IDEA FitnessConnect

Coordinating the efforts of fitness professionals, certifying organizations and consumers on one platform—for free!

By Biray Alsac, MS
Aug 16, 2010


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that fitness trainers and aerobics instructors will be among the 30 fastest-growing jobs by 2018 (Boston Globe 2010). The estimated 29.4% increase in these fields could multiply the industry’s efforts in targeting the world’s health issues, but could also heighten the need for greater regulation and stronger alliances across all fitness and wellness professions.

To ensure the success of fitness businesses over the next decade and to help consumers feel confident in searching for qualified fitness professionals in their neighborhood, IDEA Health & Fitness Association has developed a new platform called IDEA FitnessConnect. First and foremost, IDEA FitnessConnect is the largest national online directory of fitness professionals open to the public—and the only one where profiles are verified by nationally recognized certifying agencies.

“We know consumers understand the importance of exercise, but finding a qualified fitness professional is a huge challenge for them,” says Peter Davis, chief executive officer (CEO) of IDEA. Without a standard set of guidelines to consider, a consumer search for a personal trainer may yield insufficient or outdated information.

Second, IDEA FitnessConnect is a business platform for all fitness professionals and health clubs. Equipped with powerful marketing tools, fitness pros and managers can spend fewer resources on promotion and more energy inspiring clients. “[Fitness professionals] have told us [that their] biggest challenges are finding ways to make more money, recruit new clients and do so without having to spend all their time marketing or selling,” says Davis.

Any fitness professional can sign up and create a profile in the IDEA FitnessConnect directory because all the tools and features are absolutely free!

Read on to learn what makes IDEA FitnessConnect different from current online fitness directories. Discover how certifying organizations are participating in IDEA FitnessConnect to provide a reliable, unbiased directory; examine the new tools you can use to take your business to the next level; and get an inside preview of this new platform.

Certifying Organizations Weigh In

One of the most important issues in the fitness industry relates to certifications and the need to standardize the quality of credentials. For the launch in August, IDEA focused its verification efforts on four accreditation agencies: the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education. With the support of top certifying organizations, the IDEA FitnessConnect directory plans to have the most up-to-date credential information on each fitness professional’s profile.

In January 2005, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) proposed that “clubs should begin hiring personal trainers holding at least one certification from an agency which itself has been accredited by a third-party organization” (IHRSA 2007). Since then, 15 major certifying agencies have gained third-party accreditation, and fitness professionals have been held to a higher standard of accountability when earning their certificates. However, personal trainers who work without credentials and/or let their certifications lapse do not instill confidence in our profession. According to the findings of an IDEA survey of certified professionals, 45% of fitness trainers with expired credentials claimed to be certified (IDEA 2006).

“[IDEA FitnessConnect] will allow the industry to offer greater transparency surrounding professional certifications,” states Scott Goudeseune, president and CEO of the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Currently, 14 of the 15 accredited certification agencies have agreed to participate in IDEA FitnessConnect by verifying the certification status of professionals listed in the directory. For instance, a personal trainer who lists himself as certified will have the word “verified” next to his credentials only when the certification agency has confirmed this information against its database; until then, the status will appear as “pending.” If a certification proves to be inauthentic, the credentials will be listed as “not verified.” If it has expired, the credentials will say “expired” with the expiration date. In cases where the certification agency has not partnered with IDEA to provide verification, the status will appear as “unknown.”

“Given IDEA’s history of quality in all of their efforts, the directory exceeds the quality of any professional directory that I have seen to date,” says Richard Cotton, MA, the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) national director of certification. “Our field needs a professional directory to continue to elevate the standards of the profession. IDEA is making a significant contribution to that effort.”

With this access to credentials, personal training directors and group fitness managers will also find in IDEA FitnessConnect a central resource and a highly convenient way to verify the qualifications of their staff. “We feel this unifying step strengthens our industry’s credibility as a whole, which helps raise the profile of all fitness professionals and ensure safe, reliable fitness instruction across the industry,” says Goudeseune.

