Keep The Conversation Going

By Tim Diering

The Web is split between two separate but equally important sectors--traditional Web sites and the new 2.0 applications that make a Web presence more interactive.


One of the latest ways to make yourself known to your core camp constituency is Twitter.

Used properly, Twitter is an excellent tool in the marketing toolbox. Everyone from the president of the United States to Dell Computers uses Twitter to stay in touch. Summer camps should consider following the same path.

Like many applications in the Web 2.0 sphere, Twitter is free--a word that always sounds good to marketers.

Like Facebook, it’s easy to set up an account and get started. Further, many people you want to be in contact with--kids and their parents--are signing up for Twitter in droves.

What Is Twitter?
Think of Twitter as an enormous virtual world, where thousands and thousands of users have conversations with each other based on short, quick posts (called tweets) about whatever is happening in their worlds. At a maximum of 140 characters, Twitter posts hit the main point of the message right away.

For a summer camp, Twitter is about having conversations directly with campers and their families--with few filters between you and them. With a brochure or a Web page, the contact is static, inactive. You can’t answer questions immediately, or easily add something new.

But with Twitter, it’s communication on the go, where you can contact friends, prospective campers and their families at a moment’s notice. It’s real time, and really immediate.

Start With A Keyword
Keywords are simply the way people find the information in which they’re interested. For instance, if you’re into cooking, you will type that word in to find people writing about that subject. If you want to see what camps are doing on Twitter, simply type in ”summer camp” and see what comes up.

Since people can receive messages from anyone on Twitter, kids use it to follow posts from their favorite bands or TV shows, while adults follow their favorite politician or cause.

Twitter Is About Building Relationships
Unlike traditional marketing, Twitter messages are user-controlled. If people want to hear what you have to say, they’ll follow you. If they become bored, they’ll “unfollow” you. So the more interesting and relevant the posts, the more people are likely to stay in touch with you.

Develop A Following
The first way to encourage people to follow you is through your bio. When signing up for an account, you specify information in the bio section of the profile page. This information should be “keyword rich” so people are more likely to find you.

You can also automatically hook up directly with e-mail contacts. So once you’re on Twitter, send a message to everyone and announce that they can now follow you. And don’t forget to post a link on your Web page so that anyone interested can choose to follow you.

Specify And Conquer
Another way to stay connected is to set up an account not only for the camp, but for the most popular counselors, the camp director and the activities director. In fact, you can set up an account for each person involved in a specialty activity--the riding instructor, swimming coach, soccer coach, etc. Then you can target campers interested in particular activities/coaches.

Simple Rules For Success
To make Twitter-life a little easier and more enjoyable, keep these simple ideas in mind:

• Use a casual, friendly tone in messages. No one wants to follow a stuck-up, sticky beak.
• Remember that these conversations are two-way streets, which means you’ll be hearing back from the people who follow you. Always reply to messages to keep communication flowing.
• If you find something interesting online, tweet it out. Post links to items your followers might be interested in.
• Make sure tweets provide value. Don’t spam your followers--and don’t bore them with silly posts.

Ways To Use Twitter
During the camp season, tweet about activities in the camp--an exciting new water feature with pictures of kids bouncing around on the new water Blob, links to video from the campfire sing-along, pictures from the riding trails--essentially, everything and anything that makes the camp special.

Off-season is a great time to keep in touch with campers; send out pictures from past seasons (this can be especially effective during the cold winter months), and teaser messages about exciting developments for the following season, etc.

It’s also a great way to stay in touch with kids and families that may not have attended yet, but are still considering it.

In a nutshell, Twitter is a great way to keep the conversation going--before the kids show up--and long after the season is over.

Tim Diering is vice president of marketing at Summer Camp Design, a full-service marketing and design firm dedicated to creating cost-effective marketing and design solutions for summer camps. He can be reached at (800) 957-7175, via e-mail at