A couple of years ago one of my summer camp parents told me that she was going to create a database to help parents organize their child’s summer camp schedule. We all know how hard it is for a parent to map out a full summer of camp. Include summer school, tutoring, a family vacation, a kid that makes the traveling all star baseball team, and a sibling and you may as well hire an executive assistant. When I was contacted by CampEasy to list my summer camp in their system, I thought this parent had made good on her promise to build this site. While CampEasy is not made by a Berkeley parent, it is one I am sure they will clamor for. CampEasy is a planning web site for parents who are trying to organize a summer full of camp experiences. Brooke Salkoff, former NBC correspondent, is the parent taking on this challenge and is the creator of Camp Easy. I applaud her for jumping in and getting this off the ground. You can read more about her in this Washington Post Article: Value Added: Building an Expedia for Summer Camps. You can also listen to The CampHacker podcast with her interview.
Here is their YouTube video about the site: What is CampEasy?
Features of CampEasy
There are many features of this service that parents will love. Being able to indicate what weeks they are looking for camp, the types of camp, ages, cost, etc are standard for these types of sites. CampEasy lets parents compare across different camps (residential and day camp) and to enables parents to use it for planning out the summer, taking into consideration vacation dates along with that baseball tournament. They can even tell their friends what they signed their child up for. The ShareThis button adds a social sharing feature allowing parent to have the option of sharing content on many sites and also privately via email or Facebook private message. Parents can have the schedule exported to their calendar. I did have some UI issues comparing camps but liked the MapIt feature which allows a parent to see on a map all the camps they are comparing. Also, like the American Camp Association’s Find A Camp, Camp Easy allows you to select camps who serve special populations. I would have loved to see camps that serve special needs campers distinguished by those who have a majority of typically developing campers versus those that only serve a special needs population. Just my preference since the summer camp I run at UC Berkeley has a social skills track that teaches social skills to a small group of children and teens who are integrated into an otherwise typical day camp population. After speaking on this topic at the ACA national conference, I realized this type of inclusion was not the norm. Keep in mind, CampEasy is very new and in the early stages of development. Twitter didn’t do everything it does today six years ago. I am sure they wanted to get it out the door with some basic features to allow camps to start to input their data and they will grow in richness as the site develops a user base. It is very hard for a start-up to stay focused and do a few things well and resist the urge to just add features because one person makes a suggestion.
The TripAdvisor of Summer Camp
While Brook from CampEasy describes her site as Expedia.com or Kayak.com for summer camps, I think she may want to aim more towards the TripAdvisor model who has a far stronger user community attached to it than Kayak or Expedia. Kayak does a great job integrating TripAdvisor ratings but the loyal TripAdvisor community is what made the the site popular. We all know TripAdvisor is great for being able to search hotels by features, dates of availability and location but what we value even more is the user photos and reviews. <digression> Really wish TripAdvisor would integrate a database of hotel wifi speeds. I liked what Jeff Jarvis and Dave Winer were trying to do to get people to tag and report wifi speeds when they traveled. I think it was just before their time. If you find this service let me know. CC BFF: Chris Christensen) </digression>
The mommy grape vine has always had that power and now that moms and dads are connected digitally and blogger the reach and opinion is amplified. Harnessing the power of the parent community will make the CampEasy service more valuable. Parents trust other parents. This review feature is currently built into CampEasy as parents are going to be able to post reviews if their child attended the camp. I would like the users reviews to be as rich of an experience as it is on TripAdvisor. Of course, just like on TripAdvisor, give Camp Directors an option to address any complaints, just as you see hotel managers doing within the TripAdvisor review system.
Wouldn’t if be cool if CampEasy . . .
OK, so even though I said CampEasy needs to stay focused on a few tasks so as to not burn through all their cash on developers adding features to the site, I still couldn’t help myself thinking of all it can become. I think adding some notification elements like what TripIt does could be useful. CampEasy could email or text message parents two weeks out prior to a camp starting, let parents know when the refund deadline is approaching in case they need to back out of camp, and even enable easy access to camp emails and phone numbers all in one system. I have parents who bring their camper to camp the wrong week, come to my camp when they should be at a different camp, and forgotten they signed up all together. We often open registration in December. By August some parents have forget they enrolled. They miss our email reminders and subsequently, miss camp. I also think it would be great for parents to be able to connect their account with other parents, not with a share button but by allowing them access to their account like the way TripIt does. In TripIt, when I allow a connection into my Inner Circle, I am letting those select few see my schedule as it gets planned. By making this connection in CampEast, a parent could share information continually without having to actively push it out. We all know parents really want to see what their social circle has planned. To be able to see what a friend is doing for a certain week can help a parent make similar plans if those two children want to be together. As we know, not only do these parents manage all the nuances of their child’s summer but they sometimes try to coordinate across families. That adds a new level of ninja parent planning skills. What do you think would be cool add-ons to CampEasy? (One of my favorite meet-ups at SXSW this year was the TripIt Breakfast so I think I have TripIt on the brain.)
