In May of this year, I attended the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration (DSMMC) at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. All told, it was a fantastic event and a wonderful opportunity. I’ve heard many fellow attendees refer to it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. However, I’ve had more than my fair share of legitimate once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so I’m fairly judicious when using that term.
Still, it was incredibly memorable and — as you’ll see — I have quite a bit to say and share about it. This is the story of my DSMMC adventure. As with many things Disney, there’s a heavy fog of mystery surrounding the event. I’m here today to try to dispel some of that mystery, pull back the curtain a little, and let you know what it’s all about.
Search Twitter for the #DisneySMMC hashtag or read other event recaps, and you’ll probably notice a heavy coating of pixie dust over everything.
That’s all fine and good if that’s what you’re looking for. But I’m much more interested in being honest, transparent, and helpful for those on the outside looking in. With that in mind, I’ll try to be as straightforward and honest as I can. I’m not going to hide anything.
I’ve already discussed some of my thoughts about the event on my podcast here. It caused a few ripples, which is good in my opinion.
But now I want to present a more detailed FAQ for those who are curious and want to learn more about it or for those who are interested in attending in the future. (I posted a detailed recap of the events separately here.)
What is it?
Well, this one should be rather straightforward, but it’s deceptively complicated. Disney promotes the event as a social media conference. The invitation email I received includes this language: “The Disney Social Media Moms Celebration continues to be one of the most prestigious conferences and one of the few family-friendly events for social media influencers and opinion leaders.”
Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that I loathe the terms influencer and opinion leader and find them to be pretentious, meaningless jargon. That email, though, also happens to be one of the few places where I’ve actually seen Disney refer to the event as a “conference.” It’s no accident that the official name is a “celebration.”
I’ve been to a lot of professional conferences. In publishing, they’re pretty much par for the course. Conferences include keynote speakers, breakout sessions, panels, and oodles of opportunities to mingle with colleagues. They are, primarily, professional development events. Everything is focused (more or less) on a relatively narrow topic, and everyone attending (more or less) is in the same industry.
Blogger and social media conferences are a relatively new beast, and they’re still finding their way. Some focus on how to be better bloggers. Some focus on how to use the strengths of social media to your advantage. Some are about how to work with corporate brands and score sweet swag.
So which is DSMMC? Hard to say. At its heart, it wants to be the first two and help “social media moms” be better at what they do. There’s a big focus on establishing and building a personal brand. There’s some mention of various tools and strategies to meet that goal. Plenty of time is provided for attendees to get to know one another, pick one another’s brains, make new friends/contacts, and get boatloads of inspiration. This is all great.
But the events that provide these opportunities almost exclusively take place during one day of the four days of the celebration. The other days? Exactly what the name implies: a celebration. I hate to paraphrase a critic on Twitter, but he offered up a great summary of DSMMC: it’s a thinly veiled PR event for Disney.
Well, of course it is. Corporate “ambassadorships” are the rage now. Almost any company with products or services that cater to families will have a small group of bloggers who routinely write about that company (usually in return for swag, memberships, tickets, etc. — almost never for a paycheck). It’s free (or very low-cost) marketing that takes advantage of social media in a way that companies can no longer afford to ignore.
Disney, however, has the ability to mobilize a small army of people who are enthusiastically willing to sprinkle pixie dust over everything they do. Disney is in a unique position to do this — more so than almost any other company.
Why? Because it already has a rabid fan base. And because of the theme parks. Offering their ambassadors theme park tickets and hotel stays valued at hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars easily eclipses the perks most other companies can offer.
But here’s the thing. DSMMC is not just a PR event for Disney. It’s also an opportunity for other (non-Disney) brands to sponsor specific celebration events and use that mobilized fan base for some free PR of their own. For example, this year, Taylor Morrison, Alamo, Hanes, Mylan, and GoGo squeeZ sponsored various events — from guest registration to lunch to the general session to a special family dinner.
