6 smart approaches that use online tools to grow your business.
In the last decade, the social media revolution has transformed the online landscape by changing the way fitness professionals communicate and engage with colleagues and clients. The functionality of popular social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has opened the doors to new business-marketing strategies in the digital age.
After years of being poked, hit, tweeted, retweeted, followed, ranked, linked, friended and unfriended, fitness professionals are much more savvy about leveraging social media to build their networks and increase their brand awareness. “We have learned how powerful social media is,” says Todd Durkin, MA, creator and founder of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. “I have learned how important blogs are in helping with SEO [search engine optimization] and delivering ongoing new content out there to your followers.”
Gone are the days when you clicked “accept” to every request that came through your social networking sites. Now, who you choose to engage with and how long you maintain their attention has more value and relevance than the sheer number of “friends” or “followers” you have. Authentic conversations, consistent interactions and cohesive social media strategies are what help you stand out from all the Internet “noise.”
The upcoming social media challenges will be less about developing a Web presence or building online community. They will be more focused on sustaining these relationships, quantifying social media efforts and differentiating businesses within your community. The six approaches that follow, complete with tips and tools, can help you refine your online strategy and position your business for growth.
Businesses have saturated social media networks with their presence (who doesn’t have a Facebook page these days, right?). Gain a competitive advantage by synchronizing your offline activities with your online community.
Coupling traditional marketing with social media is still necessary, but announcing an event on Twitter or Facebook is only a first step. “Using the online media as coverage of live offline events serves both to enhance the experience of those participating and to inform [people] online about how they might participate in the future,” says Mark Nutting, CSCS, master trainer at Saco Sport & Fitness in Saco, Maine. For example, group fitness instructors who post their choreography on YouTube give regular attendees a chance to preview or practice a routine and future attendees a glimpse into a class experience (Alsac 2008).
Live broadcasting (or “livestreaming”) a portion of an event to the Web can also allow for real-time participation from your online community. If you are having a health expo, a holiday event or a fundraiser at your club, websites like Ustream.TV and BlogTalkRadio.com transmit your feed while simultaneously engaging viewers through chatrooms and call-in hotlines, respectively. All event recordings can easily be embedded into your website, which can increase traffic and improve the average time a visitor stays on your site.
Tips. Schedule informational workshops or sessions with a trainer, a local doctor or a nutritionist at your club, and facilitate the Q&A from both online and in-person attendees. Post a live Twitter feed on a wall at the gym, and stream all @replies or event #hashtags during an event. Enhance live-recorded content in postproduction by annotating video with comments, adding links or creating a highlight reel.
Tools. For those who may not have audio equipment for recording interviews, try ipadio (), which uses your phone as a microphone. For video, invest in a Flip Video™ camcorder () to make recording and uploading to YouTube a cinch. Add a “live chat” box on your site with Meebo (www.meebo.com) to stay accessible to members. Check out CoveritLive.com to create blog posts of events as they unfold.
Having a professional presence across different social networking platforms keeps your brand in front of your audience, wherever they are. Find efficient ways to manage multiple efforts so that you do not lose valuable time.
“Every piece of information you create should be used in as many locations as possible to maximize the results of a single effort,” says Jonathan Ross, owner of Aion Fitness.com in Bowie, Maryland, and a fitness expert for Discovery Health. “When I write a blog post, it automatically posts to my Twitter account. Every update I make to my ‘Everyday Fitness’ page on Facebook goes through my Twitter account, which updates my personal Facebook profile status.”
How much time you spend creating content is also important. People have limited time to read every update you post. Keep online content to bite-size pieces (300 words or less for blogs, 3–5 minutes on videos) to reduce your workload and increase the chances of viewership. Nicki Anderson, president of Reality Fitness Inc. in Naperville, Illinois, learned this lesson the hard way. “I’m a passionate person, so I would write 500-word blog (posts), and I started losing (followers).” Today, she is much more focused with her messages and consistent with her online strategy. “I spend 20 minutes a day. Five (minutes) in the morning to post. Five in the afternoon to update posts. And 10 minutes at night to respond to messages and comments.”