CampEasy’s Own Use of Social Media
Being involved in the start-up culture of San Francisco, it is exciting for me to see a start-up who wants to help kids get to camp. CampEasy is working all the channels: Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, etc. You have to appreciate that. It is also evident that CampEasy is promoting the value of camp. They did a great job of including a Facebook Like Box (social plugin) within the CampEasy system. It is visible once you get into their database to look for a camp. I would recommend moving the Like Box to the home page to add some social proof to the site for both parents and camp directors. For example, it wasn’t until after I poked around the parent database that I saw the Like Box. It was crammed in the left corner and not even the typical size which meant I could only see 2 full profile photos. Since the Like Box rotates faces it wasn’t until it reloaded a few times that I saw my friend Travis Allison had liked the page. That meant a lot to me since I trust Travis’ opinion on tech sites. I clicked through to the CampEasy Facebook page and found a link to the interview Travis did with Brook in January on his CampHacker podcast. Had I not tested out the parent side of the site, I would have missed the Travis-Brook connection all together. The Like Box is also more valuable than a strict Facebook button that links to the Facebook Page because: 1) it takes me off the CampEasy site and onto Facebook where you will likely never see me again; and 2) it now take 2 clicks to get me to “like” your page. The Like Box is one click for the “like” and keeps me on your page even when I click on it.
CampEasy also makes fantastic use of video embeded on their home page. In under 2 minutes I got a sense of what they do. I think they can take some of the advice in the videos created by David Betz from CampTV and posted on the CampTV YouTube Channel. After looking at the CampEasy YouTube page here are a few suggestions based on the CampTV YouTube marketing strategy: put the web address first in the description; add more tags based on keywords (like “planning” and “plan”) people use to find the CampEasy site, use the full description area for more text and even a transcript, log in more, etc. I have not spoken to Brook and her CampEasy team and I can only imagine, from teaching online social media classes, that she is working all her angles and focusing on priorities to get the word out about CampEasy rather than sitting at home managing YouTube metadata. Priorities. These are offered as free tips and not a criticism.
Marketing Summer Camp to Parents
I enjoyed hearing Brook interviewed by Travis on Camp Hacker. She offered advice to camps about their marketing strategy. In her market research in the Washington DC area, she found that parents don’t find the full page ads in magazines actionable or helpful in planning. I have to agree with that since a full page ad is often more for brand awareness. Brook suggests summer camps look at spending money on secondary platforms that link directly into the summer camp website. There are many camp databases that are like dating services for summer camps and campers. It can be hard to know which to spend money on. When you are on a limited budget, will you be better off throwing some marketing dollars into making your web site more parent friendly or should you put it on an external database site or Google ads? We all know that Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, in their early days, directed a good percent of Zappos’ marketing dollars to customer service and counted on that to generate word-of-mouth buzz. In 2009 Amazon.com acquired Zappos in a deal valued at approximately 1.2 billion dollars. I have to agree with Brook, if a parent has to dig too deeply for details about your camp, they will look elsewhere. There are just too many good options these days for parents. Do yourself a favor and do some usability testing on your camp web site to see if it is as easy as you think for a parent, unfamiliar with your camp, to actually find out information and sign-up for camp. You may be surprised. Not sure how to do usability testing? Check out the work of Steve Krug whose books Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery Made Easy will show you how to run your own usability tests and fix your web site problems. These books should be on everyone’s tech book reading list.
Another source of marketing camp directors should pay attention to is the local bloggers, podcasters, etc. In 2010 at Blog World New Media Expo, Tom Webster presented his research on the data he collected on The Current State Of Podcasting 2010. One of the points that really stuck with me me was his conclusion that local content represented the greatest opportunity for profitable podcasting. With mainstream media abandoning local communities, Tom suggested podcasters could fill the niche since people are craving hyper-local news. Eighteen months later, we have seen a rise in hyper-local blog networks. In Berkeley we have Berkeleyside and Berkeley Patch doing a fantastic job covering the community. You can bet our summer camps advertise on these sites. Your community may have a local Patch blog or mommy blogger or a local resource everyone turns to. In addition to those popular blogs, Berkeley also has an old-school text based email newsletter called Berkeley Parents Network, founded in 1993 and sent to about 30,000 subscribers nearly every day. There is even one dedicated to schools and summer camps. You can imagine how valuable this hyper-local review and information sharing tool is to parents. Brook, from CampEasy, says that camps should pay attention to other sites like these that offer action based links. Do you advertise on local blogs?
What do you think about CampEasy?
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. As the CampEasy database fills it will be more and more useful. Because the CampEasy team is based on the East Coast, they started with their local community. They are branching out. Time will tell how much traffic CampEasy sends to camp websites as they get a more solid foothold. As a camp director, you can sign-up now for free and fill-in your summer camp’s data. You definitely don’t want to be left out of this one!
As usual – if you found a typo? Email me jennselke @ gmail.com. I can’t blame autocorrect on these errors.