February Featured Video: Ranger Lake Bible Camp takes it!

Well, it’s February. As I look out the window at a herd of very shaggy horses standing in their snow-covered corral, I’m wondering: where in the world did January go? And I’m also wondering: when will summer ever get here?!

If you’re jonesing for some summer camp reminiscence, I’ve got the perfect thing for you. It’s a great summer camp video by Ranger Lake Bible Camp. It just happens to be our Featured Video of the month!

If potential parents or campers were wondering what’s in store for a week of camp at Ranger Lake Bible Camp, this video should clear it up — lots of fun activities, the chance to make friends and the opportunity to encounter God! This video made me wish I could go to camp!

And speaking of Ranger Lake: their website is pretty spiffy, too. I really like the design, and it’s really functional. They’ve included new things for 2012, which is a great way to promote their summer program and encourage registrations. You should check it out.

Is your camp putting together a promotional video for the 2012 camp season? If so, I want to see it! It could be our March Featured Video, which means a ton of exposure for your camp. Send it to me (Deanna) at communicate@cci-canada.ca!

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“8 Small Busines Social Media Tips from the Pros” – a great resource for camps, too!

This morning, I took a break from sifting through the MANY emails about our new website (glad you’re all logging on and checking things out, by the way… I hope you like what you see!) to read this great little article from the Social Media Examiner on how to create an engaging social media page (be it Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube) for your small business — or in most of your cases, for your camp.

You know I’ve been harping on all of you to get into social networking more. Summer camp is built on young people. They’re your campers and they’re your staff. Chances are, they want to stay connected with you, and newsletters through the mail might not be the best way to reach this audience.

Social media can be a powerful tool to generate support for your camp. And it can be really easy. Feel free to contact me if you need any help!

Birch Bay Ranch: CCI/Canada’s Camp Video Contest Winner – December!

Congratulations, Birch Bay Ranch! Your winter wonderland video was the winner of this month’s video contest!

Check out the video in all its festive glory:

Most kids who attend camp have no clue what happens at camp over the wintertime. They don’t know what it looks like or what kinds of activities are offered. A video like this can help connect your camp to its supporters all winter long.

We loved the rustic scenes shown in this video: a wintry barnyard complete with an assortment of farmyard animals, sleigh rides, a lodge all decorated for Christmas banquets and parties, a crackling fire… doesn’t it just make you want to drink hot cocoa and listen to Christmas carols?

We still want to see more winter camp videos! Your video can be as simple as a little tour of your facilities in wintertime. If your camp is on, say, the West Coast of British Columbia, where there’s little to no snow, your video can be tongue-in-cheek!

Send all video submissions to Deanna at communicate@cci-canada.ca!

The Quest at Christopher Lake: November Video Contest Winner!

It’s November 1st… which means we’re ready to announce the winner of this month’s video contest!

Congratulations, The Quest at Christopher Lake!

Check out their super fun and upbeat video:

This video is great because it is so upbeat, and also because it looked like it took a lot of coordination to pull off! Seriously, how did those kids on the jet ski know exactly when to drive by and wave? Amazing job. All of the campers look like they’re having an absolute blast, and their energy and happy smiles will definitely help draw people to their camp. Thanks again for a great video, The Quest!

Now, YOU need to send me a video from YOUR camp so that it can be considered as December’s winner! But here’s the thing: all video entries for December’s video contest MUST show what your camp is like in the wintertime. Even if it’s just a little tour of your own piece of winter wonderland. What kinds of activities do you do in the winter? Do you host Christmas banquets? Do you do sleigh rides? What about skating on the lake? Show me what you’ve got!

Promotional camp videos, search engine optimization, and why it’s important to your camp.

A great video is an excellent way to promote your camp. So you’ve made that great video… how great are you at making sure it’s seen on the Internet?

Here are some tips!

VIDEO HOSTING IS FREE! WHY DON’T YOU HAVE AN ACCOUNT YET?

