Elastic Lab Project: Engaging An Audience Through A Shared Digital Experience
Peter Panda

Tale As Old As Time

Gather round the campfire boys and girls, I have a story to tell of Elasticity’s latest Elastic Lab project. What is Elastic Lab? It’s our test center. Ever have a crazy idea that you think just might work? We have lots, but we like to test them out ourselves instead of gambling with a client’s time, money and reputation. With that said, let the story begin, ahem:

Once upon a time, I was/am/always will be very involved in a nonprofit called Camp Ondessonk. I often found myself remarking how powerful the “Camp O” online community was, mostly on Facebook. There was an affinity and a sense of community built into the conversations about this beloved place and experience of summer camp.

Then one day, I was stuck in a stranger’s office all day on a Saturday with no internet. And thus, Ondessonk Online was born.


What Does That Even Mean?

In order to generate nostalgia, educate the community about the brand’s current status and activities, and to create brand ambassadors to accomplish marketing and development goals, I designed a program that simulated a week of summer camp, taking place purely through the normal functions of Facebook and Twitter. Also, just to see if it would work.

I gathered volunteer “camp counselors” and put together a schedule of events. The program aimed to meld together two concepts:

  • What would camp look like if it took place virtually?; and
  • How can people engage with the Camp Ondessonk brand online?

Registration was announced on Camp Ondessonk’s Facebook and Twitter, sent out in one enewsletter, and spread by word of mouth. Just by that small bit of outreach, 214 campers signed up. They requested their friends and their favorite cabins to stay in, and I stayed up all night trying to weave the web that a very specially-built camp database software normally does to determine cabin assignments. Hooray!

Let the Great Experiment Begin!

As the week progressed, I giggled over the execution of camplike online activities (go canoeing, try your hand at archery, or cast your vote in the online tug-of-war) and closely monitored the execution of the online brand engagement (like the 9 filtered Yelp reviews that are glowing but will never see the light of day because they aren’t regular Yelp users, whoops, or 25 clicks on Ondessonk’s Amazon Wishlist, yay!)
More interesting was the sheer number of creative executions that I did NOT dictate. Campers altered the words to the normal camp cheers to be more “digital”, they held Skype meetup sessions to discuss strategy, they tweeted to one another to discuss whether they should choose a virtual kayak or canoe.


By the Numbers

At the end of the day, we had some results to stand by. When asked on a post-program survey what prompted campers to sign up, 24% chose “I love camp”, 18% chose “I wanted to feel camp spirit”, and 13% chose “I wanted to get back in touch with Camp Ondessonk”. Although most admitted they had no idea what to expect,

  • 84% agreed that they felt like part of a larger community
  • 48% made a new friend that week
  • 50% learned something new about Camp Ondessonk that week
  • 84% felt some degree of nostalgia during the program
  • 85% tried something new that week
  • 83% affirmed that they were able to have a “Camp Ondessonk” experience online

Within social media, 58% of the page’s new likes came from a page suggestion during that timeframe. Ondessonk’s weekly total reach on FB went up more than 3.8 times, and one Facebook question (tug of war) garnered 82,085 impressions in a day. Twitter followers spiked; many campers signed up for the social channel just to participate in the program. Visits to www.ondessonk.com were up 20% as compared to the same time period last year.

Did this first experiment result in massive donations or a wild spike in registrations? No. But the stats above and screenshots below make it pretty clear that this lab test was worth trying. Look out for Ondessonk Online 2013 where we continue to challenge the interwebs to create this kind of spirit and engagement with 1s and 0s.

Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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