Using the Internet to promote your camp.
The Internet seems like a good marketing tool. But how do you decide if the Internet is right for your camp? Here's some advice to help you make the right decision.
Does my camp need a web site?
A printed brochure is one of the most popular promotion tools. You probably distribute hundreds each year. But brochures are expensive, especially if you include several colors and use a large size, and once they're printed, they stay that way.
With a web site, color photos and multiple pages can be added at little or no extra cost. Millions of people can read the same pages without adding printing costs, and you can update your site daily, making even major changes. Your site is available twenty-four hours a day, so detailed information about your camp is always available. If you include a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, parents can easily find answers to their questions.
Since using the web is still a new trend, having a web site labels your camp as a hip place. Some web sites provide ways for campers to keep in touch after camp through e-mail lists, bulletin boards, and chat rooms. A web site can be a valuable staff recruitment resource as well because nearly all college students have access to the web.
Choices, choices, choices
Once you've decided that you want a web site, you need to decide who will create it.
Create your own
If you have some computer experience, a limited budget, or just want a basic site, you can create your own. For a small monthly fee, America Online (AOL) provides users with software to create web pages, up to 10 megabytes of server space (plenty), and five e-mail addresses.
However, AOL doesn't support some advanced options, such as fill-in forms and customized programming language scripts called Common Gateway Interface (CGI) that add interactivity to your web site. Another disadvantage is that your web address would be something like www.users.aol.com/campname (not very professional or easy to remember).
Work with an ISP
Another option is to have an Internet Service Provider (ISP) develop your web site. ISPs are usually located in your hometown, so they tend to give more personalized service. Some even allow you to watch during the design process. However, they may not understand the camp industry well enough to create a site that says, "camp."
Contact a camp marketer
You could also have an Internet camp marketer create your web site. These organizations typically charge more, but they know the industry and usually create professional-looking sites that reflect the spirit of camp. Look for an ISP at camp conferences, on the Internet, in ACA's annual buying guide, or in advertisements in camp magazines.
Ask the right questions
Before you sign a contract with a service provider, make sure you know what's included in the cost. Here are a few questions to ask:
* What is the price for one page, including set-up fees, and how much do additional pages cost? Prices start at about $10 a month and increase with the services provided.
* How many graphics and pictures can I use and is support to create graphics available?
Most sites include at least two pictures.
* Ask Internet camp marketers how much they spend on advertising each year to generate traffic to their site and if they advertise in other media besides the Internet.
There are wide variances in this area.
* Does the service provide statistics on how many visits your site receives and which pages are viewed most frequently?
The service should be able to provide a report to help you analyze your web site's traffic.
* Will the service register your site with the major search engines and directories?
You can do this yourself easily, but an Internet professional should know a few tricks to get your camp selected more often.
* How often are you allowed to update information and how much does each update cost?
* Does the service provide "virtual hosting"?
All services host your web site, meaning they provide space on their computers for your site. Virtual hosting allows you to have your own domain name. Your web address would be www.campname.com instead of www.camp_marketer.com/campname.
Costs start at about $200 for the first two years.
Creating your web page
You've chosen your web provider. Now, you need to decide what to include on your web page and how you will promote your site.
Determine your goal
Identify your intended audience. Decide who will monitor information and answer e-mail.
Outline the content
Gather old brochures and other documents that include the message you want to deliver, and then write the copy. Remember, bullet points and lists are easier to read on the Internet than paragraphs of text. Find or create pictures and logos to complement the copy. When you are finished, proofread everything.
Don't re-create the wheel. Link to the American Camping Association's web site (http://www.aca-amps.org) for an explanation of what ACA-accredited means and other resources for parents and kids.
Determine the graphic style and choose colors
The best way to find out what you like is to see what others are doing surf the web for ideas. When selecting photos, avoid using ones more than 25 kilobytes; they take too long to download. Remember to keep information updated.
Some leading-edge technology may not work on all computers. For example, Shockwave, Java frames, or proprietary tags for specific browsers will frustrate users.
Test your web design
View your site on different types of computers (PCs, Macs, WebTV, handheld PCs) with various browsers, different color capabilities, and different screen resolutions to ensure the presentation of your web site is universally acceptable. Remember, the way your web site looks on your monitor is not the way it will look on other people's monitors.
Promote your site
Promote your site by adding your e-mail and web address to brochures, business cards, newsletters, and stationery. Also include your address on signs at conferences and at job and camp fairs. Send postcards announcing your web site to past and future customers.
If your camp is ACA-accredited, check the listing on the American Camping Association's web site to see if your free listing is correct. E-mail ACA (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any updates. Register your web site with Internet camp marketers who will promote your web site for free. Check for a current list at http://www.aca-camps.org/register.htm. If your service provider hasn't already done so, register your web site with all major search engines and directories on the Internet.
Here's an e-mail deal for you! Juno Online Services offers free e-mail. All you need is an IBM-compatible computer, a modem (almost any speed will work), and Juno software. The service is free because Juno generates revenue from advertisements that are displayed every time you start the software. Find a friend with access to the web, go to http://www.juno.com, and download the software.
E-mail provides a convenient and cost-effective way to communicate with staff, especially college students, because most colleges provide students with e-mail addresses.
If advertising on the net isn't for you, rest assured that your camp is on ACA's web site and approximately 800 users are visiting it each month. In addition, Internet camp marketers will put general information about your camp on their web sites even if you don't have a web site. Just go to the library or find a friend with access to the web and fill out the marketers' online forms.
Advertising on the Internet is an effective, inexpensive way to reach the 50 million people using the Internet today. By including a web site in your marketing plan, you can lead your camp into the twenty-first century.
Major Search Engines
Sites Worth Seeing
Here are three camp web sites that include more than just general information.
Adventure Day Camp http://www.advcamp.com
The Adventure Day Camp web site has information for both parents and children. The site explains the camp's philosophies and objectives and introduces the directors. Detailed information about sessions, activities, age groups, costs, and drop off/pick up locations is mixed with photos of happy, smiling campers. The site links to the American Camping Association's site for information on what being ACA accredited means. The online application form, which can be printed and then faxed when completed, makes registration easy.
Camp Waziyatah http://www.wazi.com
In addition to an e-mail list and a bulletin board, the Camp Waziyatah web site includes an online employment application and a list of staff and administrators for the upcoming season. The site also includes a parent's home page, which is updated regularly during the camp season and includes a photo of the day, an opportunity to e-mail campers, and a place for comments. The highlight of Camp Waziyatah's home page is the virtual camp tour. Here, lots of photos and short blocks of copy introduce prospective campers to the facility and staff.
The Road Less Traveled http://www.roadlesstraveled.com
The Road Less Traveled is a trip and travel camp that offers wilderness excursions for young adults. Using photos, quotes from past campers, maps, and detailed explanations of the locations and activities of the trips, this web site shows the adventures that await prospective travelers. The site includes a bulletin board for former campers to stay in touch, employment opportunities for prospective staff, and a page to request a brochure. Parent's Corner tells parents how the trips are progressing and where to send mail.
Check out these resources on the World Wide Web.
ACA's National Headquarters web site http://www.aca-camps.org/
Read this article "interactively" on ACA's web site http://www.aca-camps.org/interne.htm
Places on the web you can list your camp for free http://www.aca-camps.org/register.htm.
Web site devoted to tracking web statistics http://www.cyberatlas.com/
Learn the basics of HTML (hypertext markup language) http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/General/Internet/WWW/HTMLPrimer.html
Tom Schenk is Internet/information manager of the American Camping Association.
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|Date:||Sep 1, 1997|
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