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Sunday, January 4, 2015

If You Don't Allow Cell Phones at Camp, You're Missing the Biggest Social Media Marketing Benefit of All Time

My ideas of summer camp marketing are different than most. The traditional way to market a camp is taking a safe, comfortable, familiar approach, doing things like they've always been done, and thinking "inside the box."

My way involves taking risks, trying new things, borrowing marketing ideas from other industries and applying them to my promotional activities, and employing an "edgy" marketing style I believe helps my camp stand out.

For example, I think cell phones should be allowed at camp. I've held this position a long time. There's lots of reasons I feel this way, but in general, it's just the way the world's going and camps that try to fight it will have a tough time.

I gave a marketing speech in Tucson last month to summer camp owners and directors where I posited cell phones should be allowed at camp.. I'm not sure my position went over too well because from what I observed, the vast majority of camp marketing people (or at least those to whom I was speaking) seemed resistant to change.

But even if the information I presented was largely unpopular, it doesn't matter because it's the truth. And I believe those who fight it will pay a dear price. If you think you'll get better marketing results by doing things the same way as you've always done them while simultaneously discounting how personal a child's cell phone is to him or her, you won't come close to the marketing potential your camp can get.  

Look at it this way. Practically every kid you know sleeps with their phone within arm's reach, brings it to school, uses it to text and shares pictures with their friends in class, communicates with their parents on it, searches the internet with it, checks it every 10 seconds or less, and finds pictures and videos of your camp on it.

The next logical extension for kids' cell phone use is at summer camp, and if you disallow it, you're missing one of the greatest social media marketing opportunities ever.

I suggest you consider how a single camper's cell phone can benefit you so much. What if one of your campers who brings her cell phone to camp has 5,000 camp-age Instagram followers back home?

What if she posts a video of herself on your high ropes course, directly from camp itself, in real time?

What if that video made her followers drool over your program?

Do you realize how many new customers you could get by doing this?

The potential benefits to you in terms of new enrollment are mind-blowing.


Look at these facts:
  • More searches for summer camps now take place on a mobile device than traditional desktop computers
  • Texting, video, and picture sharing is one of the primary way teens communicate these days
  • A child's first exposure to the internet will more likely to be on a mobile device than a computer
  • Many parents are buying kids their first mobile devices at 2 years old; and 
  • Almost half of all children have used a mobile device by the age of 2 as well
Now remember, these aren't my opinions, they're FACTS and aren't going away. To the contrary, mobile is ubiquitous and growing especially among kids. Why wouldn't you want to reach as many customers and prospects as possible, then let THEM help get you more customers with their phones?

And you know what else? I'll let you in on a little secret: Here at Aloha Beach Camp, promoting the fact we allow cell phones at camp has become a part of our marketing plan. We devote a few weeks every year to letting kids know they can bring their phones to camp, and when we do, we see a huge spike in enrollment for those few weeks. It's happened every year and it'll happen this year, too.

 If you've got the guts (and I know you do), give it a try. I'm confident that when you make a public statement you allow cell phones, kids will go into a frenzy, talk about your unique approach everywhere (especially on social media) and suddenly it will become a LOT easier for you to sign them up for camp.

But what if you decide this isn't for you? What if you take a firm, "cell phones don't belong at camp" stance? Perfectly fine.

But ask yourself this. Can you can honestly imagine your camp 5 years down the line without cell phones? If so, I think it will be very hard for you to compete with me and other camps who realize there's a lot more benefits to allowing kids to bring their phones to camp than not, especially when we decide to publicly promote the fact we allow them.

I assume (hope) this post generates some discussion. If not, I understand. Happy New Year to everyone and I wish you much success this camp marketing season!

2 comments:

  1. I definitely see the social media benefit in having phones at camp. There is a lot of free PR to be had. But there are a few things that camps who have been around for a long time know, and having an anti-cell phone policy is not just about being resistant to change. A few things to keep in mind:
    1) Campers can (and do) still post photos and videos from camp after it is over. Social Media benefits still happen.
    2) While your camp's parents may be sold on the fact that phones are allowed, many will be sold on camps where they are not.
    3) Emerging research about the benefits of unplugging is ever-increasing. Parents are concerned about their kids spending so much time on phones, and like the idea of them taking a break. In the end, they are the decision makers on whether or not to send a kid to a certain camp.
    4) Having phones keeps kids from fully throwing themselves into the NOW - connecting with new friends and being fully present. The camp experience is lessened.
    5) The distraction of being able to call/text home can add to homesickness
    Just a few thoughts for you!

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  2. I agree with everything the person above wrote. Yes. times are changing but that doesn't mean we need to have Internet and PS4s in all the cabins. My day camp has a lot of competition in the are and we do not allow cell phones, yet, somehow we still fill all 9 weeks in every age group. In fact I have to keep adding spaces each summer. Go figure.

    But, I also see where you're coming from. A few camps are allowing cell phones, and for some families that is a plus. It is a good sneaky marketing technique, especially if you can get staff to encourage the campers to take pictures and post it to social sites. For some camps, not yours necessarily, that don't have good enough programming or staff to fill their camps, this type of marketing could be good.

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