Savvy Selling Tips

By Jessica Lippe
Illustration: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / tigger11th

Marketing is exceptionally important for camp directors. Since it’s common to make mistakes in this area, here are some pitfalls to avoid:

Mistake #1: Withholding Pertinent Information
Imagine if, while planning an upcoming trip, you discover a website on which seems to be an interesting destination. It promises “beautiful facilities,” “delicious food,” “fun activities,” and “great prices,” but there are no pictures of the facilities, no sample menu, no list of offered activities, and no pricing list. There isn’t even a link to social networking sites. Although the site offers a phone number to “call for more information,” there isn’t any information to begin with. In the end, you will probably disregard this website and go to a vacation spot that has more informative web resources.

Unfortunately, many camps have websites lacking this important information (or worse—no website at all). Not every camp is expected to have a webmaster on staff, but every camp should have a staff member who knows how to make minor changes to the camp website to keep things updated.

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” so that’s a great place to start. Ensure that each building, activity, and other points of interest at camp are represented by at least one recent photo online. Try snapping pictures from unique views so even regular campers will see things from a new perspective. Thanks to digital photo organizers, such as image viewers and slideshows, there really is no such thing as too many pictures.

Once new and improved pictures are set up, it’s easy to plug in information and periodically update it. Think about questions people have when they call the camp, and remember that, for every question posed, a dozen other people are wondering the same thing. It may even help to invite someone to camp who has never been there before to critique the information provided.

Mistake #2: Keeping Big News A Secret
Have you acquired new property? Hired a new full-time staff member? Experienced a record-breaking season? Does anybody beyond the staff members know about any of these?

Most of your online fans probably only spend one week per year at camp. Even if everyone at camp is tired of hearing the big news, the public may have no idea that anything has happened. Open houses, newsletters, and mailings can prove to be useful, but there are even faster ways to grab fans’ attention.

There’s no need to wait until the next newsletter publication to announce big news. Blasting website, blog, and social-media venues will keep fans as up-to-date as the camp staff members. It doesn’t hurt to send a press announcement to the local newspaper and television stations as well.

Of course, if you write, “Our camp is excited to announce that we experienced a 3.2-percent revenue increase in the last quarter,” not many people will care. Write with a tone likely to be read in a popular magazine. If a new staff member has been hired, include a photo and a mini-biography. If you’re planning for an expansion, ask fans what they would like to see at camp.

Mistake #3: Making Everything Difficult To Access
Granted, camps don’t intentionally make online navigation impossible. But anyone who has done a Google search to find a camp with an obscure website name, then clicked through each webpage to find upcoming events, then read the detailed descriptions of each event to see which was applicable, then clicked another website to sign up, only to find, “Online registration is not yet available—please call between 10:00 and 4:00 Tuesdays through Thursdays for more information,” would likely never go to that camp.

We live in a world of instant gratification. Although camp provides an opportunity to get away from technology, the fastest and most modern forms of technology must be utilized to attract people to the camp. Look for ways to “cut out the middle man” digitally. For example, instead of encouraging people on a webpage to call or email to sign up for a newsletter, use a service like MailChimp, where people can enter their information and subscribe without leaving the webpage. When sending postcards or posting event flyers, include a QR code that, when scanned by a mobile device, will connect directly with the event’s specific webpage.

Mistake #4: Letting Social Media Outlets Collect Dust
If a camp has yet to enter the world of social media, it’s missing out on a huge potential market, but there is good news. In fewer than 15 minutes, one can sign the camp up for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Tumblr, and YouTube, with time to spare. However, once a camp’s social-media site is created, fans will expect that it be kept up.

Most summer camps only use social media during the summer. But social media are used year-round, so without constant updates, fans can lose interest and forget about camp before the next summer rolls around. Aim to update each social-media page once a week, or more during peak seasons. Not sure what to post? Ask fans random questions. Post a note of praise from someone who attended camp. Post an old picture and see if anyone can identify the people in it. Post a picture of what staff members do when campers aren’t there. Be creative and come up with unique ideas that will intrigue online fans.

If the idea of constantly updating social media seems daunting, there are ways to connect all social media to each other. Sign up for a program like HootSuite, where one status update can be posted on several sites. With Woobox, apps can be created that make one social-media site accessible by another. A staff member can be assigned and work time scheduled to intentionally update social media.

Mistake #5: Socializing In The Wrong Places (And To The Wrong People) Facebook was once a popular online hangout for teens and college students. For those looking to recruit young summer staff or advertise a high school camp, Facebook would have been the place for this market. But then many middle-aged people joined Facebook as well. The younger group, not wanting to use the same social network as their parents, used Facebook less and other websites more.

This is not an announcement to stop using Facebook. In fact, Facebook should be used more than it currently is. Instead of posting to teens and 20-somethings, speak to the parents of campers. Of course, social media change often, and between the time I write this article and the time of publication, it’s likely that different demographics will populate different sites. While it is a constant effort to keep up with these new developments, it is necessary in order to target the right audience.

Bonus Mistake #6: Sticking With The Standard
Everyone loves receiving more than was expected. You were probably expecting five tips from this article, so doesn’t this tip seem to be “more than you paid for?” Campers and social-media fans love surprises as well. They probably won’t love, “Surprise! We raised our rates!” But they will, for instance, love the announcement that the new (non-surprise) rates include more amenities.

Online giveaways are easy to set up and run, and you might be surprised how many people will compete for something as simple as the first print of the upcoming summer-camp T-shirt. Even if a contest budget is non-existent, virtual incentives can still be offered. For example, offer to reveal next year’s camp theme once a certain number of “likes” on the social-media page is reached. Or ask people to post their favorite picture of camp online, and then re-post your favorites. Surprises can be more than just incentives as well. For an upcoming holiday, film a short clip of the camp staff wishing fans a happy holiday. Offering a one-day online discount for an upcoming event will recruit campers who otherwise would not have attended.

With just a little creativity, you can avoid common mistakes and increase your marketing impact!

Jessica Lippe has worked in media, health, and programming at camps across the United States, including in Oregon, Nebraska, and currently in Marengo, Ohio. She loves to travel, and even on her days off will visit other camps and retreat centers. Email her at .