Social-Media Best Practices for Camps

By Brooke Peterson
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / merznatalia

How many times have you gone to a favorite search engine looking for a product or organization only to find a website that looks as if it was built in 1982? Currently, businesses, community organizations, educational institutions, and local governments without a strong website aren’t taken seriously. Social media has the power to make a brand or business human, relatable, and reliable.

According to Time magazine (May 6, 2009), on Jan.21, President Barack Obama’s first full day in office, he signed an Executive Order calling for all government departments and agencies to “establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” Many of those departments and agencies opened social-media accounts to create this transparency.

Getting Started
Too often, organizations join (“insert name of latest social media”) because it is a trend, and if a group doesn’t, it will be left behind and lose its identity. Stop. Think this through. Does your staff have the time to maintain a site? Is the target audience using this medium? If the answer is yes, then by all means go for it. Find your place, establish a voice, and build a community on that platform. On the other hand, if it doesn’t make sense to build and use a site, it’s OK to say no.

Working for any organization presents its own set of challenges that other organizations or industries may not be familiar with, including internal access to social-media websites, policy roadblocks, and resistance from upper management, to say nothing of the fear that a representative may speak out of turn on a public channel. To those who are nervous about embarking on this journey, know that your patrons are already talking about you through social-media channels, and you can’t control them. In today’s climate, it’s best to join the conversation and engage your audience.

Asking Important Questions
Once the organization has been approved for social-media use, develop a plan and an editorial calendar. Ask relevant questions: What are my goals?; What would make participating in social media a success?; What events should be promoted through social channels?; What about contests or surveys?  Join sites that make the most sense for your organization, and begin listening to your audience.

When making an editorial calendar, include some variety. Find a balance between the interests of the organization and the interests of potential clients. Ask your audience for feedback on pictures, camps, field-trip opportunities, or other relevant activities.

Cutting Through The Noise
Be sure to maintain the basic social etiquette of the internet--campers and parents demand transparency, authenticity, and speedy communication. However, that doesn’t mean every little thing the organization is doing must be posted.  Be honest and helpful, and answer questions from the community in a timely manner. Before responding to a negative comment, develop a plan with the team on how to handle these situations. Decide whether it’s better to respond immediately or it’s more prudent not to add fuel to the fire. Only your organization can decide what is best for the brand.

Generally, social networks and social-media consumers do not appreciate ”media-speak.” Consumers want a conversation with a real person, not mere talking points.  Think of social media as a large dinner party; you’re there to have fun, get to know others, and learn some interesting facts.

If you need some inspiration, find a camp or two that you feel is doing a good job in reaching its audience. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask for advice: What has worked well in the past? What wasn’t so great?  What caused clients to be the most engaged? Nine times out of 10 the voice on the other line is willing to help.

Ideas For Use

  • Position your organization as a resource.
  • Help others for the sake of helping. If someone has posted a question you can answer, make a comment or tweet a response.
  • Take advantage of the immediacy of social media.
  • Use Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook to publish events, notices of new material, or kudos to organizations that have achieved milestones via the larger network.
  • Showcase success stories.
  • Share every victory, large or small, on social media.
  • Host a contest.
  • Ask the online community to be  a cheerleader by sharing a specific post, re-tweeting you, or answering questions for a chance to win a prize package. It’s a win-win situation. The camp receives quality information and increased exposure, and the winner will sport prizes featuring your logo.

Monitoring Responses And Reviews
Share images, positive experiences, and replies to questions. One of the most successful ways to find potential new followers/subscribers is searching hastags (#) related to the city, organization, or event on social channels. Having a hashtag associated with an activity will also help when writing annual reports. Hashtags are easily searchable and recognizable on almost every platform. People may not call in with suggestions or fill out a comment card, but they will share their thoughts online. Hashtags will also allow family and friends to follow what their favorite camper is doing while away from home.

One final thought: Before posting anything to social media, make sure it is not confidential, or could be interpreted as racist, sexist, or defamatory. There is no master delete key for the internet, for once the information is out there, there is no turning back.

Brooke Peterson is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the City of Chandler, Arizona. Reach her at Brooke.Peterson@chandleraz.gov.