Discover how to set up an effective online tool for client behavior change.
Do you have a personal home page operating as an online brochure for your training services? Do you schedule appointments and motivate your clients using e-mail? Do you distribute health information and exercise tips via digital newsletters? Nowadays, these techniques are considered static. If you want to connect with the Internet-savvy client of today, you’ll have to consider a more dynamic interaction: the client-trainer blog.
Learn what this type of blog is, how to set one up, how it can benefit both you and your clients and how to generate content.
Think of a blog (short for “Web log”) as an online journal where authors regularly contribute “posts” (journal entries) about a current topic or a personal experience. According to Technorati, a blog search engine, there were more than 110 million active blogs as of November 2007. Most health- and fitness-related blogs tend to be topical and include informational entries. Typically authored by fitness professionals, these blogs report the latest exercise trends, discuss effective training techniques and provide valuable dieting tips. Sport-specific or activity-based blogs also exist; for instancee, trail runners or mountain bikers might have their own blog.
Other blogs are centered around personal health or fitness experiences—“my weight loss blog” or “blogging for my first marathon,” for example. These blogs are not necessarily written by fitness pros; anyone willing to share a personal journey online can maintain one. Blogs like these allow “subscribers” (people who regularly follow or read a blog) a firsthand, inside glimpse into an individual’s adventures, self-reflections, struggles and accomplishments.
A client-trainer blog integrates topical and experiential styles of blogging. It is designed to heighten your client’s training program while extending your professional expertise and resources beyond the face-to-face session. Both you and the client author the blog’s contents. The client shares his experiences, while you post health-and-fitness topics related specifically to the client’s program and lifestyle. The blog acts as a behavior change agent for the client, not just as a source of information, research and news.
If you can use e-mail, then you can use a blog. Online blogging sites have simple-to-navigate, self-explanatory administrative tools. No need to spend hours learning blogging software. For instance, Google’s Blogger (www.blogger.com) is one of the most user-friendly, least intimidating blogging sites on the Web. It is great if you are brand-new to blogging. You can activate a blog in less than 10 minutes.
Most blogging applications are free and Web-based, meaning you won’t have to download additional software to maintain your blog. This can save time and cut costs for both your client and your business.
All the information in a blog is created and stored online, making it easy to log in, update and maintain the blog—anytime, anywhere. All you need is Internet access.
For client-trainer blogs, you set up one blog per client. No two blogs are exactly the same. A blog design can be as unique to a blogger as a training regimen to a client. Although every blog is tailored to match the personality of a client, all client-trainer blogs share the following advantages:
They Provide Collaborative Accountability. As a trainer, you probably rely on structured organizational tools to track client reports, training statistics, session schedules and fitness goals. Documenting this information on one blog page lets your client quickly view her progress and stay accountable for her training sessions. (Note: Blogs can be set to “private” to ensure data remain confidential from online public view.)
Listing business guidelines (e.g., training philosophy, payment plan and cancellation policy) on a blog might not be a bad idea either. Including this information can reinforce the client-trainer relationship and your professional expectations.
They Offer an Enhanced Communication Tool. A client-trainer blog gives your client an additional forum for asking questions, posting comments and following up on training-related issues. A client who feels intimidated or reserved about posing questions during a session may see blogging as a convenient and comfortable environment for discussion.
Blogs are also an opportune way to stay connected with clients who go on vacation or travel regularly for business. They can always “check the blog” for the latest-and-greatest regarding their personal training agenda.
They Enlist the Client’s Social Network. The support of friends and family is advantageous to a client’s success. Therefore, a client’s social network can be a valuable asset to his training adherence. The Internet has made it convenient for people to stay connected, and a blog makes it easier to enlist a client’s social community for support. Friends and family can read and follow the client-trainer blog and contribute their online support.
Blogs can be set to “private” (between client and trainer), “semiprivate” (client can choose which friends and/or family members can subscribe to the blog) or “public” (anyone online has access). People who read or subscribe to a blog can’t add or change authored content, but they can certainly make comments to the posts.
While client-trainer blogs can be beneficial, some clients may feel overwhelmed at the thought of writing blog posts that journal their experiences—especially if they’ve never blogged before. If a client is reticent, it is up to you to facilitate the blog. You can do this by adding posts that stimulate weekly discussions. And because most trainers are limited by time, keeping blog posts short and effective is the best way to keep the blog active.
