I am often asked if camps should use Tumblr, the popular blogging platform. Tumblr includes social tools that make it easy to post photos, videos, and short text entries, and "reblog" content between separate Tumblr blogs. Tumblr blogs exist outside of an organization's official website.
Usually my response is that camps should instead focus on developing a standard blog integrated within their official website. Blogs are great tools for sharing updated content and can be the "hub" for a camp's communications across online channels. Great blogs provide content for social media channels; increase traffic to the website; and improve search engine optimization (SEO) of the website (that is, blogs help your website be listed more prominently in Google searches). I highly recommend a regularly updated blog on every camp website as a central tool in the camp's communications toolbox.
However, every online channel must be considered as part of the organization's overall communications strategy. Should we create a Pinterest account? Instagram? What about Twitter? The answer always comes down to your goals, your audience, and your resources. Can the channel help you reach your goals? Is your target audience active on that channel? Do you have the resources available to maintain your presence on that channel? If the answer is yes to all three of these questions, then go for it!
The Camp Na'aleh Tumblr
For Habonim Dror Camp Na'aleh, three campers launched a Tumblr this past fall with these ideas in mind. The camp has struggled in recent years with enrollment, so recruitment is of utmost importance. Camp Na'aleh Executive Director Adam Benmoise explained that that these three campers - Dena Miller, Bailey Kushinsky, Micaela Beigel - were part of the group aging out of camp. This group is tasked with promoting camp to replace their numbers. This includes direct recruitment of children and families they already know or teaching after-school Hebrew at their synagogue to engage with other potential campers. The Tumblr is a direct extension of these promotional efforts.
"Their main goal is to tell people why Na'aleh is so great, and Tumblr allows us to tell our story,… a way to engage current campers and increase enrollment of new campers," Adam explained.
Tumblr allows the audience to submit content and easily share it across channels. And these three campers - Dena, Bailey, and Micaela - were passionate about sharing their love of camp using the Tumblr.
In just a few months, without specifically asking for submissions, campers and alumni have sent in more than 20 posts (text, videos, and photos). The team has also received (and answered) nearly a dozen submitted questions, including "Why should I send my child to Na'aleh?" and "What makes Na'aleh different?" Is anyone reading this content? Yes! The number of views on the Tumblr is over 10,000 (and counting).
So why has this young Tumblr been so successful?
Connecting to Camp Na'aleh's Values
Camp Na'aleh empowers its campers to take a leadership role at camp. These three campers took that responsibility further to create and manage the Tumblr. As Dena explained in an email, "Because Na'aleh is part of a youth movement, we feel a lot of pride and ownership that lends itself to taking on responsibility." This connection to the camp's values is crucial to ensuring its message resonates with its audience. And Camp Na'aleh would not have the resources available to maintain this project without the help of these volunteers.
Their passion for camp is the driving force behind this effort. "The possibility of changing a kid's life by bringing them to Na'aleh is a big motivator for me," Dena said. "I love Na'aleh because my identity is there, my roots are there... and my friends are there." "It is [an] overwhelming urge to share my passion with unsuspecting strangers that enables me to put so much thought, energy, and love into [the project]," said Micaela. [We] took on the responsibility of this blog because [we] love Na'aleh, and [we] believe in what we create there. We have struggled for so long, and I know that we just need a chance to prove it to the people who do not understand."
Bailey explains why they created the Tumblr in her own words in this welcome post.
It is free to create a Tumblr. But time and effort are required to make an effective Tumblr. The Camp Na'aleh Tumblr was created and is managed by Bailey, Dena, and Micaela. Adam Benmoise, the camp's Executive Director, does have the ability to moderate the Tumblr in case something inappropriate is posted, but the three campers are ultimately managing the content.
All three campers help curate content. They find stories from camp and match them with photos and videos. They also seek out new content. "We go to ken events (year-long Na'aleh meet-ups) where we videotape kids telling their own Na'aleh stories," Dena said. Once the content is submitted or collected, it must be sorted and tagged on the Tumblr for easy searching and categorization. Finally, each of them is responsible for moderating submitted content before posting it to the Tumblr.
Some tasks are more specialized. Bailey used her design and coding experience to create the banner, graphics, and overall layout of the Tumblr. Dena handles most of the communications. She reached out to camp staff like Adam and the Ken Roshim (Na'aleh annual event organizers) to ensure the project's success. And she will be reaching out to parents and alumni to further promote the Tumblr. Micaela spends her time creating and editing content for the Tumblr.
The camp has promoted the Tumblr on Facebook, in their monthly eNewsletter, and in their printed materials to connect with their current audience. A link to the Tumblr will eventually be added to their website. They are also planning targeted Facebook ads to potential parents to drive traffic to the Tumblr with different landing pages for different goals.
Check out the Camp Na'aleh Tumblr to see the content that is causing the buzz.
How does Camp Na'aleh plan to continue to find great content for the Tumblr? Dena says:
The Tumblr works especially well for Na'aleh because we are a youth group and a summer camp. We see each other for Hebrew dancing, Purim parties, and Shabbat dinners all year long. When we realized we needed to better represent younger campers on the Tumblr, we started videotaping them at these events. We talked to campers about submitting and I found kids in each age group to spread the word to their friends on Facebook and by [word-of-mouth].
We use the [monthly] kens to film traditions, [hold] interviews with some of the younger kids, and to ask the older kids to submit content. We try and get them thinking about multiple types of prompts. Not just, "Why is Na'aleh great?" but encouraging [them] to submit their favorite camp memory, a reflection on their time at Na'aleh, how certain activities work, their most enjoyable special day, [and] why Na'aleh is unique.
The campers realize the Tumblr is a "work in process" and are all a bit surprised at the incredible reach of the Tumblr already. But they have put processes in place to ensure a vibrant channel for the long-term.
All this great content will eventually be used in other channels, too. Videos and photos can be shared on Facebook or in the eNewsletter. There are plans to describe the daily schedule in more detail on the website; many of the videos on the Tumblr will be used for this purpose.
In this way, the Tumblr will be leveraged like a traditional blog. Integrating channels is important to promote your camp's great content and share this content more efficiently.
Despite the early success of the Tumblr, Micaela sees exposure as their greatest obstacle. She explained:
We always intended for this blog to be used as a tool in [the recruitment] of campers. What we want in the long run is for our blog to come up as a top result in common Google searches like "Jewish summer camps, New York." …We want [the Tumblr] to be the thing that convinces parents [Camp Na'aleh] is the right place for their child.
This is great insight into the effectiveness of social channels. Yes, 10,000 (and counting!) views of the Tumblr is a very good start in engaging existing and potential families. And the curation of new content to share the core values of Camp Na'aleh is really important.
But the real measure that will matter is the number of new enrollments at Camp Na'aleh. Remember to create goals for all of your communications efforts that see a measurable impact in real life for your camp, not just online. Stay tuned for HD Na'aleh's recruitment results!