tl dr; consider trying fb ads and offering scheduled beginner class at meets
Not that we entirely know what we are doing, or know much of anything at all, and we have more to do, but we are seeing increased turnout and more new folks lately - I thought I'd share in case you want to try it as well or offer comments.
After noticing a multi-year slide in attendance, which was worrisome to me since I need bigger crowds so we can develop more meet directors so that I can selfishly run in more events, SMOC decided to try Facebook ads. Various AR promoters had mentioned success (eg., Bash and MarkVT) with fb ads, and the cost can be about whatever you want to try.
We started last year, with $20-$30 per meet during our spring season - this number seemed safe, since that only took 2-3 new attenders to pay for it. We formatted the ads in the following fashion:
* One targeting SMOC FB page likes, targeting the geographic areas around our map collection to people with interests like trail running and hiking etc. It features a backlit flag at sunset on a wooded peninsula with text like, "Experience your favorite parks in a whole new way - find checkpoints on trail and off"
* One targeted to a radius around each event to generate event responses, same interests of trail running, hiking, orienteering, obstacle course racing etc.
Prior to the ads, we were around 300 likes achieved organically. Eight weeks of ads in our spring season more than doubled that. Humorously, we are now creeping into the like count of mega clubs.
By 2015's end, we racked up a roughly +25% bump in starts over the previous ad-free year. (We did FB posts prior but no ads.)
What didn't work was the general audience event targeting.
So for 2016, we are continuing to run an ad for ~$15-$20 week targeting general page likes, but now the event ads are targeted to, generally, our existing fans and their friends, also for about $15-$20. Since FB only feeds any given post to something like, 5-15% of our fans, we end up paying to reach people who already have a connection, but at least it's cheap and convenient, and it's a good reminder I think. Hopefully this will allow us to get our increasing fan base out to the woods.
Then our other recent development was that instead of just offering "ask for it" instruction, we are now trying very minimal mini beginner clinics, but it's announced, scheduled, and people can sign up. We really have no idea how to do these, so perhaps our current format of: here's how a compass works, and let's walk and talk through 3-5 flags in a 500 m loop near the start, could be improved, but people seemed to like it alright and at each of the two meets without sleet, we've had over 1.5 dozen first-timers get their feet wet (figuratively), versus a teeny tiny handful of "ask and get it" instruction at previous meets.
Thanks Mr Wonderful, that is useful info. We've had a some good success with facebook ads (for Orienteering Calgary, Sogo Adventure Running, Orienteering Canada's National Orienteering Week and Canadian Orienteering Championships). Thanks for sharing your strategy. It does seem to be quite cost effective promo and not too onerous in terms of volunteer time to administer.
We've started running Intro Clinics in Calgary as a separate event and charging $20. We got 14 people the first time and 7 already signed up for the next. Not huge numbers but I think the idea of charging a fee and doing a more serious clinic is a good idea. We plan to schedule them regularly through the season
And they can be in the same place with the same material again and again. Why reinvent the wheel?
Thanks for the suggestions on targeted FB marketing.
Here in Hobart Tasmania we are getting 200+ to our summer mid-week events (many admittedly school groups), By comparison, our weekend events attract around 100, and club growth is not what we would expect from those mid-week numbers, but financially it certainly helps. The format for our mid-week events:
- pre-printed maps for all courses (we use a Fuji-Xerox C5005d) ;
- all Sportident, with custom-made security boxes for vulnerable control sites (designed so that there is no obstruction for SI cards when punching);
- organised so that P cards can be used (max 20 controls on any course);
- the same organising team for all events (having dedicated retirees is a big help!);
- custom built trailer that serves as equipment store and event centre;
- same day upload of results (not quite there with on-line results);
- multiple download stations with networked PCs to cater for peak loads (each competitor gets splits, and valid finishers get a result sticker for display at the event).
For next summer, we hope to have touch-free punching (competitors with touch-free cards get the bonus!) and on-line results, with live tracking also an option.
What I like most in the original post is that Mr Wonderful is clearly thinking about the progression a new orienteer goes through from having never heard about the sport to becoming a regular orienteer.
I agree with AZ and ndobbs about the advantages of doing a standalone clinic. I would also add that it's less overwhelming and chaotic to participants because there aren't competitive orienteers running around getting ready for a course, etc.