Arguments could of course be made for how relevant these brands are to the attendees and the readership/audience to which they cater. But the fact remains, they were there solely to capitalize on the PR power in the room. And, honestly, this came as a bit of shock to me, who naively thought the weekend would be exclusive to Disney, the host.
So, to recap: DSMMC is, first and foremost, a celebration of Disney. It celebrates the Disney Parks, the abundant opportunities for family travel that the parks offer, and various other Disney-related products and events. Coming in a close second, it’s a flagrant PR event for both Disney and the select companies it chooses to invite. Running a distant third, it’s a social media conference designed with a professional development purpose.
Is it free?
Nope. I think there’s a misconception out there that attendees go to DSMMC on Disney’s dime. Sorry; we have to pay. Granted, the out-of-pocket rate is a great deal for what’s included, but it’s not exactly “cheap.”
Here’s where this whole honesty and transparency thing comes into play. I’ve never seen anyone post about how much it actually costs to attend. I’ve even seen fellow attendees actively avoid answering the question when asked about it directly.
Here you go. This is the invitation email I received….
As you can see, the base rate was $650. That covers the attendee only. Tack on $100 each for family members 2–4. If you have a bigger family than that, add on $250 per person for numbers 5–6 (the higher rate is ostensibly for a second hotel room). You can do the math.
Then add on any other travel expenses you might require in order to actually get to central Florida.
While this isn’t exactly “cheap,” keep in mind what it includes:
- conference registration, including all events
- 3 nights at the Yacht Club, a deluxe-level resort hotel (depending on the view, upwards of $443/night)
- 7-day park hopper tickets for each member of your party ($425 each)
- most meals for the 3 1/2 days of the conference
- PhotoPass Memory Maker ($199)
- transportation to certain off-site events, swag, character meet-and-greets, etc.
Again, you can do the math. Even with 5 or 6 people in your party, you’re getting a bargain.
BUT. There’s very little time to plan. I received the above invitation on March 20. The event began on May 7. That left only six weeks to plan a significant vacation with a considerable price tag. Not everyone can do that.
And you need to make a decision quickly. Again, I received that invitation on March 20, which was a Friday. Unless I’m mistaken, registration filled up by the following Monday. Many who were invited were shut out of registration because they took a weekend to decide whether they could afford the trip.
I was only able to commit as quickly as I did because my wife and I already had a vacation planned for the exact same time. It was pure coincidence, and we decided to just scrap the other trip and do Disney instead. Not everyone was so fortunate.
How do I get invited?
This is the million-dollar question. The short answer is that no one really knows. The event is by invitation only, and it’s not publicly known how people end up on their radar or how the invitees are selected.
But I have some ideas.
First, almost everyone I met had previously been to one of the Disney SMMC On The Road events. These are half-day “mini conferences” that are held in three different cities during the spring or summer. This year, for example, they were held in Portland (OR), New York, and Austin. Even though Disney Parks is the official host, the On The Road events are organized by BSM Media.
The good news here is that you can apply to these events.The application period opens up during the early spring (it was March this year). If you’re selected to attend, guess what? You’re on their radar. Congratulations.
I attended an On The Road event in Philadelphia last summer, and I’m positive that’s what initially put me on the map. Why did I get invited to that? Beats me. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I had only been blogging for about two months at the time. I applied on a whim, and my invite came as a complete shock.
But I was on the BSM Media / DSMMC email list. A few months later, they put out a call for people interested in hosting a DisneyKids preschool playdate. I put my name in, hosted an event, and stayed on their radar. (They have similar opportunities to stay engaged throughout the year.)
I also kept building my “brand,” posted good content (in my opinion), and touched on Disney every now and then. This blog isn’t Disney exclusive by any means, but the focus and audience are very much in line with the audience that Disney wants to target.
At DSMMC, I met bloggers who write about organic food or international travel or kids party planning. I met people who had never been to a Disney theme park before. I met people who had never written about Disney before. What I’m saying is, if you want an invitation, you don’t need to have a Disney blog.
