John Frost owns and edits The Disney Blog, one of the most popular Disney fan blogs on the Internet. While he’s an unabashed Disney enthusiast, his blog is a straight account of both the good and bad news related to the company he covers. The Disney Blog attracts about 100,000 monthly visitors, but it is not formally recognized as a media outlet by The Walt Disney Co.
John will join me on a panel, along with Ben Popken of The Consumerist, next week at Nuance Communications’ Conversations 2008 conference in Orlando. I asked him a few questions about his blog and he generously provided these detailed answers.
Q: What value do you provide that mainstream media doesn’t?
A: I’m a subject matter expert, the voice of a peer, a shepherd to the community and, to some degree, an advocate.
Q: How is your content shaped by contributions from your readership?
A: Mainly through comments and emails. I get leads from readers and they let me know when I’ve stepped over the line.
Q: How do you believe interactions between customers and businesses are changing as a result of Web 2.0?
A: It flips the funnel. It changes the art of marketing to the art of listening and contributing. For Disney, however, they’re still just getting used to providing better tools for guests to make decisions.
Q: How do you avoid inaccuracies and to provide balance in your coverage? What are your practices for correcting mistakes?
A: Use reliable sources, always attribute, provide links to background as needed. Minor mistakes might just disappear, factual mistakes, when caught by readers, are acknowledged with an update to the post and quick notice that a change was made. Major mea culpas usually involve a new post that links to the old.
Q: What could the companies you cover do to made better use of customer feedback?
A: First, show us they’re listening. Have an online community manager and/or liaison who reaches out before feedback is even needed. Then, when feedback is received, you have the trust of the community to respond honestly, even if it’s only “I can’t answer right now, but we will find the answer and get back to you.” Then follow up.
I’m particularly impressed with companies that go out and search for feedback loops and attempt to deal with problems even before the consumer knows there is a problem. RSS feeds on various engines are a great help with this. If someone posts a complaint about all the weekday fireworks shows being canceled, be ready with an answer of alternate experiences for that evening.
Q: What frustrates you most about dealing with these corporations?
A: Faceless voice mail loops, help centers located overseas staffed with people who have no expert knowledge of the subject matter, the usual stuff.
In my case, each division has its own rules and contacts for material that my audience is interested in. Some still won’t deal with blogs, some are beginning to reach out. But our primary audiences are – and I use this term endearingly – the super geeks. They have different needs than the average consumer. PR may only release one photo and no concept art, no details on the background story or interviews with the creator. Mass media gets all that at the press junkets, but I’m not invited, nor can I afford to attend events like that. Why would I want to repost the press release that they can get anywhere?
Q: What could these companies do to put you out of business?
A: Hire me. They can’t put the fans out of business. There will always be a niche market for fan groups online and off. What they can do is feed our need to be brand defenders, not just brand critics.
Q: Blogging is a hard way to make a living. What motivates you to keep going?
A: I wish I was making a living at this. It pays the bills and helps with the costs involved in being a Disney fan. What keeps me going is the same thing that got me started: my passion for the subject matter.