What AZ fails to mention when he states that the numbers are 'not huge' is that from those 14 clinic participants we had 6 sign up for a 5 week Basics and Beyond program starting a week and a half later. I don't have anything really to compare it with but that seems like a very good conversion rate to me. The key seems to be in the relative timing and offering something dedicated to that set of participants. There was clear feedback from the clinic participants that they wanted a chance to learn orienteering from instructors and not just jump in during an event and learn through trial by fire. We have 19 participants signed up for the B&B program and 7 of those 19 have pre-signed up for a second 5 week B&B 2 program which starts two weeks after the end of the first B&B program.
As I said at the beginning of my post having that clearly demarcated slow progression into the sport makes it soo much more accessible to newcomers. It will be interesting to see how this evolves as we continue to develop these programs.
And more to the main point of the original post - yes, we used facebook advertising to attract the majority of participants to the clinics and B&B programs. Definitely a very good way to go for promoting these kinds of things.
Also, Mr Wonderful, the first thing I would do is drop the compass part of the beginner clinic. Experience tells me that people learning with a compass tend to use the following process: get to a control, set a bearing to the next control, follow that bearing come hell or high water (despite the fact that they could have read the map and easily gone around that clump of prickly spruce trees making for a more enjoyable experience...).
At last week's Basics and Beyond session we focused on orienting the map. We taught them how to line the map up using the features they see around them and gave them some intruction around how to line themselves up with the map then turn until the map is oriented and they're pointing in the right direction. We sent them on a course and off they went.
Once they came back from that first course we showed them how to do the same thing with a compass and sent them on a second course. A number of them found it easier without the compass and all of them grasped the concept that the map is far more fundamental to orienteering than is the compass. As I told them. You can orienteer without a compass but you can't orienteer without a map!
A very good point about compass use. On Sunday, I observed a nice old lady spending five minutes setting the compass really carefully and then she was afraid to move off the start so as not to spoil this perfection.
Even after years of orienteering, I won my first US orienteering championship by forgetting my compass one of the days (in subtle French Creek terrain...rounded, slightly bland hills with charcoal burning platforms). I think that, when new, it's easy to trust a device like a compass over one's reading, interpreting and application of the map's information, even though the latter is usually the more robust way to navigate, even as a newcomer. Even with several years' experience, clearly I was letting the compass absorb too much of my time and attention, and benefitted from using it less. I too like to focus on map orientation over bearings when giving instruction to first timers. They'll generally have more fun and learning with a map reading experience than with a compass and pace experience, which can come later (if at all).
Sweet, thanks for the feedback, we'll try no compass this weekend. I never did pace, so no worries there.
Any time. Please keep us posted how future clinics go.
I also don't use a compass in the "Intro Clinics". There are a couple of reasons for this. But the big one is that I want to break any preconceptions that people have about the sport being "bearing and distance hike". I think it works - it focuses people on the map-reading and kind of shocks some people as I generally dismiss the value of the compass (a bit untruthfully - but I'm trying to make a point ;-)
When I do use a compass I much prefer the most simple ones possible - ideally just an arrow. Certainly no numbers around the housing. I find people catch on very quickly to aligning the map to the arrow - but that they get very distracted by the numbers if they're there.
+1 on breaking the "compass bearing sport " preconception.
With beginners, I certainly agree with the point of downplaying the role of the compass, and bearing setting has no role at this level. However I disagree with the practice throwing away the compass in this situation.
I hope everyone agrees that it is essential to teach aligning the map to fit reality. True, the prodigies can be taught to do this without a compass, and a few more can be taught this if the intro setting is extremely simple, such as next to a lake.
However for the vast majority of prospective orienteers, in typical settings, I'll assert that the simplest, least distracting way to teach map alignment is to align the map with the needle. The concept of aligning-the-map-to -the-features-you see (without compass) is lost on many prospective orienteers. At a minimum, this is an unnecessary stumbling block, and sometimes an outright barrier to joining the sport. For most beginners (adults and youngsters) map alignment with rough compass is the most direct way to get into the basic map reading.