Tips. Limit the number of cross-posting functions you automate. Consistent messages strengthen brands, but duplicate text may resemble spam. Tailor messages to the culture of each social media site (e.g., 10–15 updates would be expected on Twitter but might be too much on Facebook). Add the ShareThis (http://sharethis) button to blog posts, allowing people to republish your content elsewhere on the Web (who knows, things could go viral!). And use Zemanta™ (www.zemanata.com) to autopopulate your blog posts with relevant links, photos and tags—a great timesaver!
Tools. Profile aggregators like HootSuite™ (www.hootsuitecom) and TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com) manage multiple Twitter accounts from one dashboard. The TwitterSelect application on Facebook allows users to choose the messages they want to stream to Facebook by adding the hashtag #fb at the end of their Twitter status. Twitterfeed.com links blogs to Twitter. Use SocialOomph.com to boost productivity on Twitter by scheduling status updates in advance.
Whoever said social media is free did not account for the time it takes to produce content. Health and fitness professionals have worked hard to contribute an assortment of online resources and should consider turning their efforts into profit. Webinars, books and membership-only areas on websites are opportunities for fitness professionals to bring in additional revenue using the work they have created.
Developing educated and experienced fitness professionals continues to be the number-one trend within the fitness industry (Thompson 2009). “Online training and webinars will continue to gain momentum,” says Jessica Matthews, academy exercise scientist and continuing education coordinator for the American Council on Exercise. She has seen an increase in the number of webinars submitted by continuing education providers. Online courses and webinars enable fitness professionals to share their knowledge and interact with their audience over the Web just as they would with a series of blog posts or a live workshop, respectively. “Fitness professionals are always seeking opportunities to further their knowledge and skills, yet with obligations such as work, family and financial constraints, traveling is not always feasible,” says Matthews.
Tips. Don’t have time to create webinars? Host one. Fitness Education Network () has a series of American College of Sports Medicine–approved webinars. Apply to present at StrengthandConditioningWebinars.com. Revisit your archived blog posts and see if the content there is enough to develop into more substantial material. Or for clients who are not avid blog readers but could benefit from your articles and posts, turn your blog into a book!
Tools. Check out Slideshare.net or Prezi.com to create archives of your past presentations. Use GoToWebinar.com if you are looking to host webinars. Explore or on ways to self-publish your blog.
The next investment in technology is mobile devices. In 2009, more than half of Americans (56%) accessed the Internet wirelessly from a laptop, cell phone, MP3 player or game console (Pew Internet 2009). Start investing in a more extensive mobile marketing strategy and/or developing mobile-based fitness programs.
Marketing strategies that incorporate mobile messaging to promote upcoming events, provide additional discounts or request donations and service feedback keep clients engaged well after they have left the gym or training session. In terms of complementing fitness programs, mobile applications can be used to cue clients with appointment reminders, to assist with self-monitoring targeted behaviors and to deliver positive support and motivation.
“Health and fitness professionals will likely start to use these approaches to coach their clients in behavior change when they need it the most—in the moment,” says Jennifer Shapiro, PhD, scientific director at Santech Inc. in San Diego. A National Institutes of Health–funded study for mDiet, a weight loss intervention using text messaging, found that participants who received daily text messages lost more weight in 4 months than their control counterparts (Patrick et al. 2009). “Santech has licensed rights to the mDiet program and developed Text4Diet™ for commercialization,” says Shapiro. Text4Diet and others like it, such as ECFit (www.extracon.com), are leading the way in business-to-business mobile programs that health and fitness professionals can implement with their clients.
