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Camping Community: A Natural for Social Media

July 29, 2010 by   - () 1 Comment

After Robyn Chilson, owner of Brookdale Campground, Meadville, Pa., attended the International Association of Music Parks and Attractions and heard Peter Shankman one of the founding fathers of Google speak, she came home and started using social media, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

“My followers grow every week and I’m getting new fans,” Chilson told Woodall’s Campground Management. “Because I’m putting our campground in all of these different mediums, it adds a lot of exposure.”

Chilson tweets specials and sales on Twitter and knows it’s working because people often come to her campground asking for the specials they learned about through Twitter.

Chilson also posts Brookdale’s site availability.

“For instance say we’re almost full for July 4,” she explained in early June. “I will send a message encouraging people to book now if they haven’t already. All of that free advertising just comes right back to the business. It provides you a direct connection to the customer at no cost. To me that is huge.”

Chilson is one of a small but growing number of RV park and campground owners and operators who are using social media to their advantage.

Of course, the camping and RVing community is one of America’s largest organic social networks, having naturally developed long before the invention of personal computers, laptops and smart phones, let alone fax machines and CD players. Now, many tech-savvy parks owners and operators are learning to Tweet their commercial messages.

The powerful new form of communication – now commonly referred to as “Twitter” — lets cell phone users send 140-character updates to their “followers.” Twitter is a mini-blog that asks the question: “What are you doing right now?” It’s essentially designed as a quick update on what is going on in real time. Twitters and Tweets are the actual posts.

Some may wonder – why on earth does anyone – other, perhaps, than one’s best friend — care that they’re getting ready to cook dinner, go shopping or play with their kids? For business people like campground operators, however, Twitter can be a powerful marketing tool.

In other words, Twitter is not just for tween-agers, or teen-agers. Take it from Evanne Schmarder, full-time RVer, professional speaker, writer, editor, foodie, WCM columnist and host of the RV Cooking Show.

Instead of simply answering the literal question about what one is doing, Schmarder, head of Roadabode Productions says businesses can use Twitter to spread useful information about their industry, their followers’ interests and their specific business. But only a small percentage of campground owners use Twitter to date, partly due to the fact there are so many online marketing tools vying for their attention.

“I encourage park owners to get involved in a conversation,” she said. “The conversation is happening whether or not they choose to join, so why not get in the mix of it and start to share some of your influence.”

In a business atmosphere campground owners will want to tell people things that are pertinent and valuable — things that will make a difference in their customers’ lives.

“The way you will attract followers is to tweet about park upgrades, amenities, discounts, theme weekends, events, anything the consumer will want to hear something about,” Schmarder said. “It’s important that the business owner includes a link to their web site in their Twitter post. If they don’t provide some place for the customer to go, then they probably won’t take that extra step to find them.”

But park owners need to look at this as a relationship platform, not a sales platform, she stressed. And she suggests that they Tweet frequently, but not too frequently, at least a couple of times a week. “Remember, people choose to follow (and unfollow) you,” she said. “No one wants running ad commentary. You’ve got to make it valuable to your followers. A pretty good ratio might be three relationship tweets to one sales tweet.”

Schmarder pointed out that it is easy to get lost in the stream the more people a follower is following. “If I follow 100 people,” she adds, “I have to look through all of their tweets and it’s easy to glaze over the ones that don’t provide any value, but I’ll stick to the ones that provide value to my life,” she said.

Schmarder: Taking the First Steps with Twitter

To get started using Twitter, visit www.Twitter.com and set up an account. Schmarder suggests that people consider choosing user names and passwords that are somehow relatable and catchy. Once set up, park owners can sit back and observe discussions.

“Use the search box and look for terms relevant to your business. Chances are those will be RV, RVing, RV parks, camping, campgrounds, etc.,” Schmarder said.

“Search for people you know, me for instance – “RV Cooking Show” or the highly popular Yosemite Pines RV, and take a look at their posts and follower/following lists. Select Tweople you’d like to follow and click on the “follow” button. You’ll begin seeing their updates on your home page. Chances are they’ll follow you back (and see your updates on their home page).”

Schmarder warns against looking to a teenage neighbor or intern since they more than likely understand the realm of Twitter. “Certainly I would let them help me set up my page, but this is a marketing message, this isn’t idle chat,” she said. “Just leaving it to a college kid is a mistake. Having them help you is wise, but having them run the program is not a successful strategy.”

If a park owner finds they cannot devote the time to Twitter, they can always turn to social media marketing professionals.

Here is a sample of what other parks are doing.