I agree EricW - however I deliberately choose "extremely simple" locations. Heck, I even begin on air photos. I do three 15+ minute sessions:
Session 1:. Air photo - a few controls are marked on the photo. People need no assistance whatsoever with the map - they focus on what the circles mean, what they'll find in the circle, how they know they're at the correct place, etc. 5 minutes talk, 10 minutes they walk around to the controls (some dummy ones too)
Session 2. Air photo - a few controls linked together in a course. People again need no assistance - they learn to do the course in order and a bit about control descriptions. 2 minutes talking, 13 minutes them walking/running.
Session 3. Orienteering map - finally I give them an orienteering map. I point out the benefits of a map to an air photo (like, you can see the stuff thats under the trees, you can see hills, but not much more). THen I send them on a course - no instruction about what the map symbols are no talk about compasses. They naturally convert from airphoto (which they originally were very comfortable with to orienteering map which they now believe to be better than an air photo). Somewhere around this point they realize it is a race - which is always a rewarding moment for me.
After this 60 - 90 minute clinic people have experienced the joy of finding (lots of) controls, and have a really good understanding of how the sport works. Now, if they're interested, they are ready to learn all about those weird symbols on the map and how to use a compass.
That's my theory at least ;-) The goal is to give them the joy and the running immediately, and save the talk and the explanation for another day
Orienting the map to the terrain is a special case of relating the map to the terrain. If they can't do the latter, then the compass is only going to help a little (and maybe even delay the relation of map to terrain that will lead toward success), and the orienteering experience is likely to be frustrating. (I've seen even soldiers experienced in navigation come back from an orienteering course frustrated due to their dependence on compass bearings.) I agree that very obvious, distinct features help beginners relate map to terrain and vice versa. (That's also good terrain for a beginner course.) I've had reasonably good luck with teaching orienting to the terrain during beginner clinics and elsewhere. I might teach both orienting to the terrain and orienting using the compass needle, but I worry if I send beginners out without helping them relate the map to terrain, including to orient. I like Adrian's idea of using aerial photos before maps, and also the idea of teaching orienteering in a clinic separate from an event, with more time available and less stress (due to less immediately being sent out into the terrain on a standard course to sink or swim, due to having more skills by the time of attempting a course, and perhaps due to fewer anxious racers around at first).
You say "The concept of aligning-the-map-to -the-features-you see (without compass) is lost on many prospective orienteers."
I find that statement interesting because it's not something I can ever recall encountering when teaching new orienteers.
What do you mean by typical settings? To teach new orienteers this concept of 'aligning the map to the features you see" as you call it you need to do so in a simple setting. Get them to identify the major bike path they are on and the parking lot they just came from and align the one major linear feature and the obvious large / area feature. I would also note that I always have them go and explore the map before a formal attempt at orienting the map. This way they have some familiarity with it first.
I think when you get them to orient to the terrain in a very simple way first so they clearly get the concept it then makes it far easier to do in a more complex situation and I maintain that it's not worth showing them how to do this process with a compass until they've done it without one. It's super important to break the notion that the compass is fundamental to orienteering. As Pasi Ikonen has shown us it clearly isn't it.
+1. Breaking the notion that the compass is at the center of orienteering will not only help people navigate better, but fundamentally change people's notion of how fun orienteering might be. Map sport, terrain sport, not compass sport.
With the kids a couple of weeks ago, I started with a discussion, no maps or anything. Which way is north? How can one know? Etc. Eventually they come up with "with a map" (after sun, stars etc). North is on the map (map is now produced)... so how can you tell? From there it is one short step to someone saying, you have to orient the map with the terrain (not usually in those words).
After that, an exercise with cones in a grid, whenever one changes direction the map must be on the ground and so, one may hope, stays oriented.
Then onto orienteering in an area something like 50m*50m.
I also like AZ's approach.
Jim, I like your phrase: "Map sport, terrain sport, not compass sport."
Not only does it emphasize the map over the compass but it also implies the physicality of orienteering. :)
One of my running mates at work thirty years ago said "Jim, when I first heard of orienteering, I thought of it as navigational chess, but now that I hear your descriptions of events, it sounds more like mud wrestling".
How about mud-chess? or perhaps navigational wrestling?
