So what is an influencer anyway? Influencermarketinghub.com provides the following definition:
An influencer is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience.
An individual who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with. The size of the following depends on the size of the niche.
It is important to note that these individuals are not simply marketing tools, but rather social relationship assets with which brands can collaborate to achieve their marketing objectives.
Gary Snyder at Medium writes a column entitled, The [DIS] Influencer. It’s an inside account about Disney’s influencers. I’m providing certain highlights here, but it’s worth going to the original column at Medium to read the entire thing.
Enter George Kalogridis. A career employee of the company whose backstory was part of the corporate selling of tens of thousands of low-wage, dead-end jobs for employees Disney terms “cast members.” Kalogridis started at the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971, as a busboy at the Contemporary Resort, one of the resort hotels to open with the park.
Now, 30 years later, in late 2001, Kalogridis was second-in-command of the Disneyland Resort — a resort suddenly in trouble. Suddenly under tremendous scrutiny. But, the scrutiny was not coming from the local media or government, which had paid handsomely for the resort’s expansion. The scrutiny was coming from someone who may well have been the first influencer as these individuals would come to be known.
That was Al Lutz.
Al Lutz was the gentleman who wrote the recent insider explanation as to what went wrong with Galaxy’s Edge over at micechat.com.
Although today the word ‘influencer’ produces positive images of polished Instagram posts and well-produced digital clips that work as de facto marketing arms of major companies, the idea of employing the influence of an online voice grew as a reactionary step by companies to online as well as real world critics. Kalogridis wanted to know how to blunt that criticism.
I know because I was one of the individuals he consulted. A few years earlier, I had met George Kalogridis when he was the vice president of Disney’s second park in Orlando — the former EPCOT Center — and I was a guest of corporate for the Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration on December 31, 1999.
When he was promoted to the job in Anaheim, I was one of the first people he told. When the Disneyland Resort had its debut in February of 2001, I was his personal guest. My personal host was another Disney employee, Andrew Hardy, who would become George’s husband.
So then it made sense, knowing my depth of knowledge of the industry and familiarity both with him and the growing online presence of Lutz and others, that he would ask.
It was clear both George and the new Disneyland Resort were in trouble.
George saw an abrupt end to his career. Disney saw its reputation as the world leader in themed entertainment heading for a potentially unrecoverable fall.
This was unacceptable. Most especially to Zenia Mucha.
Mucha earned her reputation as an off-with-their-heads but always-on-message political operative for then-New York Governor George Pataki who came to Disney’s ABC television network having been courted by Robert A. Iger. At the time, Mucha had turned her role as communications director and advisor to the governor to include, as the New York Times noted, “virtually every major decision made by the governor.”
From within the company, there were continuing concerns its new communications director might well have been positioned in Eisner’s office to advance the interests, to fulfill the ambitions, of Robert Iger, then-president of Disney subsidiary ABC, who is widely cited as having been instrumental in her rapid rise once at Disney. After all, he brought her into the fold — and, it had long been rumored, held major political ambitions. Of course, being the head of a network when that network is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company under a celebrity-esque CEO who fashioned himself as a reanimated “Uncle Walt” does not get you much in the way of press.
That was Mucha’s domain. Enter the “Save Disney” campaign.
Mucha had identified, early on, the power of the World Wide Web and the potential to employ a vast network of ‘volunteers’ to bring about a certain outcome. And, in what may well be the first example of online gaslighting and the launch of brand ambassadors or advocates — now termed influencers — Mucha’s department, and the corporate communications director for what is now the world’s largest media company and the home of a major news network, had set their sights on a proxy. That proxy? It was Al.
Except, the recording industry guy turned media company gadfly was hardly able to produce the content, the strategic strands of nouns and verbs, required. No problem. From behind a keyboard, as the world has learned, anyone can pretend to be anyone. So, it appears, she did.
Mucha’s Disney recruited a hungry-as-a-dog-before-dinner and needier-than-a-new-arrival-to-Sunset-Boulevard cast member. Even gave him an impressive title to use, Corporate Liaison for Imagineering & Operations (“CLIO”).
No, that would not be Al. That was Troy C. Porter.
Except, to everyone clicking on that link at SaveDisney.com and everyone reading the columns produced, they thought they were reading the thoughts, observations and ramblings of their ‘old friend’ from The D-I-G. Instead, they read carefully crafted copy to undermine the leadership of Disney CEO Michael Eisner.
To this day, while Al Lutz has been in the later stages of Parkinson’s disease, the antagonistic voice of the fan community that is grating and caustic at the same time as it is homespun in that dysfunctional and abusive manner has been maintained as his. It is not.
By December of 2002, the online personality known as “Al Lutz” left the Disney fan site he co-founded, MousePlanet, and started MiceAge (later to be hosted by MiceChat, whose placeholder was and remains a backseat-blazer wearing and Simonized-smile dressed character known as “Dusty Sage,” who is, in real life, an individual with dubious connections to the Walt Disney Company named Todd Regan).