Profiles with verified credentials also rank higher in IDEA FitnessConnect’s consumer search results than those without. “The ranking algorithm is made up of 2 dozen parts, with each part weighted based on level of importance,” explains Mike Bannan, head of development at IDEA. In addition to industry credentials, the algorithm takes into account variables such as CPR certifications, professional fitness insurance, ratings and reviews from clients, college degrees and specialty certifications. “We want to encourage fitness professionals to complete and maintain their profiles so they best match what their potential clients are seeking,” Bannan says.

With access to this much data, viewers will also see how the combined rank of a health club’s personal training staff compares with the rankings of competing gyms in the area. This will impact not only consumers’ decisions regarding the trainers or clubs they choose but also fitness professionals’ decisions on the staff with whom they might like to work.

A Business Tool Kit for Fitness Professionals

Success in the fitness industry requires doing more than training clients or teaching group classes. To remain relevant in their industry, fit pros must also be (digital) marketers, writers or bloggers, salespeople, networkers, educators and lifelong learners.

The business tools included in IDEA FitnessConnect are designed to help fitness pros become less overwhelmed with operational tasks and more focused on fostering relationships with colleagues, clients and prospects in order to provide the highest quality of service to their clients.

A Networking Tool

With IDEA FitnessConnect’s extensive directory, fitness professionals will be able to increase their networking opportunities and create working alliances with complementing health professionals. At its August launch, there were over 100,000 profiles of personal trainers, specialty instructors and sport coaches in the system.

“There has been a desperate need in the medical community for a resource like IDEA FitnessConnect to help healthcare providers partner and collaborate with fitness professionals,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, national spokesperson for ACSM’s Exercise is Medicine™ global campaign. “In order to provide the highest level of comprehensive care to patients and clients, IDEA FitnessConnect is going to allow medical providers an opportunity to learn more about a fitness professional’s background, certifications and experiences.”

E-Newsletter Marketing

E-newsletters are a cost-effective part of any online marketing strategy and are often used to generate client leads, increase retention or build brand loyalty. IDEA FitnessConnect’s e-newsletter tool (called Client Newsletter) is designed to inform current (and prospective) clients of the latest fitness news and upcoming events. It merges consumer- or client-focused articles from the IDEA Library with a fitness professional’s specific profile information and mailing list to create and distribute a customized newsletter (see the sidebar “An Inside Look at the Client Newsletter” for more on its features).

Event Management System

Fitness professionals who host lectures or lead various boot camps and/or group classes will benefit from IDEA FitnessConnect’s event management system. It allows users to list all upcoming events and classes in their profiles. “Share” buttons for each event allow easy cross-promotion to social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Send reminders or invitations to your clients, or use IDEA FitnessConnect’s secure payment system as a registration platform for special events. The system also tracks statistics by event page views, open rates for invitations and real-time roster updates of registered participants. All events are powered by Google Maps, which makes any event or class location easy to find for attendees.

When used together with a current business strategy, IDEA FitnessConnect’s marketing tools may help fitness professionals and health clubs better leverage prospective clients, enhance event promotions and improve member retention. “This will push fitness professionals to be more unique and equip themselves with greater assets,” says Peeke. “It will challenge fitness professionals to clearly define their own brand as they market themselves in a competitive arena.”

Generating New Business

Leads are an important part of sustaining a business. Access to a target demographic (preferably, those interested in improving their health and fitness) and a marketing campaign with an authentic voice (word of mouth) can improve the possibilities for new business.

Syndicating the Directory

The IDEA FitnessConnect directory will be available to more than 16 million fitness- and health-oriented consumers through the IDEA website and other popular health and fitness websites. For example, an athlete searching for a 5K in her city through www.active.com will also be able to find a local fitness professional specializing in running or 5K race training without ever leaving the site. Making the IDEA FitnessConnect directory available as a resource through sites such as www.fitnessmagazine.com and similar partnership agreements is aimed at positioning fitness professionals in front of new markets.

Digital “Word of Mouth”

Customer reviews and user comments carry more weight than traditional advertisements. Consumers often rely on unbiased, unedited evaluations of products and services, glossing over canned testimonials or flashy websites. More consumer websites are allowing customers to voice their opinions (think Amazon ratings). In keeping with this “prosumer”-driven market, IDEA FitnessConnect also provides a space on each profile page for clients to rate and review the services of their fitness professional. Of course, the onus is on the trainer to respond to comment threads and manage his or her online reputation. However, a few good reviews on the profile can quickly generate buzz for the trainer’s business.