I spoke too soon - attendance has plummeted for Class #4. Two thoughts:
* there's a demand that builds in the off season, and they make it to the first event they can, so we should just run some at the first couple meets of any season
* they heard I tried to explain compasses
Tried no compass for today's two small groups on a short 4 c loop. It did give a lot more time to explain what all was going on with the map. People from both groups later did ask me for the compass crash course - one before their yellow course, so I pointed out some tasty shortcuts to try it, and one after their yellow course - they went back out and tried some shortcuts.
The dumbest thing I did was to put a flag somewhere I hadn't scouted (printed maps before I arrived), and so it was a touch green to get up onto one hill. I imagine as we build an inventory of beginner courses for each venue, this can be avoided better. Note to self: revise 'em now!
I don't remember the weather for last year's event at this venue, but attendance was up roughly 50% over last spring's event half a map west of today's event, just comparing win splits start counts. FB ads are still adding ~40 likes per week to our audience (for ~$20/week). The per event ad photos for this week were kind of amusing since today was 65 deg F but the per event ads featured puffy coats and snow. This week I'll channel my inner JJ Abrams since I have lots of lens flare to use in next week's per event ad photos. Our score o turnouts are often a bit lower than our point-to-point, so we'll see if our latest promotion techniques counters that.
I find a lot of people ask about learning how to use the compass in beginner clinics and programs. It shows a lack of understanding of what orienteering is (that they think the compass is important and that they can learn how to set a bearing from orienteering - which, of course, we never do). This lack of understanding is driven by poor education of the general public - education that we need to provide.
Going back a step though I still think it's better to teach the map reading first, and then have them as for a compass crash course then teach them the compass and have them go merrily on their way because they have learned what they think they need to learn.
To some degree it's not poor education, but promotion by compass manufacturers, one of whom promoted orienteering as a trademark for their compass, or who show a compass in an ad about knowing where you are in the wilderness. (Not sure how it helps with the latter unless you know how to read a map.) But focusing on map first (and downplaying the compass a bit at first) is likely to make for much happier novice orienteers, with better early experiences, from what I've seen. The person who leaves the start area focused on their compass looks uncertain and apprehensive already, while the person who associates the map to terrain and/or vice-versa is a lot happier and keener, when I'm sitting at start watching.
+1000 for teaching map before compass.
Not only does it more closely match the reality of navigating, but it also makes the sport more approachable, AND, long-term, you're more likely to understand how the compass works on a deeper level by learning to orient the map by matching it to the terrain first.
Fine Jim have it your way ;)
It's not poor education but the fact that we're being out-educated by the compass manufacturers.
One bezel to rule them all. I guess this thread has been fully hijacked as the compass-skeptic thread.
One bezel to rule them all. I guess this thread has been fully hijacked as the compass-skeptic thread.
I thought the more interesting part might be the advertising, but this is a compass-oriented or rather not compass-oriented crowd!
The advertising part was quite interesting. (Just thread drift. I actually do use a compass (just find the map more central and rewarding, and a better focus for beginners and for advertising).)
I was also most looking forward to the Facebook advertising aspect of this, rather then the compass vs no compass discussion ...!
I was also most looking forward to the Facebook advertising aspect of this
OK, to return to topic, what are the thoughts about those of us whom don't use Facebook (not liking a medium that seems to collect information in greater depth than the NSA, trawling through nearly everything one does online, with essentially non-existent opt-outs). Are any of the alternatives like Google ads viable?
I would like to know if anyone has any experience with quantifying successful Facebook advertising, proactively or perhaps retroactively. Especially with orienteering or other types of similar events
And if you are not on FB you may have a friend/relative that uses it.
I don't know -- we just had two meets in a row with over 100 people attending, I do not think it ever happened before, and I see the same crowd showing up again and again, so FB is definitely working really well.
I do not think this is just ads -- MrW got the whole social media campaign going with posts/photos/videos etc. That is, if you just create a vanilla page with the club name and advertise that, it may not work that well without the rest.
what are the thoughts about those of us whom don't use Facebook
Ironically, Mr. W does not have a personal facebook, but he runs the SMOC group page and does an amazing job.
Like guskov mentioned, in addition to the ads, in the week leading up to each meet he posts interviews with meet directors, route choice snipets from some of the top racers from the previous meet, pictures of the park with or without flags hung, video from one of the controls etc. That way when people click the ad to get to the SMOC page, they have all sorts of interesting and recent stuff to look through.
