Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Disney estimates that as many as 500 photos will be used at each location each day.

The campaign’s use of user-generated content is, from a marketing perspective, a smart move. It’s an innovative way to keep visitors’ happiest memories fresh in their minds, taps into the user review trend we see now in social networking and, importantly for Disney, maintains the brand. Content sharing, for instance, could have been done on Facebook, MySpace or YouTube alone, but by creating the separate website Disney draws visitors in to its other products and sites, all while controlling the message.

Even Disney can’t control every message though. That “user generated’ side of social media emerged again after the announcement was made as followers took to Twitter and Disney’s own blog to express their less-than-overwhelmed reaction.

What do you think of Disney’s new campaign? Is user-generated content the right way to go?