What the Future Holds

Over the next few years IDEA FitnessConnect will continue to grow as a directory and evolve as a product. IDEA has always worked hard to advance the industry by providing resources and creating new opportunities for all fitness professionals. “It was important that the timing was right and the technological sophistication was available to deliver a top-notch platform,” says Davis.

David Jensen, a personal trainer and lifestyle consultant in the Perth, Australia, area, asked the following question in a LinkedIn discussion in May: “How can we improve the health and fitness industry?” The post (not surprisingly) generated a lot of replies. Fitness professionals around the world chimed in with their ideas—suggesting everything from increasing regulation of personal training certificates and improving alliances across all health and fitness professionals to having better marketing tools and networking opportunities. Perhaps IDEA FitnessConnect is the first step in executing these ideas.

Setting Up Your IDEA FitnessConnect Profile

It is to your advantage to set up a profile in the IDEA FitnessConnect directory. Whether or not you utilize all its features, it at least ensures you one more point of contact for potential clients.

If you are already an IDEA member or an ACE-certified professional, the framework of your profile is already listed in the directory. Go to www.ideafit.com/fitnessconnect and log in with a current username and password. If you are not listed in the directory, no problem! This platform is free for any fitness professional to use. You can create a new profile by clicking on the blue “Get Listed” button on the IDEA FitnessConnect home page. If you would like to remove your public profile, simply log in, click the privacy setting link and follow the instructions.

Once you have claimed or created your account, the four steps below will ensure that your profile stands out in search results within your ZIP code.

1. Follow “Completion Tips” for Your Profile

IDEA FitnessConnect provides tips on how to improve your profile’s rank (tips will be in the upper righthand corner of your profile page). If you are serious about finding prospective clients, include a lot of details in your profile. Start by listing certifications, profession and locations. Listing your certifications will initiate the verification process. Depending on the certifying organization, it may take a few seconds or a few weeks before the credentials are verified. Until that happens, their status appears as “pending.”

2. Add Unique Identifiers

Profiles with distinguishing characteristics are likely to get more views than those that offer only minimum credentials or a short bio. Upload your profile photo and exercise videos, write about your client success stories and add content that gives insight to your training philosophy and session experience. For consumers, choosing a trainer is as much about finding a complementing personality as it is about making sure the trainer is qualified.

3. Sync Your Social Media Efforts

If you blog, use Twitter™ or have a Facebook page, sync these efforts with your IDEA FitnessConnect profile. Cross-promotion helps your online marketing but also shows that you maintain an active presence on the Web. When clients or colleagues see that your last “tweet” was posted minutes ago or that you blogged yesterday, they are more inclined to contact you over someone whose profile has been static for the last 3 months.

4. Promote Upcoming Events and Classes

Whether you are starting a new boot camp series or teaching a step class, add all events and classes into your profile. This shows variety in your services and keeps your profile active in searches filtered by “event.”

An Inside Look at the Client Newsletter

Ongoing communication with clients is a key to retention. The Client Newsletter is an optional marketing tool for IDEA FitnessConnect users. Whether you currently distribute an e-newsletter to your fitness clients or would like to start implementing one, below are a few reasons to take advantage of this feature:

The Template Is Customizable. With a simple click of a button, you can select the newsletter features you want to include. You can brand every issue with your own logos, photos, taglines and websites, and include social networking buttons for Twitter and/or Facebook. The default title, Client Newsletter, can also be changed to reflect your own professional identity or business, and the welcome message can be edited to reflect your personal voice and “signature.”

The Content Is Educational. The newsletter is automatically filled with educational content developed and factchecked by IDEA’s award-winning editorial team. This is meant to save you time and energy spent writing your own articles. The content comes from the IDEA Library and is written to appeal to fitness consumers—your clients. Every issue includes three main articles on topics ranging from exercise science research and fitness facts to nutrition news and goal-setting techniques. Additionally, a video entitled “Move of the Month” and a healthy recipe are included to keep the newsletter dynamic.