While I do think it’s a great idea to upload videos to your website, I don’t think that’s enough. Having videos on your site makes for interesting content, and can really help sell your camp to interested clients. But in many cases, a person looking for a summer camp might not first go specifically to your website. For this reason, it’s important to host your videos on other sites as well.

Sites like YouTube, Vimeo, VideoBamBlip, and Viddler will host your videos for free. Putting videos on sites like these not only save you the sever bandwidth, they provide another point of entry to your website. An interested client might find your YouTube video before they’ve even seen your site. (By the way, you can read up on some tips for having a super website here.)

When signing up for an account:
–  Make sure you have a branded user name. Don’t just use someone’s personal account. Make a new account with the name of your camp as your user name.
–  If your camp is part of an umbrella organization (like Canadian Sunday School Mission camps, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship camps, etc.) make sure your user name is still just the name of your camp. It’s easy to get lost within a larger organization. If your user name is specific to your camp, it will be more easily searchable on Google and other search engines.
–  Sign up on multiple websites. The more sites your video is hosted on, the better the   chances you have of it coming up on a simple web search. To save time uploading videos to a whole bunch of sites, you can use a web service like TubeMogul’s OneLoad Video Distribution. They will distribute your video across all of your account sites, and they’ll also provide analytics to determine how broadly your video has been viewed. Their basic service is free, but you can upgrade to more MB and more services if you choose.

CHOOSE THE BEST WORDS TO DESCRIBE YOUR VIDEO

Try to think of what a person looking for a summer camp would type into Google. Will it be the exact name of your camp? Probably not. So your video shouldn’t just be titled “XYZ Camp” (or whatever your camp is named), and your description and tags should include specific search-engine keywords.

Ways to optimize your video’s searchability:
–  Think about what kind of camp you run and use those words in the title. If your camp is a wilderness adventure camp in Nipigon, Ontario, consider titling your video something like “[Your Camp Name] Wilderness Sleepaway Adventure Summer Camp, Nipigon, Ontario”. That way someone typing in “sleepaway summer camp, nipigon” may be more likely to find your video.
–  Put a link to your website first and foremost in the description of the video. Then go on to describe your camp, keeping in mind those important search-engine keywords. Although it’s probably smart to include contact information at the end of your video, you’re assuming people are going to watch it all the way through. If your link is the first thing they see in the description, they might click on it even if they don’t watch your video to the end.
–  Use tags! Think of every specific keyword someone might search, and tag your video as such. You can even use descriptors like “exciting” or “inspirational”. Use different words to describe the same activity, like “horses”, “horseback riding”, “Western riding”, “equestrian”, etc. And make sure to include general terms like “summer camp“, “sleep-away camp”, “residential”, “sports camp”, “arts camp”, “horse camp”, etc. Some people know the kind of camp they want to send their kids to, and some people aren’t sure yet. You need to use both specific and broad terms to make sure your video comes up no matter how they search it.

SHARE YOUR VIDEOS WITH SOCIAL MEDIA

You might have a lot of “likes” on your Facebook page and a good contingent of followers on Twitter (and if you don’t know how to use those sites, contact me and I’ll hook you up) — so use that audience to gain some views on your video’s page.

You can set up Facebook to publish your YouTube videos to your camp’s page. Just add an application like this one to your profile and it will automatically publish your likes, favourites, and video uploads from YouTube to your Facebook page.

You can also upload your videos to applications like these ones, which will publish your videos to your Twitter feed. Some of these applications are more complicated than others. For its simplicity and awesome user-friendliness, I’m leaning towards TwitVid, but there are some other great options as well.

ONE OTHER WAY TO GET YOUR VIDEO SEEN:

Submit it to our video contest!

Sorry, I couldn’t help but plug our contest. But seriously, I’m going to post the winning video to Facebook, Twitter, this blog, and our monthly newsletter. That’s an big audience!

Keep thinking creatively to market your camp in our digital age. From the entries I’ve seen in our contest, I can tell that you’re all doing some really great things. The videos you submitted exceeded my expectations. Now you just have to make sure your hard work gets seen!

How is your website helping your camp?

