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IDEA FitnessConnect: Horizon Report

For almost 30 years, IDEA has held the belief that trained, certified fitness professionals are key to helping individuals get positive results, remain highly engaged and become “inspired to fitness.” The August 2010 launch of IDEA FitnessConnect, the free online fitness directory, made this philosophy more transparent.

IDEA FitnessConnect allows fitness professionals to highlight their certifications and trainings, promote their skill sets and amplify their fitness industry expertise for current and future clients. “We’re not only providing a way for fitness-minded people to find fitness professionals,” says Peter Davis, president and chief executive officer of IDEA Health & Fitness Association. “We’re providing them with a trustworthy way to find the right professionals.”

Less than 2 years ago, IDEA FitnessConnect listed 130,000 fitness professional profiles and verified the certifications of 13 nationally accredited organizations. Now, the directory connects 16 million consumers with more than 200,000 fitness professionals and verifies more than 63 certifications and training programs. Beyond the numbers, IDEA FitnessConnect helps fitness professionals, clubs and organizations coordinate their efforts to reach out, inform and serve consumers.

Read on to see how personal trainers, group exercise professionals, Pilates and yoga instructors and wellness coaches use IDEA FitnessConnect to increase their marketability and productivity. Learn about the tools they use to demonstrate their abilities, streamline their businesses and engage audiences. Finally, discover tips that increase profile rank, and get a first look at the new and improved platform features for 2012.

Prioritizing Fitness Professional Credibility

IDEA FitnessConnect places a high priority on certifications and training programs. Through its partnerships with certifying agencies and training organizations, the directory verifies the credentials listed in fitness professional profiles—separating “posers” from fitness professionals.

“We invest heavily in our education and training to increase our professionalism and bring value to our clients,” says John Macgowan, cycling instructor and owner of IndoorCycleInstructor.com in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “If you are accredited by a national organization, your profile will prove you have the credentials you claim,” says Macgowan.

A FitnessConnect profile also enables fitness professionals to demonstrate versatility and proficiencies by maintaining a blog, uploading fitness-related videos and participating in IDEA Answers (the online Q&A forum).

“My clients can visit my profile and read my blogs, which address common fitness concerns,” says Marlan Eller, personal trainer in Statesboro, Georgia, who follows up on topics ranging from health and nutrition to strength training to professional motivation. His and all other posts from fitness professional and fitness club blogs are syndicated at http://blog.ideafit.com. Eller remains active on IDEA Answers (where his posts also link to his profile) and finds his participation allows him both to gain new insights from respected fitness professionals and to share his own health and fitness knowledge. “Clients want to see who they are going to be investing in,” he says. “Through IDEA FitnessConnect, you offer your clients a unique opportunity to get to know as much about you as they can.”

Professional fitness education and fitness industry experience affect industry credibility and career sustainability. Lack of consumer awareness about proper credentials can lead to client dissatisfaction and poor training results. IDEA FitnessConnect supports the efforts of fitness professionals and provides a platform that fosters their expertise.

Future focus. Expect to see 150 verification partners by the end of the year.Not all international certifications may be available for verification yet, but based on the platform’s successful launch in Canada last year, discussions to expand IDEA FitnessConnect to other English-speaking countries are in progress.

Increasing Audience Engagement

It is no secret that professional success comes from developing stronger relationships with clients, employers and other colleagues. Fitness clubs and fitness professionals take full advantage of the free tools within IDEA FitnessConnect to enhance audience engagement. Some of these include sharing IDEA content (just click the “Client Share” button), posting success stories, requesting reviews, sending monthly newsletters and corresponding with colleagues via their profile pages.

“I push timely and informative articles [from IDEA’s content library] that pertain directly to individual client goals or reference a topic we discussed in their last session,” says Jason Bosley-Smith, personal trainer from Baltimore, who uses the client-share feature to educate and communicate regularly with his clients outside the gym.

