Things sure change quickly.
Fifteen years ago, way back in 1991, how many summer camps had a Web site? How many even had access to the Internet? Maybe we were fooling around with Prodigy or Compuserve (anyone remember them?), but for the most part the Net was something for the science-club crowd.
But the Internet has proven to be an invaluable tool for most summer camps, and for many, the Web site is the best, first and most efficient way to stay in touch with campers and their families, past, present and future.
New Tools On The Horizon
Now, while it has taken some time for many camps to recognize the Web as the strong marketing tool it has become, there are new tools on the horizon that can make your marketing even more targeted and efficient. But like the Web, they will take some getting used to before their potential can be appreciated. And using one or more of these tools along with your traditional marketing can give you added leverage as you work towards creating a complete brand for your camp.
In this article, I will be looking at some of the most promising and important innovations on the technology horizon, and how your summer camp can use these technologies to your advantage: Ezines, Blogs, and Podcasts.
E-mail has made staying in touch with campers and staff incredibly easy and efficient. Contact can be made almost instantaneously; creating an e-zine is a great way to utilize this modern technology.
E-zine is short for electronic magazine. It is basically a newsletter delivered through e-mail. It differs from your regular e-mail blasts, in that in an e-zine, the emphasis is on delivering content with style.
Your e-zine should look a lot like your printed newsletter (and if you don’t have a regular camp newsletter, you should seriously consider one). Of course, there are economic considerations to take into account. Indeed, there are reasons for opting to go with only an e-zine, rather than a conventional newsletter.
One is cost. There is no printing cost associated with an electronically delivered newsletter. This fact alone can make a big difference when considering how to deliver information to your campers, though if it is practical and/or within your budget, it can be a good idea to offer folks the choice between receiving a traditional mail newsletter or your e-zine.
Points About E-zines
There are many things to take into account when deciding to deliver your newsletter as an e-zine.
-Make your content useful. Don’t send one out unless you’re sure you have enough interesting and exciting information to make the issue worthwhile to your reader.
-Don’t bury your intended reader with too many issues. As easy as it is to create and send one, no one wants an inbox saturated with your newsletter. Make an informed decision to have a set pattern for mailings. Once a quarter, at the least; once a month at the most.
-If you are not gifted in design, or don’t know someone who is, you might want to consider using a professional design firm to create a design template for your e-zine. The better the e-zine looks, the more impact it will have. Some companies will even create your content and handle the e-mailing of each issue as well.
-You need valid e-mail addresses and permission to e-mail to them, so if you’re not collecting your campers’ e-mails and appropriate permissions, this coming season is a good time to start.
You may have heard the word “blog” bandied about a lot lately, and for good reason. It is quickly becoming one of the most important ways for individuals and organizations, from corporations to church groups, to deliver timely and valuable content.
A blog, which is short for “Web log,” is basically an online journal, with content updated as desired. Some do it every day, others whenever the mood strikes. But because so many young people are in touch with today’s technology, a blog may be a great way to reach young campers.
How A Blog Works
Blogs can be created and delivered any number of ways, but the most common way is through what is known as an RSS feed. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It allows folks to create content, and deliver to anyone who may be interested in a simplified, easy-to-access way.
Let’s look at how you can make a blog work for you.
First, let’s look at how a blog works. To get a good idea of how much information is out there in the blogosphere, just go to any RSS site, like Bloglines (www.bloglines.com).
Bloglines is what is known as an RSS aggregator, meaning it collects and distributes blog content. In the search window, type in the phrase “Summer Camps.” You will immediately be shown all the content that contains references to summer camps. Content is distributed by simple subscription, which is free.
Steps For Using Blogs
Getting the most from your blog will require the same kind of planning as you would any other marketing system. In fact, the blog can be easily integrated into your regular marketing efforts.
-Decide how you want to blog. There are online services, such as Bloglines, and there are desktop-based software solutions, where you can blog from your own computer. Each has advantages. Online solutions are hosted on the provider’s server; desktop solutions allow you to blog from your Web site, increasing SEO positioning. What is SEO? You’ll have to wait until our next article to find out.
-You can blog for different audiences. You can have separate feeds for staff, for parents and for kids, too. Thus, you can tailor your message for your intended audience.
-Know what you want to say. Using a blog for marketing is different than using it as an online diary. Make sure your messages are targeted and meaningful to your audience.
-Once you have your blog content up and running, make sure you let everyone know about it. Your e-mail, your postcards, your Web site, your business cards, your letterhead, everything that comes in touch with the public should mention your blog.
The iPod has changed the way many people, especially kids, listen to music, and just about everything else. It is also the hottest thing in marketing because it can reach people who want the information you have to offer, but it allows them to access the information anytime, anywhere. Now, with podcasting, your marketing is no longer tied to the mail or the computer. You can literally be read or listened to anywhere that is convenient for your audience.
It works very similarly to the blog, except that a podcast is sent directly to a subscriber’s MP3 player, like an iPod (hence the name). For instance, National Public Radio listeners can have the NPR News Story of the Day sent directly to them. They can then listen to that story whenever they like. They no longer have to be listening to the radio at the right time to hear the story.
Your online blog can even be sent right to subscribers, rather than having them go to a Web site to read what you have to say.
Another option is to create original audio content for your podcast. Podcast audio content is very much like producing your own radio show. You can record your message, interview, commercial or whatever you have (most computers nowadays have built-in microphones, or you can use a higher-end recording system to tape your projects). Once you have your content, it’s uploaded to a server, and everyone who subscribes to your pod feeds can download and listen to your message wherever they are, whenever they like. It’s a great way to stay in touch with campers and staff, and to keep the excitement level high for the upcoming summer.
Points To Consider About Podcasts
-Content is king. Just like with the e-zine and the blog, make sure that the content you put out there is meaningful to your audience, or you may lose their interest.
-Don’t overdue it. While it may be tempting to use your new toy every day, too much of a good thing is never good. Measure out the timing of your podcasts as you would any other marketing message.
-Like blogs, you can create audience-specific content for your podcasts, and have separate feeds for staff members, kids or parents.
As you may have noticed, none of these options will be of any value if your content is not worthy of readers’ (or listeners’) time.
Keep your audience informed about new and exciting developments for the upcoming season. Are you installing new water features? What staff can campers look forward to seeing again? For parents, remind them of how much fun the kids had the previous summer, and how they can look forward to another great season. Remind folks to book soon, as spaces are filling up fast. Tout the camp’s safety record, and how the infirmary will be well staffed again this year. Drop little teasers about something new and different coming up in the next message. Get past campers and staff members to write their own blog entries, or record their own personal messages. Nothing makes a better impression on a young person than a strong message from some one his or her own age.
Basically, the preceding technologies are new and dynamic ways to deliver targeted content to the people you want to reach the most. It can often be the same kind of message that you strive to deliver via your Web site and brochure. But by using an e-zine, a blog, or a podcast, you make your message timely and dynamic. It shows campers and families, past, present and future, that the summer camp can be hip and cutting-edge while maintaining its traditions and legacy. Give it a try. It could be fun.
Tim Diering is the Vice President of Marketing at Summer Camp Design, a full-service marketing and design firm. He can be reached at (800) 957-7175 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tim is also Camp Director for TTS Theater and Art Camp in Massachusetts.