How Camps Can Survive the Facebook-ocalypse

January 11. The day there were fewer kayaks in lakes. Fewer grins on campers’ faces. Fewer quintessential high fives. On your Facebook News Feed, at least.

On January 11, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement regarding the future of our news feeds. In his words,

As we roll this [change] out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.

And while we, camps, don’t like to consider ourselves as businesses, brands, or media, Facebook can’t see the life-long relationships we build, the unforgettable memories we create, or the laugh-til-you-cry inside jokes we share. So what are we going to do? Well, we’re going to show Facebook who we are by bringing the community of camp to Facebook!

Facebook’s intent is to bring people closer together, something camps do every day. To get around the coming changes, I think we’ve got to do two things: 1) monitor these changes as they happen before writing Facebook off completely, and 2) *THIS IS THE IMPORTANT ONE* bring the magic (sorry, Travis) of summer camp – the things I talked about above – to Facebook.

Before I jump into how I think we can do this, it’s important to note that none of this is certain. I’d venture to say that not even Facebook knows exactly how these changes will play out yet, so we’ll all be learning as this happens. If nothing else, the things below are good jumping off points!

Survival Tips

Prepare Your Followers (While You Can)

These changes are just starting to roll out, so you may still have some time to get messages to people who like your page. First and foremost, I suggest making a post explaining the change and asking your followers to change their preferences to see your posts first. It’s uncertain how much of an impact this will have moving forward, but it definitely can’t hurt. Here’s a sample post to share as soon as possible:

Sample Post

The full text reads:

DON’T MISS OUT: New Facebook changes could erase us from your News Feed. To make sure you still see camp pictures and information about registration, discounts, etc., follow these steps to see our posts!
 
1) Navigate to our page and hover over the “Following” button.
2) Under “In Your News Feed,” click “See First.”
3) Under “Notifications,” make sure it says “On.”
4) Head to the top right corner of your page and click the down arrow.
5) Select “News Feed Preferences” then “Prioritize who to see first.”
6) Make sure we’re near the top of the list!
 
That’s it! Thanks for following us and for being part of the Summer Camp Magic family!
Then, to ensure this message reaches as many people on your page as possible, I’d suggest boosting the post using a targeted audience of people who like your page. This, of course, will cost money, but Facebook ads are still relatively affordable, and the payoff of people still getting your messages may very well pay off in the future.
In addition to posting this on Facebook, I recommend sending it out in an email blast letting your current families know how they can follow you. If you’re a camp that’s part of a larger organization (a YMCA, a church, etc.), I also suggest making signs to hang around your building and/or printing handouts you can leave at the front desk or slip in your bulletin.

Inform New Families

If you have the time and staff, it’s a great idea to directly contact new families when they register, regardless of this Facebook stuff. A simple phone call or email introducing yourself, welcoming them to the family, and asking if they have any questions can go a long way. If you use email for this, it’s easy to create a stock email you can copy, paste, and easily customize.

Include the same message from above in that email. Explain to your new families that Facebook is a great way for families to keep in touch with camp, and give them the steps on how they can make sure they see your content. Also include links to any groups you may have, which leads me to the next idea…

Focus On Groups

In Zuckerberg’s message, he writes: “The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.”

We can’t make ourselves into friends or family, but we can make ourselves a group! Groups are simple to create on Facebook, and since you already have an audience for your page, it shouldn’t be too difficult to ask those same people to join your Facebook group. If you go this route, include it in the email and posts I mentioned above. Groups do have the ability to link to a page, but I’d tread lightly on that for the moment. As I mentioned before, we’re not sure exactly how these changes will play out, but it’s possible that groups linked to a page could be considered more business-y. On the other hand, linking the group gives it a more professional appearance and it allows you to link to the group directly from your page. So, as you can gather, there are pros and cons.

From the current understanding, groups may have an edge to pages, but their content will be held to the same standard. Groups that have more engagement will probably perform better, which goes along with the next idea.

Create Engagement-Worthy Content

Throwing things on Facebook and not worrying about engagement wasn’t the best route to go before the changes, but now it’s even more important to create content that your users want to engage with. We’ve got to pay attention to our best performing posts (which you can see through Facebook Insights) and do our best to figure out what makes them so likable and comment-worthy. Share pictures. Ask questions. Post TBTs. Figure out what makes your users engage with you, and post more of that.

The same thing will be true when it comes to groups. Simply posting in the group “Registration’s open!” won’t cut it. Instead, you’ve got to post things that will generate conversation. If you’re going to post about registration being open, consider adding something like “Comment below or like this post to let us know you’re coming!” Having a strong call to action (whether in your group or on your page) will help engagement. But you can’t generate this engagement alone.

Ask Your Families and Followers for Help

You’re not the only one who wants to see your camp succeed, and it’s time to call on those people who stand behind your camp. Consider identifying some key parents or campers and reaching out to them over the phone. Let them know what’s going and share with them that their likes and comments mean more now than ever. Ask them to like or comment every time they see one of your posts. Not only will this help your engagement, but it will also strengthen your relationships with these families. You took the time to call and ask them for help? Wow!