Quickly redirecting Al’s followers, Porter was engaged and continuously employed to ferry the talking points that seemed to advance the position of Mucha and Iger while, at the same time, undermining the leadership of — and, more importantly, the faith of the financial community in — Eisner. All, apparently, using the faux voice of an early superfan as misappropriated by the very corporate communications office of the head of the entire company.
Dating to the mid-1990s, when Troy Porter relocated from Oregon to Southern California to work for Disney, he began posting on the Usenet boards. His online moniker was TP2000. To this day, on fan sites, you can find this same poster under an assumed persona posting about the behind the scenes happenings at Disneyland and within the Walt Disney Company.
So Troy Porter became Al Lutz. Or, as the fans would see it, Al Lutz became somehow different yet familiar. But the con was in. Set. And it has stayed in position for all of these years with Disney listening in on and eventually manipulating discussion boards into controlled focus groups lorded over like a corporate clubhouse hidden in the backroom of your local YMCA.
With the recent, and highest profile of Iger’s tenure, failure of the massive Star Wars land expansion, Galaxy’s Edge, added cancer-like on the back of Walt’s hallowed Disneyland with a companion land coming to Walt Disney World in just a couple of weeks, Al has reappeared in a grand way. Make that, Troy Porter has reappeared.
The goal — the reason— could not be clearer. As Porter wrote here, directing folks to ‘Al’s column’ on MiceChat.com:
“I wonder does the current crop of Burbank execs and Bob Chapek even know how big a deal this is? Do they understand the weight that Lutz’s words have with the long-term West Coast fan community? If I were Mr. Chapek, I would be concerned that I did indeed cut things a bit too far and awakened the Tiki Gods and Al Lutz.”
When an executive from Florida, whose job with the company if not career was on the line, asked a friend who was an early participant in the online world of engagement and knowledgeable in advancing a brand or thwarting one how to counter the later named superfan.
“Control the message by controlling the messenger,” I said. “Acquire the voice.”
Author’s Note: The Walt Disney Company declined to comment on this column.
But wait, there’s more! This comes from Reddit user ThemePark Throwaway12:
Now for the REAL shitstorm:
Just today afternoon, a very bitter article on Medium that claims to blow the lid on years of astroturfing efforts undertaken by the Disney corporation was posted. The person who supposedly wrote it, Gary Snyder, is a theme park insider who posted accurate photos of Universal Studio’s Nintendoland.
In the article, which has rended apart the forums and reduced its inhabitants to Island of Dr. Moreau levels of froth and savagery, Snyder alleges that Al Lutz was, in fact, co-opted as a tool by the current Disney CEO, Bob Iger, to use against the CEO of Disney during the mid-00’s, Michael Eisner. According to Gary Snyder, the critical articles that Al Lutz penned were part of a broader attempt to remove Michael Eisner and install Iger as the CEO of Disney. At that point, Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney’s nephew, and Stanley Gold launch an attempt from outside the company to unseat Eisner as the CEO and prevent a hostile takeover of the company by Comcast. They hope that, with Al Lutz’s help, the theme park community could be swayed against Eisner, and Iger’s allies on the board would have room to propose him as the replacement.
This Shitstorm can’t possibly get smellier, can it?
TP2000 eventually posted a rebuttal that tore into everything the article claimed about himself. For one, he claims he’s met the real Al Lutz once, in 1996, and that the entirety of the article is not from Gary Snyder, but is the result of a pact between WDW1974 and the bitter ex-husband of the founder of MiceChat. He also claims he’s not Republican.
MiceChat, meanwhile, issues a vigorous response that calls the article “evil” and claims all of its claims are baseless. They echo the claim that the whole thing is an attempt by the site’s founder’s ex-husband to get back at her.
Users on the forum begin to note how much hearsay is on the article. Opinion turns sharply against it. Arguments flare like spots on the sun. It’s a warzone.
At least one user tried connecting this whole mess to Epstein.
Even while writing this whole monstrosity of a post, I’ve found myself become deeply cynical about all the information available. The article all feels a bit too lurid to be the truth, and I have a hard time believing that the article’s version of Iger would get anywhere near the heights of power he has today. But as far as the forums go, they’re in limbo, and there’s no telling how long this news will go or if there will be any new revelations.
So what’s going on?
Who knows? All I know is I’m reaching for the popcorn.
This all happened over the course of a week, by the way. The article on Medium was posted 7 hours ago.
tl;dr Someone posts a Medium article claiming that a longtime Disney insider was a tool by the current CEO to backstab the old CEO, forums go on a witch hunt for other sockpuppets, then other users claim it’s an attempt by another exec to backstab the current CEO. Then other insiders claim the article is slander by someone’s ex-husband.