Strong, active communities are defining characteristics of successful camps. Ask any camp director or counselor; they'll have a hundred stories of how their camp fostered friendships, teamwork skills, and community support.
However, with the increasing use of technology in our daily lives, relying solely on in-person methods to build community may cause your camp to fall short of its full potential. Camp organizers should harness digital tools to amplify community engagement and reach new audiences, too.
Whether you want to enhance traditional activities like email marketing or create new digital experiences, technology can help bring your camp community closer together.
Engage Consistently and Meaningfully with Your Community
Email and texting are standard communication tools that keep families updated on camp news, such as upcoming events or schedule changes. However, using these tools strategically avoids overwhelming campers or families with too much information. To prevent your messages from being among the 55 percent of brand emails that get ignored, ensure your content is intentional and valuable to your audience by supplementing it with exciting tech. A podcast that introduces your new counselors or drone footage of a new construction project can make your program stand out. In fact, including a video in your email can improve click rates by 65 percent.
You can also invest in online forums or chat groups to allow your community to connect organically with each other throughout the year, sharing memories and building the excitement for camp. By implementing effective communication strategies that are enriched by technology, camps can create a more connected and informed community, even outside of the physical camp environment.
Reinforcing Community and Belonging through Branding
From making up a silly name for their bunk group, decking out in team colors for a game, or simply singing camp songs, counselors and camp directors are secret experts at fostering a sense of community through identity and branding. During day-to-day camp activities, these opportunities to build community present themselves naturally, and seasoned staff members can infuse the organization's vision and values into every step. But when it comes to engaging participants and ensuring they still feel that sense of belonging during the offseason, the right digital tools can help.
Think first of the variety of messages and collateral that your organization sends out. Emails, social posts, and even snail-mail-delivered postcards should all be infused with the organization's voice and brand. A digital style guide can help your team stay consistent on wording, logos, colors, and themes across all assets. In addition, your registration and email marketing software should come equipped with easy-to-use branding tools that help you amplify your messaging. By using these digital tools, the identity of your camp can shine through every step of the process and remind your community of your mission and vision.
Analyzing Your Audience to Optimize Engagement
Camp directors know there's a wide range of engagement levels between participants. Some campers and parents are champions for your program — they tell everyone they know about your camp, post about the experience across social channels, and rock camp merch all year. Other campers come to one week of camp and never return, without a clear reason as to why. In all, an average of 38 percent of day campers and 20 percent of overnight campers come back year after year, according to the American Camp Association. It begs the question: What’s happening to the other 60 to 80 percent of campers?
While it can be tempting to look only at your top engaged participants, it's important to analyze all campers to assess your camp community's strengths and weaknesses and find ways to turn passive fans into active advocates. For example, many digital registration tools allow you to analyze registrants year over year and find demographic, seasonal, and financial trends in your registration data. Surveys collected at registration or check-out are another great way to assess the why behind customer decisions, gathering data-driven insights about your whole community — rather than solely listening to the loudest voices. Polls can be sent via email or text to make them the most accessible for your audience and equally easy for program directors to analyze.
Why Embrace Technology for Community Building?
Of course, digital tools will never replace the personal connections and sense of belonging that camp activities and staff provide. However, when used in a way that aligns with the camp's values and goals, technology can play an influential role in supporting and enhancing programs. By embracing technology thoughtfully and intentionally, camps can continue to enhance the community experience for campers and staff.
This blog is sponsored by ACTIVE Network. At ACTIVE Network, our Camp & Class Manager software is equipped with digital tools that help camp directors foster community and boost their brand. Whether your organization needs new tools to execute marketing and communications initiatives, produce meaningful data and customizable reports on your audience, or even sell camp apparel, experts at ACTIVE can connect you to the right solutions to get the job done and help your camp find success.
Periodically, the American Camp Association (ACA) makes timely and relevant information about products and services available to its members so they can make informed decisions for their camps. However, the ACA does not endorse products, services, or companies.