As technology and social media grow, there is a seemingly endless array of platforms available to us to stay in touch with people. Because of this, you think that it would be easier than ever to connect with our camp communities, whether that is parents, campers, or staff. However, the reality can feel very different, and choosing the most effective method of communication has become an increasingly more challenging task. Let’s face it — no one likes being ghosted, especially when you need an answer quickly!
In this blog, I will look at several different communication apps/platforms that can be utilized to communicate with your camp staff and cover the pros and cons of each. Whether you already use these methods or are just hearing about them for the first time, I hope you find this list useful in identifying the best ways to stay in touch with your staff before, during, and after the summer.
Facebook — Old Faithful!
A tried-and-tested method of putting lots of people together in one place to share information. You may often hear that Facebook has fallen out of favor with Gen Z and Millennials and that increasingly people do not engage with Facebook on a regular basis. That being said, it is still the biggest social media platform in the world (buffer.com, statista.com). For this reason alone, it should not be discounted.
Facebook allows you to easily post a huge range of content (videos, messages, polls, questions, etc.) and allows you to see how many people have “seen” the messages you post, especially in groups settings.
It doesn’t really work in real time (unless you are utilizing the live video features), meaning that you are always waiting for responses from everyone (and hoping they are checking it).
Most Gen Zers (and Millennials) admit to having a lot of their notifications turned off for anything other than “chat-style” apps (WhatsApp, text etc.). So, if you need a quick response to something or to get information out in a pinch, Facebook is probably not the way to go. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful for all the other reasons mentioned above.
Slack — The Workplace Choice
Marrying simplicity and functionality, Slack is seemingly perfect as a tool for large group communication. It essentially merges chat and email features into one user-friendly interface. Better still, you invite contacts via email meaning that you do not have to enter everyone’s phone number or send out friend requests to get people to join.
Slack is perfectly designed for large teams and does everything you need in one place. It has all the functions of internal email allowing you to send files, docs, and videos easily. It also has a great live chat/messaging feature and allows you to share information with everyone in your organization, while also allowing you to create smaller groups to send more targeted info (think your program team, support staff, bunk or group counselors, international staff, etc.).
It isn’t something everyone is familiar with, and this requires buy-in from you, your team leaders, and your staff. Taking on and learning new tech can sometimes fail at the first hurdle simply because people simply don’t have the capacity to be "checking one more app"!
Slack also has the feel of being very professional and that may not appeal to your younger staff who may associate it as more of an office-based platform.
With the ability to easily create sub-groups, share information and quickly send out info that people are likely to get in short order, Slack seemingly has it all (as long as you and your staff want to invest in learning something new and have notifications on).
Discord – The Gamers' Favorite
In their own words, it is “a place that makes it easy to talk every day and hang out more often.” Very similar to Slack in many ways, Discord may appeal to your younger staff as it is likely something they have experienced or used already — especially if they play online games. This is where Discord gained so much of its popularity.
It is simple to set up different groups and it allows you to assign "special powers" to different users to help moderate groups, which is a real plus if you want to assign your leadership team different roles in subgroups.
There are also easy to use video and voice calling features that are great when connecting with international staff that may not have US phones as everything is done via the internet.
As with Slack, it is a platform that not everyone is likely to already be familiar with and this means working on buy-in from all involved. The Discord video chat is fairly basic and doesn’t offer the perks or image quality of other, better-known video calling apps.
It may very well appeal to your younger staff, but it does require that you and your team get on board before implementing it for the entire group.
Relatively new compared to the other apps and platforms in this blog, Band was designed with the aim of simplifying group communication and has grown rapidly over the past few years.
As with the others mentioned here, Band offers simple text, calls, videos, and live broadcasting features to connect users and has become increasingly popular amongst high school and college groups and sports teams.
Most high school/college students (in the US) will likely be familiar with the app even if they don’t use it themselves. This suggests that buy-in will be easier than with Slack which may be seen as more ‘professional’ and belonging in the office setting.
The shared calendar could have real benefits for putting key dates and info in one place and could be a real benefit for day camps.
As with any new app, there are some teething problems and reviews have been mixed about how user-friendly the platform is.
An up-and-coming app and one that your American staff is likely to be familiar with, there are certainly benefits to a lot of what Band can do, but as it is still relatively young there may be issues that have yet to be ironed out. Certainly, it is still one to consider investing time to learn.
WhatsApp – The Number 1 in Chat Apps
Coming in at #1 for chat apps with the world’s most monthly users (statista.com) and #3 on the world's most used social media platforms, means that many people already use WhatsApp. However, just because something is super popular doesn’t mean it will work for what you need.
Creating separate groups for the different areas of your camp is simple to do once you have contact details for each person. It is almost certain that most of your staff have WhatsApp (and have notifications on). If they don’t, it is super easy to download/use and requires nothing more than a smartphone and phone number. WhatsApp is also great for texting, calling or video calls with international staff.
Having to enter phone numbers for everyone you want to add is time-consuming and many camp directors (understandably) don’t want to give out personal numbers (there are ways around this!).
You also have to set up individual groups for each sub-group you want to create, whereas other apps make this far simpler.
If it ain’t broke, why fix it? If 99 percent of your staff are already using WhatsApp, then join them and use this platform to quickly disseminate info to your staff leaders and let them be in chat groups with their staff. This saves you from getting a million notifications and ensures that people are getting important info that you can be reasonably sure they will check.
One of the biggest challenges camps face when opting for the best way to communicate with staff is deciding whether there is value in learning and using a totally new platform and trying to get everyone on board. This can be a struggle versus utilizing a platform that is already used by most of your staff, even if it might not be the best. You need to strike a balance to get information out in the easiest way possible for your community.
The truth is that using just one method is never going to reach 100% of the people, 100% of the time. You need to make sure that you reach out to your staff in as many ways as possible with consistent messages and branding.
For my personal take, a combination of communication methods and apps needs to be used at different points depending on what makes sense with where they are in the process.
- Start personally and professionally with emails, texts, and phone calls.
- Once you are in a position to group staff together, put them in a Facebook or Slack group where they can get generic information aimed at all staff in a simple, easy-to-use platform.
- When they arrive at camp (or shortly before) make sure that they are in a simple chat group with their direct supervisors. You can have a separate group chat with all of the supervisors together to help share information, troubleshoot, etc. (WhatsApp/Slack/Discord are all perfect here.)
An approach like this, utilizing a variety of communication tools, will allow you to meet staff where they are (both figuratively and literally) and give multiple points of access throughout their journey from recruitment to (hopefully!) retention.
This blog was written on behalf of Project Real Job whose purpose is to support camps in their efforts to recruit, hire, and retain staff.
Carter is the activities, communications, and events coordinator for Camp Schodack in Nassau, New York. This will be his 14th summer working for Schodack and his 7th as a member of year-round team. Carter is on the ACA Staff Recruitment and Retention Committee.
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