Disney Magic Comes Alive on TikTok
On an early morning in June, 18 Magic Kingdom Park Cast Members (Disney’s name for its employees) were decked out in holiday cheer from head to toe in front of Cinderella Castle—transformed with projection mapping effects of bright red and green hues, ribbons, ornaments, and banners. With the surrounding trees also illuminated in red and twinkling light accents, the stage was set for filming a 22-second social media video for “Halfway to Holidays,” a week of sneak peeks previewing upcoming holiday season events, treats, and merchandise at Disney Parks.
A few special guests—Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy, also sporting festive looks—joined the video shoot.
Filmed in one take, the video starts with Minnie handing off a red-wrapped gift that’s passed down a line of Cast Members, with the help of a clumsy Goofy and jolly Mickey. At the end of the row, a group of Cast Members opens the gift, getting viewers excited about the “Halfway to Holidays” announcements to come throughout the week of June 20.
While the video was filmed, edited, and posted online within two days, the planning to bring together the entertainment, scenery, characters, and Cast Members took about six weeks.
“It’s actually an idea we were going to use for ‘Halfway to Halloween,’ repurposing so instead of a pumpkin, it became a present. We kind of hang on to things and find the right moments for them,” says Rob Polonsky, digital content manager for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, who manages a team of content coordinators that produces videos across Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort.
“Our team, working bicoastally [in Florida and California], has brainstorms every week, so it’s never just one person’s idea. It stems from the whole group collaborating with different perspectives.”
This “Halfway to Holidays” video is just one instance of a social post created for TikTok, an increasingly popular short-form video-sharing mobile app. Since 2020, the Disney Parks team has found success on the platform, growing its following to 4.8 million, with a total of 116.1 million likes, as of press time. TikTok recognized @DisneyParks as one of the app’s “Brands that Act Like Creators” in its “Year on TikTok 2021” report.
“What this TikTok account was originally envisioned to be is individual creators in a harmonic Disney voice. We are all Disney fans, so we love to create Disney content,” says Skye Kelly, social media content coordinator for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. “We started it because of the pandemic. Everything shut down; people needed a way to connect to the parks and connect to the things that they love so much.”
Disney’s bite-size TikTok videos feature everything from popcorn bucket reveals to ride openings, but the Cast Members are at the heart of the content.
“We love to showcase our Cast and their work. We always have that in the back of our head: How can we engage the Cast not only to participate, but also to share and to be a part of that system?” says Charles Stovall, global public relations manager for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. “It takes people who are enthusiastic, helpful, and caring about the guest experience.”
Kelly and Polonsky say one of their goals is to spark joy among viewers by creating magic unique to Disney. The bicoastal content team of 12 films videos with smartphones—just like the average TikTok creator—and is mindful of not impacting the guest experience when creating content, often filming after hours. The team explores parks and resorts for ideas and seeks out Cast stories, like a father-daughter duo of PhotoPass photographers at Epcot featured in a Father’s Day-themed video.
The Cast Members who participate in TikToks usually don’t have formal social media training and don’t need to audition to appear in the videos; it depends on Cast availability and content needs.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, we don’t tell them what to do because they are so authentically amazing on their own,” Kelly says of the Cast Member participants. Before recording the “Halfway to Holidays” video, Kelly encouraged the group by saying, “Just be yourself and be energetic!”
Content Driven by Creativity
On editing social media videos, Polonsky says, “Sometimes it’s a quick turn, like we shot this [“Halfway to Holidays” video] in one take, so it’s easier to turn it around. Sometimes a Cast story with a lot of b-roll and parts might take a few weeks. It all depends on the timeliness of when we want to get it [posted], versus how evergreen it is so we can pad our schedule.”
Moreover, the team balances Cast-focused content with company initiatives, product launches, and special events, getting creative on how best to present these objectives on the TikTok platform. The channel is also not limited to Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort. With a bio describing it as “The Happiest Place Online,” the @DisneyParks TikTok features content from Disney properties around the world, including Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa; Disney Cruise Line; Disneyland Paris; Hong Kong Disneyland; and more.
According to Kelly, the number of videos shared daily on TikTok “ebbs and flows,” but the team aims to post at least two videos, sometimes even uploading seven, per day. Disney Parks also cross-posts its TikTok video content on Instagram, where it has 2.1 million followers.
“We’re all avid content watchers, as well, keeping tabs on the trends and what’s happening on the platform. That’s what we’re creating for,” Polonsky says, mentioning that they’ll pay attention to TikTok’s viral videos and sounds.
For those looking to get into TikTok and producing social video content, Polonsky suggests, “Just jump in and do it.”
“Focusing on creative-driven projects and doing larger TikTok productions, the ones that take a little more time and incorporate entertainment and Cast, are the ones that excite me but also experimenting with new ways of telling stories, whether it’s series or pop-up lives or playing with filters,” he says.
Kelly agrees, saying that social media and effective storytelling are constantly evolving.
“TikTok has changed the way that we even talk about some of our stories, and I think in the future, [it will be about] continuing to find creative ways to showcase the things that people love,” she says. “Maybe one day it won’t even be TikTok; it’ll be a different platform, but we’ll continue to be there on top of this amazing, powerful technology.”
- Juanita Chavarro Arias is the managing editor of Funworld. Contact her at [email protected].
In 2021, TikTok released results from studies conducted by independent research groups MRC Data and Flamingo to dive into sound and culture across the short-form video-sharing platform.
Audio is an important aspect of TikTok videos, whether it’s a song, voiceover, or original sound. MRC Data found that when brands feature songs that TikTok users like in their videos:
- 68% say they remember the brand better.
- 58% say they feel a stronger connection to the brand.
- 58% say they’re more likely to talk about the brand or share the ad.
- 62% say they’re curious to learn about the brand.
- 67% of users would prefer to see videos from brands featuring popular or trending songs on TikTok.
- 65% of users prefer content from brands that includes original sounds.
Flamingo researched TikTok’s effect on culture and discovered:
- 43% of users try something or go somewhere new after seeing it at least once on TikTok.
- 61% of TikTokers like brands better when they create or participate in a trend on the platform.
- 56% of users and 67% of creators feel closer to brands that publish human, unpolished content.
- 63% of users like it when brands show TikTok creators in their videos.
- 66% of users enjoy when brands sponsor creators to show off their products.
For the full report, visit bit.ly/3v6CF5l.