Recruiting Staff via Social Media

by Alexandra Williams, MA on Sep 02, 2011

Extend your reach and expand your hiring potential.

As a manager or director, you’re constantly keeping your ears and eyes open at your facility for potential new trainers and instructors. That’s smart. What’s even smarter is also to use social media, such as Twitter™, Facebook and LinkedIn®, to support your search.

For many years, clubs have successfully offered in-house training programs as a recruitment tool. Most of the “fishing” has been through in-house communications: member announcements, one-on-one solicitations of star students, member inquiries, staff recommendations and so on.

Going outside the club has worked too: using ads in local traditional media (newspapers, radio, magazines), word-of-mouth, community health fair booths—anything that would get people thinking, “Hmm, maybe I could become a trainer or group fitness instructor. I should check it out.” There’s even the “sit back and wait for the right person to arrive” tactic, which also works, especially if you’re the only facility in town or you have a reputation for being the place where aspiring trainers flourish.

Thanks to social media, you can now reach a wider audience, with a potentially greater rate of success and response. Before you put out a call for interested potential recruits on your Facebook fan page, Twitter stream or LinkedIn groups, be sure you’re familiar with the differences between traditional recruiting and social media recruiting.

Your Personality Is Your Brand

Potential employees gleaned from social media will be drawn to your facility based on whether or not they like you, so make sure the person posting and tweeting is presenting a personality that matches your brand. It may take awhile to build up a following; however, that is the same as in the “real world.” As you build your online presence, keep in mind the 80/20 rule: 80% content and 20% promotion/recruitment. Once you’ve solidified your brand, push a little more on the recruitment.

Do not confuse your personal life with your business personality, even if you have a very small facility. As Doug Holt, CSCS, MFS, owner of Conditioning Specialists of Santa Barbara, California, and founder of Fitness Professional Online, says, “Always use your company’s social media presence when contacting a potential candidate. If you want to share pictures of your children [or] the bachelor party you went to and post that your dog is sick, that’s fine, but have a separate account for your business.”

Virgin Active South Africa is part of a huge chain, yet it has mastered the art of personalizing and “humanizing” its brand while staying professional, as evidenced by this Twitter exchange in which the staff talk “with,” not “at,” a questioning follower:

In addition, Virgin Active’s Twitter “wallpaper” features pictures of happy employees. Not members; employees! By building relationships, Virgin Active is establishing itself as a fun, engaging, “human” community that people want to join. The Careers page makes this clear: “Are you . . . fun? Energetic? Enthusiastic? Interested in the world of health and fitness?” It’s no accident that “fun” is listed first and “health and fitness” last. A fun-loving “people” person looking to work in the fitness industry will almost automatically pull up a mental picture of Virgin Active.

Build Trust

Your company's stellar reputation in the brick-and-mortar world won't necessarily cross over into your online presence. If you create a Facebook fan page but then neglect it, or if too many of your posts feel like “spam,” your reputation will suffer. Potential employees may not be living nearby, in which case their opinion may be based 100% on your online style. As Holt observes, “You have to constantly add value. We do this by offering free services and advice and even by recommending the competition. By posting the accomplishments of our current staff on our social media pages, we’ve attracted industry leaders to fly into Santa Barbara to see what we’re up to, and many have requested positions on staff. This was something I didn’t expect. [It] raised the bar of our hiring pool, and it was all because we were posting things we were up to on our social media pages.”

Heather Frey, president and founder of SmashFit.com, based in Pembroke Pines, Florida, puts it this way: “The success I’ve had in social media comes from building one thing—trust. I’m not a salesperson, and when I started, I had no idea of social media’s power or influence so I didn’t ‘sell’ SmashFit; I sold health and happiness. By putting out the best information I could and, frankly, underselling my company, I gained people’s trust. They know I’m passionate, and they feel good about supporting, joining and talking about me. They promote the company.”

