My first career was as a teacher, coach, and camp director. Being a camp director is the most fun I’ve ever had at a job, but there were also numerous lessons. Keep the kids active and happy, and the parents will be happy. They’ll keep coming back, and they’ll tell their friends. One way we saw success is that while growing in enrollment each summer we also filled all spaces with earlier registrations each spring. At its very heart being a camp director is community management. I share some of those lessons with you now.
Identify talent. One of the aspects of this position I really liked was recruiting the counselors from area colleges. They were student leaders and college athletes. They were future teachers and social workers. These students brought with them certain talents and interests. I set accountability and expectations and then let them go. They were motivated to contribute their ideas, their energy, and their time; and I let them. They exceeded my expectations many times because I gave them ownership. How are you identifying leaders in your community? What opportunities are you giving them to contribute, to take ownership?
Free swims are the best. In the heat of the summer (and we’re talking about the summer in North Carolina), there’s nothing quite like that time in the afternoon when it’s your group’s turn to cool off in the pool. Different groups form, and various activities begin. Boys race for dive sticks, a game of Sharks and Minnows forms, and kids initiate a largest splash contest. The worst thing you can do is schedule and dictate involvement. Let it be organic. Let members decide their activities and their connections. You give them the environment.
It doesn’t hurt to have a game room. Although a small space with just a few arcade video games and a pinball machine, campers enjoyed their time here. The lights and sounds captivated them. The quest for a high score motivated them. It was fun, and there weren’t a lot of rules. There didn’t have to be; each game had its own rules for success: avoid the alien spaceship, the ghosts when they turn blue, and the silver ball going down the middle. With an online community, have a place where members can gather and play. Let them define what success looks like in this space. Make it fun. Make it entertaining. Make it out of the ordinary.
Candy, candy, candy. Okay, it’s not just candy, but it’s also stickers and prizes and certificates and awards. The point is recognition. Rewards motivate. Whether it was at the end of the day or the end of a week, campers took pride in these moments of accomplishment. They would excitedly tell their parents and siblings about what they had won or earned. Are your members feeling valued? Do you regularly demonstrate your appreciation for them? Are you giving them reasons to talk about your community to their peers?
Sometimes you just have to get on a van and go somewhere. We had clubs that would take the kids for a hike or out on a boat. There were nearby resources we could utilize that were not on our property. A change of scenery and a varied activity breathed life into the day-to-day routine of camp. How do you utilize other environments to strengthen the community? In what ways do you bring the online community together elsewhere? What new ways of looking at this could breathe life into the routine?
If you attended camp as a child, there’s a good chance that you have a favorite story or a treasured memory. I know I do, and I also know that as a camp director I helped create some of these moments for children as well. They last a lifetime. Why not bring some of the camp atmosphere into your online community and see its lasting impact?
What are your favorite memories from summer camp? What lessons do you see for building a strong community?
You have an opportunity every day to connect with your online community in genuine and profound ways. How you do that is up to you, your personal style, your goals, your community, etc. It should follow a few guidelines though.
- First, one of my favorite sayings is, “You can’t fake sincerity.” If you’re really not interested in others and what they have to say, it’s going to show. Your self-centeredness will reveal itself as you drone on and on about yourself, your accomplishments, your agenda, and/or your organization. It’s much like the guy at the party who keeps bragging about his job, his cars, his awards, his money, etc. He hasn’t taken the slightest interest in you, and you can’t wait to excuse yourself for a visit to the bathroom or to grab some more shrimp cocktail.
- If you’re managing some portion of the online presence for an organization, you are the rock star, the pro athlete, the actor, the model to many in your online community. I call it the Mean Joe Greene moment. Mean Joe Greene played for the fabled Steelers of the 1970s. Remember the resulting Coke commercial? A kid gives Mean Joe Greene a Coke after a game. As he turns to go, Mean Joe Greene tosses the boy his football jersey. While the kid was excited about getting the jersey of a professional football player, I would contend that the commercial resonated with us because we felt the connectedness between the average kid and the superstar, between an unknown boy and his hero. With social media you have an opportunity to make this kind of connection and impact every day. If your community isn’t getting this from you, they’ll invest their time and efforts elsewhere.
- I’m re-appropriating the term digital authenticity (#digitalauthenticity #authenticity) for a different purpose. I talked recently in a Higher Logic webinar about the importance of taking the concept of a handwritten note to your online community. Handwritten notes (not ones that are mass-produced to look like handwritten notes) are impactful because we get so few of them. We are inundated with blast emails, banner ads, print ads, etc. What stands out is something that is genuine, that is personalized, that is intended for one person. Therein lays the beauty and power of social media. If you’re not utilizing your online community to make these personal connections for your organization, you’re missing out. How does the concept of a handwritten note translate to online activity? I’m not entirely sure; but digital authenticity includes recognizing people as individuals, using a person’s name when addressing them, and directing content at times to a single person where appropriate.
- Most of us are familiar with the term crowdsourcing. Basically, it’s the notion that you ask a question to a random group of people (the “crowd”) to get to a solution or idea. I’d like to promote the concept of community sourcing (#communitysourcing). My guess is that you have at your fingertips an online community that is knowledgeable, well-informed, and involved. Utilize them, and they’ll appreciate it. I’m not talking about more surveys, polls, or evaluation forms. I’m also not talking about questions where you already know the answer or have a predetermined agenda. Ask genuine questions of your online community. You may be amazed at what your community will come back with. They may respond with more insight and creativity than you imagined they would. You get the benefits. And guess what? They’ll be engaged in the process more than ever before. Don’t forget to thank them personally, and they’ll be even more willing to assist the next time.
What approaches enable you to better connect? What ways have you found to effectively engage your online community?
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