All club managers would surely agree: It’s important to engage and interact with club members – to create that sense of 3rd space in their lives (Home, Work and Club). However, with the ever-growing availability of online tools and internet technology, what is really practical and what exactly would it involve? For the highest return in the shortest time and based on my own personal experiences, allow me to put forward three suggestions:
1. “People feel ENGAGED with a brand when it INVOLVES them” (make your website more interactive)
25% of search results for the world’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content. This is important. Power is shifting away from fabricated brands towards connected consumers (communities). Clubs MUST start involving members in on-going two-way and member-to-member conversations, yet look across the websites of many clubs and there’s minimal visitor interaction (e.g. a 2D brand instead of 3D). An improvement is as simple as using a blog platform for ease of publishing, interaction and SEO purposes, but designing it to still look and feel like a website. Then just add contests, challenges, surveys, club and local area latest news, member point of views and member photos. This does not necessarily mean corresponding with everyone; just managing what is most pertinent to your brand. Overall it means adapting from “trying to directly sell” to “making meaningful connections”, from running “marketing campaigns” to “small daily acts”, from “controlling your brand or club image” to “being perceived as genuinely caring”, from being “hard to reach” to “available everywhere 24/7”.
2 “Don’t change the game, evolve the game” (add outreach initiatives to your marketing mix)
Most UK clubs have now got very efficient internal systems which control day-to-day operations. So the big opportunity to gain a competitive advantage is what I term “outreach initiatives”. Most clubs are sitting on a goldmine, if only they realised! They have so many of the pieces in place: A strong recognised brand, excellent facilities, enthusiastic and willing staff, big multi-channel databases (email, mobile numbers, physical addresses), track records etc. yet continue to rely on expensive and increasingly less effective old-school marketing tactics.
Instead now is the time to start building up your You Tube Channel, your library of exercise videos and club info-commercials to build your club’s online presence in general. Why? Because YouTube is the default player for web video, mobile devices and soon TVs. For instance, some groups have internal TV channels; why are they not streaming that online too?
Just think… What if studio class members wrote favourable comments on your club’s Facebook Fanpage Wall after classes? What if all their friends/contacts on FB saw these comments? What if Google searches brought up these amazing comments? What if positive comments appeared throughout Twitter and You Tube too? Think that would be a good thing….?!
This can happen with a well-designed “member loop” (Website, Member Database, Facebook Fanpage, You Tube Channel + Twitter) or “keep in touch” system. The number one source of club referrals is from existing clients and the people they know. This means remaining visible through constant communication. In an age where many clubs are seemingly identical in facilities / service delivery and with increased competition in the form of tech-savvy fitness bootcamp operators and weight loss groups, it will be those clubs who can nurture the most loyalty who will get and keep the most members.
3. “A chance to plug a leaky business model” (add additional online revenue streams)
There’s a bigger picture emerging. A picture in which we as trusted health and fitness professionals provide a more complete solution by providing tools, resources and inspiration that support our members in taking full responsibility for showing up and getting the results they want. Most people’s problem today isn’t how to exercise per se. It’s how to stay motivated enough to make exercise (and clubs) a regular part of their lifestyle. Hence, it’s important to motivate and inspire clients in between sessions as much as during sessions, because the members who are most at risk of cancelling their membership are the ones who are failing to turn-up each week. They require a more complete solution (programmes, resources and inspiration) that support them in getting real results. Is that not offering clients a more complete package and greater value anyway?
Plus having attracted paying members, through considerable time, money and brand exposure – why not maximise their full lifetime value by running regular Teleseminars, Webinars and Online Programs / Memberships? There are many ways to integrate these tools into the overall club business model, easily and quickly, with 95% of the necessary resources already in place.
Those who act stand to eliminate member cost objections (by offering lead-in virtual programmes to club membership), fill dead staff hours, raise member loyalty levels, encourage clients to be inter-dependent on each other as much as on the clubs (a sense of community and belonging) and expand their member database both virally and exponentially (by leveraging word of mouth). It’s about moving beyond a “service + marketing” approach to a “business building” approach where the focus is on the constant optimisation of “the attract-qualify-convert-keep-multiply” client cycle. When you add internet technology to the mix, you have additional revenue, marketing assets and credibility building all bundled into one.
In Summary The internet is making social networking a high-return activity. There are multiple in-built rewards: you reach and bond with more people in less time, gather social proof, raise credibility, create additional revenue streams and nurture a deeper loyalty. This is one trend that is not going away. The time to get going is now. Integrate an online solid “social strategy” into everything you do. The only caveat is that you must have a robust plan with clear outcomes or it can very quickly take up considerable time and bring little reward.