Disney is the model non-profits can learn from

Guru nominations aside, I make no secret of the fact that I think much of social media marketing resolves down to good old fashioned common sense plus good communication skills. Writing online is different to writing for print, but both are forms of storytelling. If you’re creative, polite and honest with a decent grasp of spelling and grammar, you’ll probably find the seeds of a good blogger inside yourself.

Of course, that’s breaking it down to its most simplistic form, but I do think that’s a useful thing to do. This is because when you look at the bare bones of how and what you’re communicating, you find inspiration and ideas come from rather unexpected sources.

I’m a huge Disney fan. Massive. Lifelong. Since my first visit as a four-year-old to my last visit as a twenty-four-year old. I’m going again in a month’s time, to spend two blissful weeks in the vicinity of what is undoubtedly one of the Happiest Places on Earth. But until recently I hadn’t joined up my love of the Mouse with what I do on a day-to-day business. After all, I work for a charity, not a commercial organisation. Sure, charities can (and should) learn from businesses, but what we do online is quite different, right?

In the case of Disney – wrong.

The main difference between the average charity and the average business is one of product. We’re selling the gift of a better existence to a person or animal, and in a way that is our online advantage, because it naturally lends itself to storytelling. Updates about dogs needing homes, Sponsor Dog information, guest blogs from dog owners, animal-related news… for us there’s a veritable fount of stories to be delivered and many ways to deliver them. We blog, Tweet and find a winning combination of inspiration, storytellers and audience online. Many companies would salivate over that kind of access to close interaction; we delight in the ability to be able to talk and – more crucially – listen to our supporters.

We’re not selling a product; we’re describing an ideal, and inviting people to become part of making it a reality, thanking them as we go.

But Disney has lots of products, right? It even has a paid for social media product. So what on Earth does it have in common with a charity that can help non-profits learn the rules of the game?


Disney, unusually among commercial conglomerates, sells an experience as much as it sells actual products. It sells being part of the Disney dream. It has an army of dedicated advocates and fans, who take their evangelical love of the company and instill it in their children. It absolutely revels in stories from visitors – the Disney Moms Panel is sheer genius – and gives a platform to everyone it can to talk, talk, talk, interrupting as little as possible.

Human nature has not changed thanks to the Internet. People still, at heart, just want a voice. Charities have the privileged chance to give it to them, and they might not have Disney’s budget but they can share its passion. I will be watching carefully, and taking notes.

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