Below are five topics you can post about on a blog:
Expectation. Discuss what the next session is going to look like for the client. Are you planning to add an extra set of lower-body drills? What should the client do to prepare for next week’s 5K challenge? Setting expectations for future workouts can keep the client engaged between sessions.
Education. Clients are full of questions and inquiries, and they always appreciate additional health and fitness education. Rather than writing lengthy posts yourself, simply outsource information by embedding hyperlinks within your post. Sending a client from your blog to other resources and relevant articles on the Web is a terrific way to minimize post time and maximize education.
Expression. Open-ended questions will encourage your client to express her thoughts regularly on the blog. Asking specific session-related questions can elicit responses that are insightful for both you and the client.
Exclamation. Make a statement without saying a word! Not all entries have to express a thought or educate on a topic. Posting inspirational quotes, funny photos or fitness cartoons, embedding YouTube videos and sharing personal stories are excellent ways to keep the client-trainer relationship authentic.
Evaluation. Seeing any kind of progress can be a great source of motivation for clients. Posting entries marking weight loss goals or heart rate graphs can be effective. Even nonfitness entries—such as “Today was our 50th hour of training!”—can be inspiring.
Once a personal training contract expires, the client-trainer blog doesn’t have to be abandoned. Encouraging a client to continue blogging on his own is one way to keep him accountable for his healthy behaviors. You can remove yourself from all your administrative duties, leaving the blog exclusively under client authorship. Once you’re no longer actively contributing to a client’s blog, you may still wish to subscribe to it and add encouraging motivational comments from time to time.
What can you do if you like the idea of a client-trainer blog, but one or more of your clients prefers e-mail? Many people still communicate via e-mail, and clients may not want a login/password to another online website. This concern is valid and may be something your clients ask about. A blog is not meant to replace e-mails, but some administrative differences between a blog and e-mail make blogging more advantageous.
- A blog makes it easier to track discussions by topic in a linear fashion. No more e-mails with subject lines reading “Re:, Re:, Re:, Re:, Re:, etc.”
- All correspondence remains on the blog, organized by post topic and key words. No need for the client folders you have in your e-mail accounts.
- Some blog tools come with a search function. A client can find and re-read archived posts by searching key words.
- Whenever there is a blog update (i.e., you post a new entry), an e-mail alert will notify your client of the recent blog activity. It will remind the client to “go and check the blog!”
- When a blog is semiprivate or public, subscribers and/or friends and family can center their comments on specific posts or topics. If these similar group conversations were facilitated via e-mail, comment chains might be disorganized or broken (especially if people forgot to hit the “reply all” button.)
How does a client-trainer blog compare with a mass e-mail distribution? If you are used to e-mailing clients new fitness research or health news via e-mail, you can consider these options:
- Stick With Tradition. You send an e-newsletter or use mass e-mail to update clients about general information.
- Be Progressive. Create your own blog! Then add a link to it from your client-trainer blogs or suggest that clients subscribe to your blog.
Choose your blogging software based on your blogging needs. Some services are free, while others require a monthly subscription. Here are key points to look for when selecting the appropriate blogging tool:
- Can one user have multiple blogs? This is important if you plan on maintaining several client blogs.
- Does the software allow multiple authors to maintain the blog? Note: Both you and your client must be able to author on a blog.
- Is a search feature included? This is helpful for finding posts within a blog, but not always necessary.
- Does the blog allow users to categorize posts by topic areas?
- What other features are offered? For instance, some software allows moblogging (aka blogging from your mobile phone) for those times when you or your client doesn’t have Internet access but still wants to blog.
Check out the following blogging sites to compare and contrast features and services in more detail:
- Blogger, www.blogger.com
- WordPress, www.wordpress.com
- LiveJournal, www.livejournal.com
- TypePad, www.typepad.com
- Movable Type, www.movabletype.com
- Blogware, www.blogware.com
Biray Alsac, MS, ACE, is the owner and director of FITTmaxx Institute. She is a fitness presenter and an adjunct faculty member in the exercise science department of Mesa Community College, Phoenix. Read her fitness and technology blog at www.BeFitWithBiray.com.