Mr. Wonderful: you are concentrating on the beginners, but maybe it is the intermediates who could more training more than the beginners.
I see intermediate training as an enormous need in my area. There are a number of beginners happily going around trails, and several advanced super keeners, but quite a number seem to be struggling in that gap. One problem may be that terrain selection for mapping has (here and other places I've lived) focused on super technical terrain, or on urban parks, but not so much on the in between. The maps of my youth offered lots of intermediate navigation. ..big Drumlins, some walls, trail networks through forest, streams. ..but not so much recently. The club has started scheduling training events due to the high demand. Having opportunities for people to move along from beginner to intermediate to expert is probably as important as attracting more newcomers.
Having opportunities for people to move along from beginner to intermediate to expert is probably as important as attracting more newcomers.
+1 Jim Baker
re: Facebook advertising vs compass discussion... You can spend on all the money in the world on advertising but if you don't the right product it's not going to do you much good.
Train the intermediates
I recognize a need to develop our yellows to oranges and our oranges to B/G/R (in part because more experts means more hosts means more meets for me!), but I'm not sure how to do it. We are slightly better at developing less veteran G/R types, because some will find a way into the streamer clique and we screw around a lot in the offseason (mostly thanks to guskov's prolific streamering).
One idea was to whet the beginner demand, and then do a pre meet Y->O or O->+ at the current beginner lesson time slot - that time gives us good access to additional instructors if needed (keeps resources low).
Control pickup could perhaps be a good fit for it - casual, conversational. We could try a sign up to join-an-expert.
Also, I swear as written in the setting guidelines, the jump from yellow or orange is the biggest jump, more so than O to B/G/R/B. Is it time for Y+ or O-? If we tried it, would anyone do it?
Most of the folks are brave enough to do Orange and Green anyway.
I think it's more about trying to keep Orange within guidelines, I like "the key to Orange is safety" one, and thinking about my wife when she's out there doing Orange.
Looking at splits, many fail, but then many of those subscribe to the notion that they have the constitutional right to do the course out of order whatever the map says.
Would be interesting to offer a short "non-beginner" training session before some meets. Any suggestions on that would be great.
Looking at splits, many fail,
I'll take the opportunity to repeat my call for a change in the rules of orienteering - as the change is designed exactly to make the sport more fun for these people (by eliminating the "fail").
My proposed rule:
* whoever gets the most controls in the right order wins.
* in the case of a tie, who ever gets the controls in the least amount of time wins.
Nobody fails. No difference to experienced orienteers.
Personally and just MHO, but no one should be using the word "fail".
OTOH, I don't think we need to dumb down the sport and give everyone a "win". If you don't want to follow the rules, OK, but don't expect a prize or a thumbs up from me. If you get lost for a bit, skip a control, whatever, you made a mistake. It happens. Try again.
As for the Orange course, I think it should be teaching route choices and attackpoints. So, take your green course, identify the nearby big features for each control, and lay out the orange course to those points...top of hill, end of swamp, big re-entrant, wall corner. Easy to find points but which require some thought on the best way to get to them.
This gives the Orange course a teachable purpose, and moves the orienteer from the basics of route choices on yellow to the more complex and longer routes of the elite courses and introduces attackpoints in the forest.
As for the compass, I use mine a lot, it's faster and easier than reading the map ;)
But I agree that introducing the map first is important for beginners, and being able to orient it to the surrounding features.
Ah, sorry, nobody failed indeed, everybody had fun and appeared on winsplits
. And there is no word 'fail' anywhere on that page.
@ MrWonderful indeed control collection is a very useful training tool to boost nav knowledge, especially with an 'expert'. However most newcomers come early to events, mostly spend less than 45 minutes out on a course and the wait to have yet more time (say about 3 hr) out in the bush is stretching a friendship. That is more likely to benefit those with developing knowledge - the intermediates.
@guskov - our club offers newcomer introduction which includes the admin as well as map intro and a small amount of supervised course time. I also ensure they are introduced to at least 2 other people (or a family) so that they are known as newcomers and are made welcome. This is done at every club event, whether it is comp or training. There are designated training days (3-4 hours) in terrain targetting certain aspects (graduating to next level or a specific skill eg contouring). While newcomers would always be welcome this is more for the "not first time" runner. These happen 2-4 times in the main (bush) season.