I recently read a great article on effective website design and it got me thinking about how important a dynamic, functional website is to your camp. Your website is often the first impression potential clients will have of your facility, and it’s definitely in your interest for that impression to be a good one.

When a person with no camp experience or frame of reference is looking to send their child to summer camp, I am willing to bet that they’ll just google it to find one in their area. And I know that they’ll judge your camp by the only part of it that they’ve seen so far: your website. “What kinds of activities do they have? What kinds of things will my child be taught? Is it led by competent professionals? Is it safe? Can I see photos? Will my child have the best time ever?” You get the idea. If your website is outdated, has incorrect information, is difficult to navigate, or just looks bad, that gives a bit of a bad impression.

I realize that as nonprofits, we struggle with having the capability to hire professionals to build our websites. That’s why the good news is: the simpler your site, the better. Here are a few things I think are important for a good camp website:

  • Make sure your contact information is current and exhaustive. Include your address, a good phone number, and definitely an email address which is checked regularly, at the very least. A map to your location is often helpful as well, as you’re probably pretty rural and people need to know how to get there. Green Hill Lake Camp’s “Contact Info” section on their website has numerous phone numbers and email addresses, and special links for prospective staff and donors. It also has a great map of how to get there, plus directions from three different nearby locations! There’s no way you wouldn’t be able to contact them, regardless of your reason for wanting to get in touch.
  •  Make sure you have a clear menu bar where people can easily find out about your camp, the activities you offer, your camp’s values and how you intend to impart them to your campers, and anything else you think parents should know (I like when a camp includes a “what to/not to bring” list). I think Canadian Adventure Camp has a great menu. It’s very clear, with all the information I’d be looking for if I were interested in checking out their camp.
  • Try to put some quality photos up. Photos of kids having fun doing activities at your camp can help a parent picture their child having that same fun. But do make sure that the photos are of a good quality — in my opinion, a blurry or pixelated or too-small photo is worse than having no photo at all. (Of course, make sure none of those pictured children’s parents have asked not to have photos of their child published anywhere.) Camp Arnes has a great rotating slide show banner which remains at the top of their site, no matter which page you’re visiting.
  • If your camp uses social media like Facebook or Twitter, have links to those pages so that people coming to your camp can better interact with you. It’s also a good idea to have a blog. Blogging about the goings-on of your camp year-round helps previous campers stay connected and want to return, and it helps those who have never been to get a good picture of what it’s like at your camp. I think Camp Evergreen does a great job of that with their blog, The Green Spot. You can keep your blog really simple — there are some really user-friendly blog sites like wordpress.com, typepad.com, or blogspot.com.
  • Have a link on your site which allows visitors to donate to your camp. Crowsnest Lake Bible Camp have a “Donate” link at the top of their web page, which leads to a page detailing all of the ways supporters of their camp can help out.
Beyond just the simple presentation of pertinent information, you can play around with design. It’s great to go with the general theme of your camp. For example, Blue Bronna Wilderness Camp provides a rugged, outdoor experience to campers with backcountry bush camps and out-trips on horseback. As such, their website has a really rugged-looking background theme, with a great photo of a group on horseback near a mountain lake.
Being nonprofits, many of you don’t have the funds to allocate to professional web hosting and design. That’s just a fact of being in camp ministry. But there are some really great, free ways to get your camp an online presence. WordPress will allow you to host a website for free, making use of their page themes and literally thousands of plugins and widgets. And they’ll teach you how to do it.
I encourage you to take a good look at your website and make sure you’re giving the best impression to interested clients. Take a look at what other camps are doing on their websites and learn from them. And if you have any questions about websites, blogs, or social media, feel free to send me an email. I’ll try my best to help you out.
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Here’s a link to the article that inspired this post. It has eight really simple tips for small businesses to improve their website’s usefulness. I think these tips can really apply to nonprofits as well — more specifically, to your camp!
Oh, and by the way — we’re taking our own advice and updating our website. We’ll let you know as soon as our brand new, fresh site is up!
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