Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse performing at Disney World on stage.
Great lessons for online communities can be gleaned from none other than Mickey Mouse. PHOTO: Joel

In this digital age, chances are you have an online community for your customer user group. Technology helped you build your digital presence, but now you need to infuse it with a meaningful sense of membership. 

Here are some techniques you can use to create a vibrant, engaging community, all inspired by the Mickey Mouse Club.

Feeling Like Part of the Club

If you saw the original 1950s MMC television series — or more likely The All New Mickey Mouse Club in the early 1990s that launched the careers of famous Mouseketeers Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera and Keri Russell — you remember not just watching the show but feeling like part of the club.

Online communities aspire to engage users in that same way — by creating a member experience that is at once social and personally meaningful.

Content, Interaction and Promotion

It’s not a news flash that building a successful community is well worth the investment. Foundational research a decade ago by The Social Media Group revealed that community members remain as customers 50 percent longer than non-community users. Even better, customers reported good experiences in forum communities more than twice as often as they did via calls or mail.

So what will it take to successfully engage your users?

For starters, your community is going to need relevant content, social interaction and good old fashioned brand promotion.

Communities Are Business — Show Business

The opening lyrics of the MMC theme song ask:

Who's the leader of the club,
That's made for you and me?
M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-YOU-S-E!

That infectious singalong sent the message that MMC was indeed all about its club members, and the audience it was hoping to attract. If you watch the promos for the original MMC shows, you’ll see happy mouse-ear-wearing kids magically transport viewers to a club experience. 

But as Kara Kovalchik reveals in her article, 6 Little-Known Secrets of the Mickey Mouse Club, “The truth is that behind the scenes, it was still Show Business with a capital B.”

Mouse-Eared Brand Ambassadors

Community expert Paul Schneider of Socious observed in a 2015 blog that “the most successful online communities across the nation all have one thing in common; they are backed by a powerful business strategy.”

In fact, MMC creator Walt Disney understood his business well, and knew exactly how to create and build his audience to maximize loyal membership. Disney wanted his brand ambassadors — the Mouseketeers —  to be regular kids that the audience could identify with and who looked and acted like their viewers.

Keep Your Employees Highly Visible

This approach ties directly to the best practice of humanizing your community site.

Users want to interact with people like themselves, people who reflect their interests. User communities become most energized when members start interacting with each other, but to start, you need to ensure your internal brand ambassadors are participating.

For example, the Edelman Trust Barometer found that employees are the most credible source of information regarding a business. That’s why it’s important that they be a visible presence in your user community to answer questions and engage in discussions.

Cross-Channel Brand Communication

What’s more, your online community brand participation should be a part of your total customer interactions, aligning across both digital and in-person activities.

Disney understood the power of brand ambassador participation. The '90s cast was directed to perform songs or skits in front of a live studio audience and interact with the guests at their shows. And the original Mouseketeers were contractually required to perform at any venue the studio requested (apparently for no additional compensation), including concerts at Disneyland and promotional photo shoots.

But the MMC business strategy worked, and the Mouseketeers made a connection with their audience that would last a lifetime.

Members Participate, Leaders Lead

While Mickey might have been the "leader of the club" in the theme song, Disney realized that he did need an actual adult in the room. As the show’s MC, Jimmie Dodd was the de facto leader of the Mouseketeers, and, by the way, also the composer of The Mickey Mouse Club March, the MMC’s earworm of a theme song. He and the other adult leaders were added to the cast in an effort to keep order.

So again, MMC points to a good practice for online communities: You need somebody to run your community, to help keep order.

Research reveals that communities that have leaders responsible for the day-to-day health of their communities are much more successful. Your community leaders don't have to post all the content — in fact they shouldn’t. However, they should have the accountability and authority to ensure the necessary community deliverables.

Which Comes First, Content or Connection?

On today’s social media sites, engagement begins with information sharing (and sometimes TMI). That means the ways in which you provide and organize your community content make a difference.

There needs to be a sense that favorite topics will be covered. The MMC showed the way early on with a special theme for each day of the week, including: Fun with Music Day, Guest Star Day, Circus Day (later called Party Day), Hall of Fame Day and my personal favorite, Anything Can Happen Day.

When the Mouseketeers performed segments on those days, the audience knew to look forward to them and the themes built up a body of favorite content along the way.

Organize Content to Reflect Member Interests

The most successful user communities provide a continuous flow of new and relevant information. That information needs to be organized in ways that reflect member interests. If you choose the right topics and keep the content updated, then there is reason for your community members not only to join the community, but to keep coming back.

Once you have your relevant, organized content, appropriate linkages are important, especially to interactions that your own employees share.

“Assuming it’s not meant to be a secret community that nobody knows about (which can be a viable strategy in some cases), a community should be connected in as many ways as possible to both internal and external stakeholders,” social media guru Maddie Grant noted in a Social Media Today piece last year.

Creating digital connections will drive content sharing, increase your community membership ranks and build the loyalty of your members.

Why? Because We Like You!

Forrester Research found that purely transactional benefits alone will not drive lasting customer loyalty. User communities need to work hard to attract and keep their audiences involved and to create loyalty and positive emotions through connected customer experiences.

That is why we might all do well to model our user communities on lessons learned from the Mickey Mouse Club. MMC created an enduring and meaningful sense of membership with young people of the '50s and '60s — and once again in the '90s. From fans of the late Annette Funicello to Britney Spears, from Cubby O’Brien to Justin Timberlake, we all liked the MMC because they told us, “we like you!”

So all you community builders, celebrate your members! Sing it with me…

Come along and sing the song

And join the jamboree

M-I-C - See you real soon!

K-E-Y Why? Because we like you!

M-O-YOU-S-E