What A Camp Counselor Can Teach You about Social Media

Today's column channels some fun camp memories. I was walking through Madison Square Park on the way to work and saw a woman with two kids in matching blue t-shirts, and suddenly I was back – metaphorically – at Beth El. One personally gratifying experience in writing this was realizing how many of those memories have crystallized and how vivid they still are – even dating back to the initial orientations when I was 13.

Here's the post, originally in MediaPost's Search Insider:

What A Camp Counselor Can Teach You about Social Media

One of the hardest jobs I ever had was working as a day camp
counselor, spending eight summers straight at Beth El Summer Session in New
Rochelle, NY. While it's been a few years since I wore a T-shirt and swimsuit
to work every day, seeing all the kids home from camp swarming around Madison
Square Park this week brought back a few memories. It also made me realize how
relevant a lot of what I learned in that job is to what I'm doing now.

Here are some of the lessons I still carry with me. They should be
especially relevant to social marketing practitioners today.

1)   Don't
feed your campers soggy chips.
This is more or less a direct
quote from Jack Gruenberg, who ran the Counselor in Training program with his
wife Sandy when I worked at the camp. The literal meaning was to avoid giving
campers anything that you wouldn't want to eat yourself. I'd amend this today to
"Don't feed your clients soggy chips." Think of yourself in their
situation with their specific goals and needs. You should only present them
with ideas and work product that you'd in turn be happy with. And just as kids
know when they're getting a raw deal, clients can smell a dud right away. In
both circumstances, you risk hurting your credibility.

2)   Plan
ahead.
Before the summer started, counselors and parents
received group schedules that had a plan for every day of the week and an
overview of what the entire summer would look like. So much of social media
feels reactive to the point where plans get lost too easily, but developing
editorial calendars can be so helpful for just about any content-rich program
you're running, whether it's a Facebook Page, Twitter, blog, video production
or syndication program, or digital word-of-mouth marketing.

3)   Keep
a rainy-day schedule handy.
Rainy-day schedules and backup
indoor activities were always on-hand. Some days schedules shifted indoors due
to heat advisories (though those days, as a bonus, they served delicious fruit
punch that my five-year-old campers called "blood"). It's hard to
tell when New Yorkers should carry umbrellas, and it's hard to tell what brands
will come under fire. Really, did you ever think that Whole Foods' CEO, a
hippie who started his company in Austin, would irk liberals so much that
they'd stage a boycott against his company? And the poor Domino's Pizza CEO had
to publicly apologize for a brand hijack by two of his own employees, something
that could happen to any business owner. As a counselor, especially when I
became group leader, I had to put those rainy-day plans into action FAST — if
you've worked with a group of 20 kindergarteners, mommy bloggers seem tame by
comparison. You have to have a plan for those days to make sure you can execute
on it if you have to. Know who's in charge, who can respond, and what communication
channels you have available.

4)   Run
headcounts often.
If I had 20 kids in my group, I'd probably
count to 20 a hundred times a day (after a few days I got pretty good at it).
What marketers need to keep track of is their assets they can use for social
marketing, what 360i's
Social Marketing Playbook
refers to as a brand's arsenal. Know what you
have to work with inside and out — then you'll get a pretty good idea of what
you can do with it.

5)   Get
down to eye level.
During staff orientation, Julie Rockowitz,
who ran the program when I was there and still does so today, urged all
counselors to get down to eye level with the children. Someone who's
five-foot-something looks pretty distant and imposing to someone who's
three-foot-something, but crouching down and talking eye to eye eliminates that
issue. The same is true when communicating with others through social media,
whether it's a customer or an influencer. You can still use your own voice and
be yourself, but you need to use them in the way that's appropriate to the
platform you're using, eliminating any barriers between you and your audience.

6)   Get
wet.
Counselors had to wear their swimsuits every day, even
days that started out rainy. This rule was made partially for safety reasons,
but also to encourage counselors to swim with their campers and share their
experiences. Marketers and agencies similarly need to swim where their
customers swim. You might not always feel like swimming and sometimes the water
will be freezing, but the only way to really develop a meaningful experience is
to know what it's like firsthand. Most of the time you'll find it's more fun
hanging out in the pool rather than sitting on your towel.

7)   Have
fun.
There were so many rules and regulations as a counselor
that it was easy to complain. But the job meant getting paid to run around
outdoors, hang out with a bunch of mostly pretty entertaining kids, and work
decent hours. Now the hours are much longer, the pay's a bit better, and some
clients are every bit as demanding as the most attention-hogging campers, but
it's still a fun way to make a living. Anyone who's in this field has to take a
second to remember that every day, no matter how hectic it is.

Thank you Julie, Jack, Sandy, the hundreds of other staff I had
the pleasure of working with, and the children in the Barracudas, Whales,
Sunfish, Blue Jays, All-Stars, and Batmen. You all taught me far more than I
could ever capture here.

2 thoughts on “What A Camp Counselor Can Teach You about Social Media

  1. David, Very appropriate post as my daughter just got home from what she described as the best 8 weeks of her life! I love the parallels between being a camp counselor and social media. Didn’t we play you guys in intercamp games?

  2. Great article Dave – as a fellow camp counselor (albeit at a different camp), I can definitely relate!
    Would love to have seen something mentioned about how games of Gaga relate! (Hopefully I’m not the only one who played that at summer camp.)

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