Smartphone “apps” (applications) are also gathering a lot of momentum, as evidenced by the familiar catch phrase “There’s an app for that!” (see the sidebar “There’s an App for That?”). With many stand-alone health and fitness apps out there for consumer use, organizations and health club chains are launching their own free apps. At this stage, for individual fitness pros the cost of developing an app may outweigh the return on investment.
Tips. If mobile apps or text-messaging interventions are not in your budget this year, take steps to ensure your website is mobile-friendly. Too many bells and whistles on your site could slow load time or prevent features from displaying on some mobile devices. Also, start tracking all website traffic that comes from mobile phones to see if there is a need to allocate budget in this area.
Tools. Check out Textmarks.com, EzTexting.com or Tatango.com for mobile marketing services (e.g., text the word “LA-Trainer” to 41411 to get daily exercise tips, etc.). Swebapps () is a user-friendly platform for those who want to develop simple mobile apps at a bargain cost.
Rather than giving away water bottles, towels and T-shirts, some businesses are coupling their marketing materials with high-tech freebies, such as ringtones, wallpapers, screen savers and mobile accessories (e.g., stickers, skins, flash drives). Digital swag keeps your brand in front of your audience without being overly intrusive.
Last year, IDEA created digital membership “badges” (bumper stickers for the Web) for those wanting to publicize their affiliation on their own blogs and websites. Every week, BodyBuilding.com website features wallpaper images of personal trainers and weightlifting champions that users can download to their desktops or cell phones. Fitness- and health-themed ringtones are just starting to surface. In spring of 2009, Digimax Sound released a list of wellness ringtones for various alerts on your phone. For example, when you receive a text message, you can hear a calming female voice alerting you to your message but urging you not to answer it until you have taken a deep breath and relaxed your shoulders. Providing this type of marketing material direct from your website (by allowing visitors to download it or posting HTML code to cut and paste) gives visitors another reason to stay engaged on your website.
Tips. Create content that extends messages about health, nutrition and active living. Avoid materials that solely feature logos or traditional marketing images—like using a club photo as wallpaper. Badges increase traffic back to your website, so encourage clients and members to post them on their website, Facebook page or blog.
Tools. Make your own ringtone at , or simply create an MP3 with a free music-editing tool like Audacity® (). Go to www.sportdesktops.com for inspiring active images. Use Web 2.0 Badges (www.web20badges.com) to generate creative badges for free.
If you are serious about strengthening your social media efforts, allocate more resources to this area. But before you spend thousands of dollars on a marketing manager or even a few bucks on a Facebook ad, know where current efforts are working and where they are not.
Google Analytics is probably the most comprehensive free website tracking platform online. For the most part, fitness professionals can use it to learn more about where visitors are coming from (which links referred them, what country they are viewing from) and how long they are staying on your site (what posts they are reading, what content they are downloading). The software is extremely powerful, but for the most part it is easy to use. To not take advantage of this tool would be a mistake. Facebook Insight is also available for monitoring activity on fan pages. The number of YouTube hits and trackback notifications (incoming links to your site) can also provide insight on the reach and strength of your online messages.
Tips.While there is no formula to determine a social media budget, keep initial costs low by enlisting the help of college students or staff members who are savvy about social media. Set up keyword alerts in Google or Twitter to obtain real-time data on when and where you brand is mentioned. Set up surveys (www.surveymonkey.com) and polls (www.polldaddy.com) to gather immediate feedback from your online community.
Tools. Kickapps™ () is an à la carte app for social media services. Use SocialMention.com to follow conversations around your brand. Constant Contact® () and Email Marketing Pro () are great for tracking e-mail marketing efforts.
Eventually, tools will change and other technologies will evolve. For now, use these approaches to generate better marketing strategies, differentiate your business and cultivate your network. “It somewhat bothers me when people say, ‘How much money do you make with social media?’” states Durkin. “If you look at social media strictly as a moneymaker, you will fail. Yes, it can help increase [brand] awareness and sales. But using social media is, first and foremost, about building relationships.”