Texting your way to fitness.
Remember the days when cell phones were simply used for making phone calls? Well, today’s mobile devices are equipped to do more than just have conversations. Via cell phones, users are now accessing the Web, text messaging friends, taking digital photos, streaming videos and of course, making phone calls.
Seventy-five percent of Americans own a cell phone or a PDA, and 62% of them participate in digital activities away from home or work (Pew Internet & American Life Project 2008). In other words, the convenience of mobile phones is helping more people stay current and connected than ever before. So, how can personal trainers leverage this technology? In this article, learn to reach clients in creative ways and market your services through text messaging.
Text messaging (or ‘texting’ for short) has been around for years; therefore, it is not a new way to connect with clients. However, new Web-based applications are now available that pair text messaging with other online features, creating more advanced texting opportunities for personal trainers.
Text messages are brief messages via cell phone using 160 characters or fewer. Fifty-eight percent of people who have a mobile device use it to send or receive text messages (Pew Internet & American Life Project 2008). In December 2007, approximately 48 billion text messages were sent in 1 month (CTIA).
Fitness companies, such as FITtoPHONE .com, have been using texting as a method of delivering fitness programming, nutritional guidance and workout routines to clients. Wellsphere.com, a newer online community where members create and track their health goals, features text messaging as an option for sending health reminders (“take vitamins”) and updating fitness progress via cell (“text in the number of miles you ran today”). Another technology-based service, EcFit (www.extracon.com), delivers automatic workout reminders and tracks fitness progress via voice mails and text messages. (See sidebar for other ways text messaging is used for health and fitness.)
The traditional approach to texting requires you to know the phone numbers of the contacts to whom you wish to send a text. And oftentimes, sending and receiving texts from a cell phone becomes costly, especially if you (or your clients) do not have an unlimited text-messaging plan. Your phone service provider should have an option for sending free texts on its website, but keep in mind that the receiver of your message may incur the costs of the incoming text. You can also send free text messages from independent sites like www.txt2day.com (which has a “no spam” clause promising against solicitation of all numbers entered on its website).
If you are an avid “texter,” at some point you purge your phone’s inbox to make room for new messages. Unfortunately, deletion of these messages eliminates all records of correspondence with a client. Peekamo (www.peekamo .com) is a Web-based application that allows you to send and receive messages, and it saves your incoming and outgoing texts (similar to e-mail). As an added feature, you can schedule text messages for delivery at a future date. This is helpful when you cannot text multiple messages during your busy day. Simply schedule all your texts the night, week or month before and let Peekamo do the rest. And there’s a bonus: Peekamo works with international phone numbers and is free for both the sender (since it is Web-based) and the receiver (if you don’t mind a short ad contained at the end of every text).
As mentioned above, a limitation to text messaging is having to know the phone numbers of the people to whom you are texting. Textmarks (www.text marks.com) is a free service that allows those who want to receive regular text messages to subscribe (or unsubscribe) at their own discretion. For example, if personal trainer “Bob” wants to send his clients daily fitness tips, rather than sending a message to each client individually, he could create a “textmark” for the keyword “TrainingTips.” His clients could then text the word “TrainingTips” to 41411 to subscribe and receive his daily text messages. All Bob would have to do is update his tips (which are called “alerts”) on the Textmarks website (or directly from his phone), and everyone who subscribed to his tips would receive those messages regularly.
Create as many textmarks as you want. How about one for the gym for weekly updates? Or one for your training staff for meeting reminders? Transfer your textmark onto a T-shirt (at www.reactee.com, which works together with Textmarks) and advertise your services while you are training.
Unless you have small fingers, texting on the keypad of a cell phone can prove challenging. Jott (www.jott.com) is a free service that converts your voice into e-mails, text messages, reminders, lists and appointments. Let’s say you’re running late to a training session and you want to send a quick text to a client from the road. Since texting while driving is not a safe option, simply call Jott (on speed dial, of course), state the name of your client and say “Get started on the treadmill. I will be there in 10 minutes.” Jott will translate your message into text and send it to your client instantly (either by phone or e-mail). You can “Jott” to an individual or a group of people. A unique feature of Jott is its integration with other Web-based applications, which means you can even use it to create posts on your blog or appointments directly on your Google calendar.
Text messaging can also be used to collect information from your clients or members anonymously. Have you ever wanted comments on a fitness program or feedback on trainers’ performances? Poll Everywhere (www.polleverywhere .com) is a Web-based polling service that allows people to send their responses to you via text. For example, create a multiple-choice question regarding a preferred day for a boot camp class. Or gather opinions about the class by creating a “free-form” poll where people can text in their comments. One unique advantage to Poll Everywhere is that your data can be downloaded directly into PowerPoint slides, making for a great presentation. Unfortunately, free membership limits you to 30 responses per poll. Check out the various upgrades for more options. (See “Sample Polls” for an example.)
If after exploring these free services you are serious about integrating text messaging into your business plan, you might look into using paid services that specifically specialize in mobile marketing. A Google search for “text-messaging marketing services” will generate a list of companies that best suit your budget. At a minimum, most mobile marketing campaigns will offer comparable services to the free sites listed above. But they can also customize features to meet your professional needs, such as specialized ringtones, mobile wallpapers with your logo, and various contests and games.
B.J. Fogg, the founder and director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University and editor of the book Mobile Persuasion, claims “mobile phones will soon become the most important platform for changing human behavior.” Fogg has been investigating the impact of mobile phones since 2001 and believes that “within 15 years, no other medium—TV, word of mouth, the Web—will be more effective at changing what we humans believe and what we do.”
Using text messaging to promote health behaviors and improve exercise adherence is as easy as texting “1, 2, 3.” But when this technology is integrated with Web-based applications, the advantages multiply. Although some clients may not appreciate being bombarded with hundreds of text messages, others might find communicating via text is just what they need to stay committed to their fitness goals. n
November–December 2008 IDEA Trainer Success
Use TMs to extend a training program between sessions. Suggest exercises (or surprise clients with pop-fitness challenges) to reinforce health behaviors.
Send quick educational tips about the latest in health and fitness news. Preview topics you plan on discussing in an upcoming session.
Offer “extra” motivation or incentives between sessions. Since exercise adherence is always a concern with trainers, staying connected with your clients during the week is important.
Collect information and/or feedback from clients regarding their progress. Ask how they are feeling after a session or log other workouts they did during the week.
Keep your clients on the ball. Send reminders about their schedule so they continue to stick to a routine.
Adapted from various posts in the Captology Notebook—Insights from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. http://credibility.stanford.edu/captology/notebook/archives.new/2007/06/7_categories_of.html.
Try out the sample polls we created on Poll Everywhere.
Poll 1 (multiple choice): Do you use text messaging with clients?‰ If yes, text CAST 4293 to 41411
‰ If no, text CAST 6140 to 41411
Poll 2 (free form): What are some ways you can use text messaging in health
‰ Text SAYTO 6401 plus your message to 41411
Standard text messaging rates may apply. Does not work for calls outside the U.S.