Greetings from Mishawaka,
I follow a number of our peer camps in WI and MN on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – in part to keep informed of how and what they are doing and to learn more about how people in our industry are using social media to get the word out about the value of camp, and their camp. Each time I get an update- about a particularly beautiful day at their camps, a trip coming back or departing, or a photo of the signature sunset shot that each camp offers, I am torn. I feel like I should drop what I am doing, go take a photo, and post it, in no small part, just to keep up. Are they accessing a market that we are ignoring? Are the registrations flooding to their camps because of their frequent posting? The truth is, I don’t know for sure. That said, I am just as sure that social media is here to stay as a way to get your message out and brand your program, but I am very unsure about how to use this relatively new format in a way that conveys our values and what we do here.
A few years ago, we started uploading photos two or three times a week so that parents could see their children in action at Camp. By and large, it’s been a good thing and relieved a lot of worry on the part of parents. When our own children went away to other camps, I found myself checking the photos far more often than I thought I would! Some camps post daily. Some even offer a live webcam to watch the season unfold in real time. I suspect in most cases these camps employ one or more full-time social media manager to keep up.
The irony of the situation is not lost on us. A large part of the camp experience is for children to have a chance to detach from the rails of social media at Mishawaka while as an institution we try to maintain the cycle of keeping up, seeking likes per minute, shares, and other emoticons. I don’t think we posted as much or as often as we could have, or should have, during the first session just completed, but when the choice always seems to revolve around whether I, or our staff, should be in the moment with campers or create a stylized post about what we did today, the choice is clear.
I suspect families learn about camps a number of ways, a family tradition or personnel recommendation being the two best ways, but I also suspect that the repetitive posts, push ads or banners that magically appear in their feeds must be effective, too. But before any of that can happen, parents and families have to be “open” to the idea of a traditional camp experience, and that’s the hard part. Camp Mishawaka has always been an experience for and about the child, and they are the primary beneficiary, though the family and parents benefit, too. My own Camp experience, as I often recount, was literally a gift from my grandfather. It was my gift, to be developed over time and shared not in bits, bytes, and gifs, but in human interactions, projects, experiences – in happy times and difficult ones.
Some futurists have predicted that the “end of oversharing” is coming, though I don’t imagine it is anytime soon. Indeed, we rely on the fact that people do share their Mishawaka experience with others through all formats and media available. And we rely, perhaps too heavily, on the fact that the best way to share this is through word and deed, example and a story. So if you are so inclined, please do share your story- with friends, family and co-workers who you think might be open to hearing about an experience for their child that will last forever. I am reminded of the quote by one of those futurists, Pico Iyer, who said:
All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.