The Newsletter Syncs With Your IDEA FitnessConnect Profile. The content of each issue is a combination of IDEA’s editorial content and the data on your profile. Profile pictures, contact information, social media links and upcoming events are automatically copied into the newsletter. If you sync your blog to your profile, the issue will also include the three most recent blog posts in the sidebar.

Analytics Are Built In. Every time the newsletter is sent, you will be able to access statistics on how many clients opened it and what their click-through rates were. If you are managing your own statistical analysis of your brand via Google Analytics, you will also know how many people clicked to your blog or website from your IDEA FitnessConnect profile.

IDEA autogenerates a new issue of this e-newsletter at the beginning of every month; the tool was launched in August.

A Virtual Walk-Through Of IDEA fitnessconnect

Consumer Search (Public View)

Anyone can access the database of fitness professionals from www.ideafit.com/fitnessconnect or via syndicate partners (e.g., www.fitnessmagazine.com).

Search options can be customized by ratings, ZIP code, specialties, activities, price range and gender.

Fitness Professional Profile (Public View)

A profile is like a digital business card. Any fitness professional can be contacted from his or her profile page via the contact button, website, blog or other social media links (Twitter, Facebook) listed in the profile (professionals’ e-mail addresses and phone numbers are never available to the public).

Individual tabs provide more information about the fitness professional—including his or her professional overview, events and classes, success stories, videos and blog.

A score is given to each profile based on 24 factors, including verification status of any/all credentials, fitness insurance and CPR certifications. While this score remains unpublished, it is important in determining the profile’s ranking in the directory.

Ratings and comments can be added directly on a profile page.

Fitness Professional Profile (Private View)

The “Clients and Leads” tab is available in private view (only when a fit pro is logged into his or her account).

Contact information is listed for clients and leads (generated from consumer searches in IDEA FitnessConnect). Fit pros can also manually add or upload client information into this contact list.

Fit pros can easily subscribe/unsubscribe their contacts to their newsletters from this screen.

Events and Classes Tab (Public View)

All events or classes include detailed descriptions—from recommended audience to a Google map of location and directions.

Participants can register (and even pay) via this screen. Additional promotion via Facebook or Twitter can be done using the “share” button.

(Note: In private view, fit pros have access to real-time statistics, such as page views and current roster.)

Health Club Profile (Public View)

Health clubs can include a facility overview (videos, guest passes, location, website, contact information), as well as links to current fitness staff and a list of all upcoming events and classes.

Fit pros who list a health club as their training location will automatically show up on the health club’s page under staff. Ratings and comments can be added directly on a profile page.

Health Club Profile (Private View)

The manager in charge of maintaining the health club’s IDEA FitnessConnect profile has access to a private “Staff Management” tab. Included here is current staff information, such as credentials (with expiration dates) and courses completed toward continuing education credits.

Managers should encourage their personal training and group exercise staff to fill out their profiles. In this way, individual profiles are linked to a club’s IDEA FitnessConnect page (and vice versa) and cross-promotion increases.


References

Boston Globe. 2010. Top 30 fastest-growing jobs by 2018. www.boston.com/jobs/bighelp2010/fastest_growing_jobs_by_2018; retrieved June 18, 2010. Based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition. www.bls.gov/oco/.

IDEA. 2006. IDEA survey on the fitness profession and certifications. Conducted October 2006. Not published. www.surveymonkey.com/MySurvey_Responses.aspx?sm=R2U3nJDswaFoloAYWI2bVnup9vsHCF1X0nHPs4hdqRo%3d.

IHRSA. 2007. The power of proven certifications: Meaningful personal-training credentials are having an impact in the marketplace. http://cms.ihrsa.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageId=18463&nodeID=15; retrieved June 18, 2010.

LinkedIn. 2010. Discussion post: How do we improve the health and fitness industry? May 26. www.linkedin.com/answers?viewQuestion=&questionID=680030&askerID=48717124; retrieved June 18, 2010.

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Biray Alsac, MS

Biray Alsac, MS, is the owner of FITTmaxx Institute, a consulting company for health organizations and fitness/wellness professionals interested in learning how to integrate Web-based tools and interactive technologies (exergames) into their programming. She holds a masterÔÇÖs degree in exercise and wellness.
Certification: ACE
Education provider for: ACE

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