In fact, you probably shouldn’t. If you write about Disney 100%, then your audience is already made up of Disney fans. There’s no reason for Disney to make an extra effort to reach out to them. That’s preaching to the choir. They’d rather invest in a niche or untapped audience that might be persuaded to take a Disney vacation.
Finally, it’s helpful to know that BSM Media doesn’t just organize the On The Road events. They are also heavily involved in the planning and organization of the annual celebration. Again, Disney Parks is the host, but I’ve heard various reports about how involved they actually are (i.e., if at all) in the selection of attendees. Something to keep in mind.
Is it really just moms?
Pretty much. To put this in perspective, there were roughly 200 attendees at this year’s event. I was 1 of 2 male attendees. I know of 4 others who received invitations but were shut out of registration. So the percentage of their hand-picked invitees is overwhelmingly female.
They made a noble effort to include the two of us by repeatedly saying, “…and dads!” whenever anyone said “moms.” But, heck, the event is still called the Social Media MOMS Celebration.
I’m not entirely sure why it’s not more all-inclusive of “parenting bloggers,” especially with the rise of dads who blog and the fact that “mommy blogger” is apparently a derogatory term to some.
Maybe dads are more of a risk and less likely to sprinkle pixie dust over everything? If so, I don’t know where they would’ve gotten that idea.
When and where does it take place?
This was the sixth year of the event. Every year except last year, it’s been held at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Last year, it was held at Disneyland in Anaheim. It usually takes place in May, and this year it was over Mother’s Day weekend.
The host hotel is different each year, also. This year, we were put up at the beautiful Yacht Club Resort, and all of the official conference events took place there. (There’s a full convention center attached to the Yacht Club.)
Where will it be next year? Wish I could tell you. They didn’t announce it at the event and actually made a point to tell us that they couldn’t announce anything yet, which raises a few questions.
What do you do there?
See my other post — Disney Social Media Moms Celebration: The Recap — for more than you probably want to know about this.
So? How was it?
It was a phenomenal experience. My family and I are obviously fans of Disney Parks, so this was clearly right up our alley. Everyone takes something different away from the event, so what I enjoyed might not be what someone else enjoyed (and vice versa). Likewise, what frustrated me might not have even bothered someone else.
And I think that’s kind of the whole point. Disney (or whomever) makes it a point to invite different types of people who write about different types of content. With that in mind, they need to try to appeal to everyone, which is no easy task. So, while I may have gotten frustrated with certain aspects of the event, I certainly don’t hold those frustrations against Disney as a whole or against DSMMC in particular.
I got a lot from the experience (and no, I don’t just mean swag). I got to meet a lot of incredible people who are all passionate about what they do. I got to share some amazing experiences with my family that we’ll all remember for a long time. I got to engage with a brand I respect in a way that would otherwise have been impossible.
In the end, despite the flaws, I came home with a newfound appreciation for a company and destination we already love as a family. And I’m more than happy to share that love with my readers and whomever is interested. Which, come to think of it, was the entire point of the event from the beginning. So, bravo DSMMC. Bravo.
Would I go again if invited back? Absolutely.
Do you think you’ll get invited back?
Heh. Who knows? Officially, people can get invited back three years in a row. Not everyone does, but many have been. This year, though, there were a lot of first-time attendees.
As far as I know, I’m the only attendee who’s gone on record with anything even remotely resembling criticism. (But I’m far from alone in my thoughts. Many fellow attendees have reached out to me privately — in response to my podcast episode or random tweets — to let me know that they feel the same way about various aspects of the event.
Most people are so afraid of getting knocked off “The List” that they won’t even publicly agree to criticism. Like I said, though, it’s more important for me to be honest, especially to hopeful attendees who are looking for real information about the event.
So will I get invited again? I hope so. Despite my criticisms, we had a fantastic time at the parks and remain big fans of the Disney brand in general. I’d love for the event to open up to more dads, and I hope my honest take on the DSMMC hasn’t made Disney, BSM Media, or whoever’s in charge of “The List” back away from either me specifically or dad bloggers in general.