The same thing goes for groups. Engagement on those posts are huge, but Facebook will catch on if we’re the only ones posting. Ask your families to post tips and tricks for other campers. Encourage them to ask basic questions there instead of over phone or email. I’d go as far as asking parents (that I already had a good relationship with) to post important information every once in a while.

You can make this even easier by sending them what you want to say so that they can easily copy and paste it. Think things like: “So glad I registered Caleb before the early bird discount ends March 1. Who else got this great deal?,” “Caroline can’t wait for Session 4! She’d love to know who else is coming. Are any of your kids signed up for that week?,” or “I talked to Allison today, and she said Session 5 is almost full! If you’re thinking about that week, don’t wait too long!”

Think about creating another post – similar to the one earlier – that explains the need for engagement and asking your followers to help. It could read something like: “WE NEED YOUR HELP: With the recent Facebook changes, every like and comment counts when it comes to getting our message out. If you could, please like or comment whenever you see one of our posts so that we can make sure all of our camp community is included. Can we count on you?”

Have a Conversation with Your Staff

Staff members can be a huge boost when it comes to engagement. Hopefully, you’ve already had that conversation with them, but whether or not you have, it’s time to have a talk now.

Staff have already bought into your camp and your camp’s mission, and they want to see camp succeed. Have a totally honest conversation with your staff and explain to them that you’re concerned families won’t see your content, which could impact registration numbers or a myriad of other things. Ask them to help you by liking and commenting on your posts. It’s great if they do it when they see your posts, but I’d go a step further and ask staff to check our page every week or two and to go through and like or comment on anything new we’ve posted. Make sure they check your group, too!

In addition to increasing engagement, staff (especially senior staff) can also help you by posting important information. Again, I think Facebook will catch on if it’s just us posting, so craft important messages and ask staff to post them instead. Not only will this ensure people are getting the information they need, but it can also help staff feel important. Take it one step further and have different staff post these messages each time, along with an introduction. “Hey, everyone! I’m Sam, and I’m the office manager for camp this summer. This is my sixth summer at camp – my second on staff. I’ll be in the office answering your phone calls and emails if you need me. We want to let you guys know that you should have received a parent packet in your email, but you can also access it here. Let me know if you have any questions! Can’t wait for this summer!” Your parents will love getting to see some of your staff before the summer begins, and these posts help them look (and feel) professional and knowledgeable about camp.

Pay to Play

While the new changes will affect organic content on people’s News Feeds, it doesn’t look like they’ll affect ads and boosted posts. Yes, these things cost money, but most of the time, the cost isn’t outrageous. It’s a good idea to spend at least a little of your marketing budget on Facebook to drive new likes, website traffic, and more. Learn more about running ads on Facebook.

Think Outside Facebook

I’ve given you a few ideas, and I really hope they work for you. However, with the uncertainty of the changes, it’s a good idea to think outside Facebook as well. Here are a few things you should also be doing.

  • Beef up your website. Facebook has been an incredible blessing by helping us put things right in front of parents, but now they may have to do a little digging to find what they need. That digging will likely be on your website, so make sure it’s user-friendly, has the most current information, and tells parents all they need to know. If you don’t already have a news or announcements section, I’d add one. There you can put all the things you’ve been posting on Facebook – events, deadlines, construction updates, etc. Oh, and one last thing: MAKE SURE IT’S MOBILE-FRIENDLY!
  • Focus on your SEOFacebook also did a really great job at putting your posts and information in front of people who may not be familiar with your camp. Those days are gone. To attract new families, you’ll need a website that shows up pretty high on Google. SEO is the way to make this happen.
  • Blog. Blogs give you the opportunity to tell your story, to explain things, and more. Not only are they a great way to engage with your families, but they could also help your SEO.
  • Amp up your email marketing. Again, Facebook won’t help us by putting information right in front of parents anymore. We’ll need to send out emails containing important information. To do that successfully, you need to think about what will make parents actually open your emails, and you should research how to avoid the “Promotions” folder if you’re using an email service like MailChimp.
  • Reconsider snail mail. Where are we? The dark ages?! I know. But if you have important information that your families really need to see, or if you really want to make sure you’ve connected with every camper, snail mail is the best way to go. They could easily miss something on Facebook with the changes, and email open rates are rarely (if ever) 100 percent. Snail mail will ensure that almost all of your families get your information.
  • Find parent ambassadors. Again, ask parents for their help! Identify a few parents in your communities to help spread the word. Even if they just text their friends and say – “Hey, check your email. New one from Summer Camp Magic” – it’ll help.
  • Pick up the phone. If you’ve got important information to get out, the phone is a great way to do it. This takes time, and not everyone will answer or have a working voicemail, but reaching out by phone will help nurture your relationships.

TTFN (Ta-Ta For Now)

If you take nothing else from this blog, take this: now, more than ever, we’ve got to bring the community feeling of camp to Facebook. Engagement will soon be the only way to be seen. Don’t get left behind – start planning now!

Have more ideas? Left with a few questions? Leave them in the comments or email summercampmagic@gmail.com.

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