By Chelsea Rowles
Illustrations: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / cienpies
Over the past 10 years, social media have had an enormous impact on our culture. Face-to-face communication is quickly becoming outdated, and online communication is becoming the wave of the future. Grandmothers have Twitter handles, and “hashtags” are a household term. Love it or not, social media are here to stay.
How does the camping industry contend with these technological changes, and, more importantly, how do social media change the ways camps communicate with campers?
Even in this area, there are pros and cons in our response to these phenomena. The key for camp leaders is to be ahead of the risks associated with social media, creating a defense against any possible negativity. In this way, social media can become a beneficial tool for an organization and the people it serves.
One of the greatest benefits of social media is that opportunities are created for free marketing. There is no limit to the number of ”likes,” ”follows,” or ”retweets” an organization receives. Therefore, there is no limit to the impact media have on an organization. The drawback is that everyone has the same freedom--even those who do not like a camp.
The truth is there is no way to keep negative comments off of social media. However, the key is the response. By addressing the issue in a professional and honest way, you can detract, state the truth, or point the unhappy person to the appropriate customer-service department. That said, some comments—especially those dealing with ”non-issues”—are better left ignored. However, complaints can be valid (in cases of anxiety or a bad experience, etc.). In these instances, it is beneficial to respond. In this way, social media essentially become a ”phone line” between an organization and its audience. It is also important to respond to the issue quickly, impart kindness and concern, and do whatever is realistic to solve the problem.
Summer Staff = Social Media Gurus
It is easy to see why teens and 20-somethings are excellent social-media users. The PewResearchCenter in 2013 reported that 83 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds who are online use some form of social media. For summer camps looking to resource social-media talent from the staff pool, this is great news. However, often with youth comes a lack of maturity or inexperience. But the upside of this is that the summer staff members love you! They are passionate about what the camp offers participants and are excited to be working for you! The key is to be highly selective in the hiring process and employ someone you trust as the voice of the organization. Young people need training, clarification, and a clear set of rules and goals. Be sure to include in their training, as representatives of the organization, a session on appropriate online behavior.
Visual Media: What You See Is What You Get
Social media also provide a visual opportunity to promote an organization, its values, vision, and mission. Pictures and videos can communicate much more than words on a screen. Visuals have the power to capture and engage followers by spurring them into action. Sharing images and videos in social media is a powerful tool, but be careful in the message they communicate.
Visual media on the internet have remarkable staying power, and remain almost accessible forever. And with the ability of images and videos to go viral, you may end up with a larger audience than initially anticipated. It is important to have a specific set of guidelines that you and all of the staff follow regarding dress, behavior, and appropriate statements in the media. Look at images with the critical eye of a parent, and realize that if a photo or video looks dangerous or inappropriate, it probably is and may cause concern for potential camp families. Always ensure that media representatives communicate what is actually going on at the camp: campers having a great time in a safe and secure environment.
Finding An Outlet
In finalizing a socialmedia plan for a camp, it is important to recognize the camp’s needs and overall goals. Initially, the best option is to choose a few social-media outlets and pursue them diligently. Find out what works for a camp! Study the demographics and research what social-media tools campers are using and what type of posts engage them. What resources would be beneficial to campers and their families? Most importantly, what can your camp offer potential participants? Next, look carefully at the structure of the outlet to determine if it’s right for your camp. Do you need to carry on a conversation with posts and responses? Or is it better to just communicate with visual media, while text is secondary?
One final piece of advice: Don’t take on more than is appropriate. It’s easy to feel like you’re drowning in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. With a strong plan, straightforward goals, and trustworthy voices, social media will serve as an asset in communication, awareness, and customer-service pursuits!
Chelsea Rowles is the Communication Support Specialist at CircuiTree Solutions, a technology division of Kanakuk Kamps. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org .