Face to Face(book)

By Tim Diering

In these articles, I try to show you the realities of building and conducting effective marketing campaigns. From Web sites to brochures and videos, I have featured about every kind of marketing material out there.

I did an overview article on social media marketing, where I wrote of some of the electronic alternatives to traditional marketing materials, but the use of social membership sites have grown so quickly in the last six months I decided to take a closer look at the most influential social sites out there. I’ll also look at how you can use these to open up new avenues of marketing.

I’ll start this marketing mini-series with one of the most popular sites online right now: Facebook.

The Number-One Reason To Try Facebook
For many businesses and entrepreneurs, the single most attractive aspect of using a social networking site like Facebook is simple--it’s free. And today, free is an attractive word (actually, free is always a good word). Some companies are even forgoing their standard Web sites and building a large part of their Web presence on FaceBook.

But besides being free, Facebook is extremely popular with your “ideal customers”--kids. Kids are all over Facebook, and they are the ones to attract first. Even though parents are writing the checks, in this modern world the kids are likely to be making the decisions about where to spend summer camp.

How To Effectively Use Facebook
Let’s note something right now so there’s no confusion later--using Facebook, or any other social networking site, is different than using regular marketing methods. In regular marketing, you set up a message in a brochure and Web site, and drive people to the site or send them a brochure. The idea is to sell them on how great the camp is so they’ll make the decision to send their kids there for the summer.

But this is social marketing--emphasis on the social.

It’s all about being social, about entering the prospects’ world orbits … and going along with it, not trying to influence it. You want to be seen as someone who can add value to their lives, not someone trying to sell them something. This is a social game, not a sales game.

Now, summer camps, by their nature, seem perfectly suited to this kind of social networking environment--more so, say, than the local used-car dealer. This is because perceptions and experiences are different with a summer camp (hopefully) than with the used-car dealer. Camps are naturally social organizations, so using social media to bring in more campers is a logical fit.  Summer camps are about building and establishing relationships with young campers, their parents and siblings. To keep that relationship going across generations, using Facebook can be the perfect fit. So let’s take a look at the available options with Facebook, and how to use it to build a network of potential campers.

Starting With Facebook
One of the nice things about Facebook is that it’s fairly simple.

When first going to Facebook, you simply sign up. In this instance, start with the name of the camp.

You will then be asked to build a profile. You’ll have the opportunity to tell everyone about the camp, who you are, and what you represent. And because of the nature of the medium, I encourage you to speak about the camp the way you would talk to a friend. Try to lose the more formal tone that you might use in a brochure, or in a presentation.

Once you’ve filled out the profile, you can post photos … as many as you like. Photos from the previous summer, your favorite photos, camp staffers, etc. (be sure you have permission to post pics of real people before doing so).  

From there, you can start the most important part of the process--building a list of friends. The simplest and most effective way is to just go through the list of campers--past, present and future.

Start with the alums you have e-mail addresses for. At the top of your Facebook page, you’ll see the tab for Friends; simply click on it and you can instantly import as many people from e-mail lists as you want.

You can even set up a Facebook page just for camp alumnae. It will let them “hang out” with friends and counselors they had while at camp.

Now, when building a friends list, include those who have inquired about the camp and requested information, but never actually attended (keep a “tickle” file of everyone who contacts you). If you don’t do this, be watching for a future article about the art and science of staying in touch.

Once you hit the send button, everyone on your potential friends list will receive an e-mail, asking them if they would like to become your friend on Facebook.

The Power Of Compounding Interest
In the social networking world, who you know is the most important thing. And as a camp director, you want to know the youngsters who are/will be attending your camp.

Suppose there are 100 kids who agree to befriend the camp on Facebook. And each of these kids has an average network of 20 friends who may have never heard of the camp. That’s 1,900 extra sets of eyes that will see the camp listed as a “friend” on this young person’s Facebook page.

And every kid who sees it has become a potential attendee of the camp.

The number of kids now introduced to the camp through Facebook has become virtually limitless.

Keeping In Touch
Once you’ve established this list of friends, you now have practically unlimited power in communicating with each and every one of them. But use this new power wisely. Don’t bombard your new friends with daily e-mails about how great the camp is. Be discreet.

For instance, you can send out an e-mail blast to your friends once a month, and maybe special broadcasts to the list when something exciting happens (perhaps you’ve added a cool water-feature to your lake… or you’ve remodeled the mess hall and added a great vegetarian menu).

It’s all about how you say what you want to say.

Don’t come across as pushy or desperate. Take it easy, make casual conversation, and have fun.

Using The Wall
Facebook has a feature called The Wall, on which you, and anyone else, can leave a short, interesting message to anyone who happens by. And other things that your friends have left on their wall and sent out will appear on the walls of their friends.

The short, pithy messages can range from a weather update (“The snow’s finally beginning to melt here in the mountains--which means that a new camp season can’t be too far off”) to personal observations (“Sorry, I don’t care what the experts tell me, I love hot dogs”). The idea is to share something that is amusing and might be of interest to your friends, something that can keep the conversation going and engages current and potential campers.

Summer camps are all about engaging people, being social, and developing relationships. This is why Facebook can be the perfect fit for your camp’s marketing agenda.

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 tim@summercampdesign.com or visit www.summercampdesign.com.