Stay Connected—Friends Helping Friends

Once you’ve established your facility as a place with real people who provide trusted content, the next step is to interact and stay connected. Twitter in particular emphasizes connections. In my own case (@AlexandraFunFit), many of my followers are women and men who have lost a lot of weight or have overcome major obstacles. Going through the process, they have gained a love of exercise and a desire to share their passion. In addition, I have many Twitter followers who are fitness professionals, which puts me in a great position to play matchmaker. Several times I’ve had Twitter friends ask my advice about getting certified and becoming trainers or instructors. Not only do I make suggestions (see IDEA’s Career Guide list of accredited certifying agencies), but I also make introductionsand I follow through. Every person who has asked me about becoming a fitness professional has gone on to become certified. I know because I check. Then I introduce them to fitness pro friends who live in the same areain 140 characters or less!

There are also more direct methods, yet they are still based on connections. The “Health Club Network Group” is one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to. One of the members posted this request and got a number of responses within a few hours, including a suggestion of other places where the request could be posted:

The connections and help may be local or long distance. On Facebook I recently received the following request from a local colleague whom I’ve never met in person: “How are you? You don't know me well, but I had the courage to ask for your advice or recommendations. I am planning to take maternity leave soon. I had two students working for me at my studio, but now they are unable to continue. I am still new here and don't know many trainers. Maybe you know someone who can help me.”

I made some referrals, and I now know of yet another facility in town that will take my university interns each year. Win-win!

I also received the request shown at left for a trainer in Australia. I knew of no potential applicants in Australia, but I retweeted (forwarded) the message to my followers. For a business owner helping another business owner, this 3-second effort is like a “favor bank.” I made a deposit, and someday maybe I’ll ask for help in return.

Challenges

Naturally, while there are many advantages to using social media, there are also some challenges:

Time. “It takes time,” states Frey. “You must have great content and really speak to the people you want to reach. Then you have to be ready with response, follow-up and personal e-mails. You also have to be able to do this on multiple platforms, which is where the challenge lies. But again, this builds relationships, which builds the best marketing out thereword of mouth. Once you build this base, a marvelous momentum starts to take hold.”

The Right Match. “We’ve spent countless hours adding any friends we could find with no targeted focus, posting promotion after promotion and following what others were doing on their pages—all of which was a waste of time,” adds Holt. “Once we formulated a targeted social media marketing plan, we cut back on time spent and produced better results. If you’re looking for someone with a sports-specific background, then why focus your campaign to attract all trainers?”

Too Many Choices. Social media is here to stay, and it’s evolving so quickly that it can be hard to keep up with. Whether you choose one, two, three or more social media platforms, go with what works for your facility (and you). LinkedIn (lots of professional groups with fitness colleagues), Facebook (it’s easy to post info, links, photos and requests), Google+ and Twitter (conversation-based) are four of the most popular, so start with one of these.

It’s Here. It’s Now. It’s How.

Most potential new instructors and trainers are young, and young people are proficient in social media. As Dody Livingston, the South Orange County, California, district group exercise manager for 24 Hour Fitness, puts it, “The social media thing is where it is at to get real-time interest and responses. Currently, because there is such demand to work for us, I tell possible candidates to fill out an online application, then friend me [on Facebook], and I will announce movement interviews/auditions there. This serves a couple of purposes—I can reach a larger audience, but it also confirms they are computer/Facebook savvy! We use social media to reach our consumers and members, so the fact that [our potential] instructors also know how to effectively use that tool is a bonus!”

Essentially, your recruitment base is now worldwide, accessible and huge. By using social media to establish relationships, you can make your facility the place to be.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 23, Issue 5

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Alexandra Williams, MA

Alexandra Williams, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Alexandra Williams, MA, is a contributing editor for IDEA Fitness Journal and co-owner of the Fun & Fit blog, column and radio show with her twin sister. Certified since 1986, Alexandra currently tea...