On a very separate topic - I think a challenge we face is on 2 fronts - TIME (its both of them!). Increasingly our newcomers find us through our Summer Series which are Sprint/urban/park events which last no more than 45 mins. These are mostly held midweek after work - so very little incursion into valuable family or personal time. Get there, do it, go. Hey can even go out for dinner afterwards.
The other rising areas are the adventure races - either ultra long running only in woodland or (very) commercial adventure/mud/obstacle runs usually in team format. These are seducing our orienteers who are getting "used" to same maps etc and want a variation.These events require a whole day, costs a lot more and many more (epic) stories to tell. Unsubstantiated anecdotes seem to be the 'resentment' of spending a 'whole' day and 2-4 hour travel for just a 1 hour run. I try to balance it by pointing out the benefits of whole family, no matter age or fitness, in the same place at the same time.
Alright, next woodsy meet we'll try a modest intermediate training (that venue has good terrain close enough to the start).
One thing we've been doing that might benefit intermediates is to share some route strategy on FB, just doing a quickroute snippet and annotating it with some decision/execution points and why the person did what or didn't do whatever. It doesn't take very long, and we've had good response (decent like / reach count) on them.
Visual look at the SMOC like count. Phase = paid ads during this time frame ($15/week in 2015 when active, now $20/week when active), otherwise it's organic.
I don't think my suggested rule change dumbs down the sport at all - in fact it doesn't change it in any significant way (for the existing orienteers). The winner will still be the person that gets all of the controls in the specified order in the least amount of time. No prizes for not getting all the controls. The only difference is that if you don't get all the controls you are no longer DQ'ed - because everyone knows that is a fail no matter how you say it.
My proposed rule change is good because it is so easy to implement (just some work in the timing software ;-). One way in particular it is good is that it does not lean on course planners to provide "suitable" courses for this group of people we're trying to move from beginner to expert. I find our course planners already struggle (in general) to meet the needs of the various categories of participants.
I think Mr W. has demonstrated that we can get more beginners to try the sport (our club has seen this too). And now the challenge is going to be to keep them interested. There are lots of challenges there for sure, but we basically have to be "kinder" to people at that stage - and eliminating DQs is a simple step to do that.
BTW: Our club has experimented with offering a multi-week "Beyond the Basics" course and charging around $100 for it. This seems to address the needs of a subset of those people. So we have a 2 hour "Intro Clinic" ($20) and a 6 week (?) "Beyond the Basics" follow on ($100+)
@AZ - given those charges for your courses, does your club compensate the instructor?
Since AZ brought it up...
Our progression that seems to be promising (this is the first season we are trying it this way) is to offer one of AZ's brilliantly simple Intro Clinics (2 courses on an air photo and then a course on an orienteering map) followed a short time later by a 5-week Basics and Beyond program. After the first Basics and Beyond program we are offering another Intro Clinic (so participants in the first Clinic and B&B program can suggest their friends can try it after they had so much fun). Following the 2nd Clinic we are offering another Basics and Beyond program as well as a Basics and Beyond 2 program at the same time.
The idea is that there are several entry points for complete newcomers. They can start with either of the Intro Clinics or either of the B&B 1 programs. At the same time there is always an easy next step for them to progress to. After the clinic they can choose to participate in a B&B 1 program (5 weeks for $75) starting a short while later while the fun of the clinic is still on their mind. If they enjoy the program they can choose to continue for another 5 weeks for the B&B 2 program for $50. By the time they have finished one or both B&B programs they should have the confidence to try some races / events.
We plan on offering this progression of courses on a rolling basis and introducing an intermediate level program in the fall. I think it's super important to offer coached programs for people and not just expect them to figure it out on their own by trial and error / talking with experienced orienteers when they can break into a conversation.
Basics and Beyond details
The skills that we teach are based on the work from Orienteering Canada's Athlete Development Matrix project
If a family with a mix of -14 & 15+ children wants to participate together, how do you deal with the -14s?
@GuyO - The Intro Clinic works quite well for families, so no problem. If they want to continue, then send the kids to SOGO ;-)
@SmittyO - we have hired a club "Head Coach" to organize the trainings and do promo (that'd be Canadian) - and usually the clinics are given by volunteers.
This discussion thread is closed.