Ocean Lakes Family Campground

Ocean Lakes Family Campground, Myrtle Beach, S.C., embraces social media and all that it does for its business. The park has actively been involved in two of the popular social media sites — Twitter and Facebook — since 2009.

“In the beginning, we focused more on Facebook simply because it worked for our industry and our guests, and we were able to see the positive results from it,” explained Rachel Streets, marketing assistant and events coordinator. “Twitter, on the other hand, was freighting, and our tactics didn’t seem to be beneficial at first, that is until we learned the secrets.

“We were trying to use Twitter like we were using Facebook to start conversations and interactions with our guests, ultimately providing better customer service and positive PR for our company’s brand,” added Streets. “However, Twitter does not work like this. Twitter only allows you to use 140 characters to get your point across, however, so it is very difficult to carry on a conversation in only two sentences. We then learned that for our business, the best way to utilize Twitter is to use it to gather media attention and publicity.”

Ocean Lakes’ view: Since the media uses Twitter extensively to find stories to report on, may as well give them what they’re looking for.

“The key is to push out fun and interesting information about your campground so the media will see it and report about it,” she said. “We have seen where it has worked by tracking how many times we are mentioned on Twitter in a given week, which averages about 15 times per week. There may not necessarily be 15 stories about us a week, but the more your name is seen, the more likely it is remembered.”

Ocean Lakes also follows all of the major and local media sources.

“This is great because the more media you follow, the more likely they are to follow you, which means they are interested in your company and what it has to say,” Streets noted. “All and all, Twitter has really become a beneficial tool for generating more publicity for our campground, and, really, who couldn’t use more positive publicity?”

High Plains Camping Teaches Social Media

Mary Arlington, CPO, High Plains Camping, Oakley, Kan., teaches classes on social networking and has held the hands of many campground owners as she’s coached them through learning about it.

“Some refer to me affectionately as the ‘Queen of Social Networking’ while others call me their ‘Facebook Angel,’” she said. “For me, High Plains Camping can’t imagine life without these tools. Most seem to prefer Facebook, but I’ve actually achieved my highest ROI from Twitter. Between Facebook and Twitter, more RVers found the park on Twitter and then began checking out the information on Facebook, the blog and the main website.”

Has she made a million through social media?

“Heck no,” she says. “Far more still find me through all the traditional avenues, but my web stats show Twitter and Facebook to be in the top 10 for referrals,” she said. “My occupancy has skyrocketed and my prepaid, online reservations have doubled over last year, which was also off the charts compared to previous years.”

Arlington also commented on the “free-ness” of social media.

“I haven’t received any invoices but I’ve used an enormous amount of my computer background, a great deal of my marketing background, a whole lot of my love for my campers, and loads of my free time,” she said. “What is free time? The tiny snippets of time which exist between the RV’s pulling up the driveway, the phone ringing, the door opening, the employees coming in, and the emails flowing in, cleaning, admin, outdoors work, and all that we park owners do every day.

“I literally squeeze it in,” adds Arlington. “If you aren’t efficient with time, proficient with marketing, enthusiastic about people, and sufficiently skilled in Internet usage, Twitter and other forms of social networking might not be for you. For the rest of us, we’re happy to have the attention of the millions who use Twitter.”

Lake Rudolph Campground Is Fairly New to Twitter

Lake Rudolf Campground and RV Resort in Santa Claus, Ind., is fairly new to Twitter.

“We just started our account last year,” said Laura Barker, public relations/web media coordinator. “What I found is that it’s a great medium for us to get out behind-the-scenes information to our campers. It’s a good way to give them updates, even when we’re closed for the season. That is also something that generates interest. We’re only a little over 200 followers, but in the past month I’ve noticed more of our followers re-tweeting and also mentioning us when they’re here. That’s nice to see. We also use Twitter for our local media. It’s a great way for us to keep in touch with them.”

For more helpful advice visit www.campgroundsuccess.com If you’d like to read Evanne Schmarder’s tweets, visit twitter.com/rvcookingshow. For Ocean Lakes, visit twitter.com/oceanlakes. A few Twitter sites of interest include twitter.com/camping_usa, twitter.com/Camping Zone, wefollow.com/twitter/camping.

Comments

One Response to “Camping Community: A Natural for Social Media”

  1. Pamela Wright on August 3rd, 2010 8:13 am

    When reading this article both online and in the print edition, I noticed that Peter Shankman was credited with being a founding father of something called Google Speak.

    Peter Shankman was one of the key forces behind AOL News, not Google. While this may not seem to be a major point, it does, unfortunately, bring in to question the validity of the balance of the piece.

    Verifying facts before reporting them is more critical now than ever before.

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