Other tools that develop client-trainer engagement are success stories and “word-of-mouth” comments and reviews. People can rate and review fitness professionals profiles, fitness facilities, events or classes, creating an informal feedback loop for fitness clubs and fitness professionals. By clicking on the “Request Reviews” button at the bottom of their own profile pages, fitness professionals can send requests out to clients, members or colleagues, asking them to write short reviews about the services (much like a recommendation request on LinkedIn®). “Paired with personalized success stories that illustrate a client’s journey, client reviews really bring your work with clients to life,” says Bosley-Smith.

The newsletter tool is one of the more popular features of IDEA FitnessConnect, since it offers fitness professionals the chance to inform clients of trending health topics, recipes, exercises, upcoming classes and other fitness events. It also gives fitness professionals a starting point for future conversations based on the newsletter’s monthly themes. Tailoring the newsletter’s introduction helps personalize the monthly messages to a set audience.

Clients and members are not the only audiences that benefit from these outreach tools. Fitness professionals can also contact personal trainers, wellness coaches, nutritionists, yoga instructors, physical therapists and other fitness professionals in the directory for collaborative opportunities.

“The industry is far from static, and there is always plenty to learn,” says Joanne Duncan-Carnesciali, fitness professional in New York City, who corresponds with many fitness professionals via IDEA FitnessConnect. “The manner in which one responds to a question gives me a clue as to whether or not I would consider collaboration or refer someone to the fitness professional.”

Engagement is more than just pushing content to clients and colleagues. It involves reciprocity between fitness professionals and their audiences. Generating client feedback and promoting fitness community conversations are all functions that fitness professionals can exercise within IDEA FitnessConnect. “We already meet and connect with international fitness professionals at conferences,” says Michelle Gillis-Saltzman, fitness instructor and personal trainer from Toronto. “With geography no longer a barrier, the sky is the limit in terms of networking and regular communication.” Gillis-Saltzman hopes to transition her fitness career into a full-time position and use IDEA FitnessConnect to expand the parameters of her fitness business.

Future focus. Expect more flexibility in the engagement tools. The “Client Share” button will expand to allow sharing of content from other online resources in addition to those on IDEA’s website. And the newsletter will have more customization features, including the ability to author original material and choose articles from IDEA’s editorial content (an alternative to having it be prepopulated).

Streamlining Business Efforts to Generate Leads

The business advantages of listing a fitness professional or fitness club profile on IDEA FitnessConnect is how well it optimizes marketing and client management.

“When it comes to allocating marketing dollars, there are fewer tools better than IDEA FitnessConnect,” says Wendy Stewart, fitness professional in Lansdowne, Maryland, who synchronizes her social media efforts by linking her profile to her Facebook and Twitter™ accounts, as well as to her blog and email signature. The platform is an extension of IDEA’s reputation and substantial online presence, making fitness professionals and facilities easily searchable. “I want people to know as much [as possible] about me from my profile without having to navigate away to too many different sites . . . a one-stop place for prospective clients.”

Last year, IDEA began syndicating its directory within several high-traffic health and fitness websites, positioning fitness professionals in front of millions of potential clients. Now, the directory is embedded at FitnessMagazine.com (www.fitnessmagazine.com), SparkPeople® (www.sparkpeople.com) and FitStudio (www.fitstudio.com), and soon it will be on the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association’s site (www.ihrsa.org) and Active.com (www.active.com). Under the “Clients & Leads” tab, fitness professionals can also see from which site a “client lead” was directed.

Business is booming for Jehan Izhar, personal trainer and yoga instructor in Alta Loma, California, whose profile is enabled on all syndicated websites. After moving to a new town last year, Izhar worried about rebuilding her fitness business from the ground up. However, she has already found three long-term clients and received several job offers through her profile. “The sooner I replied to requests, the more likely the person turned into a client,” she says. She now offers private weekly classes to a group of clients based on her original referral from IDEA FitnessConnect.

Over the past year, the “Clients & Leads” feature has become more efficient: users can import multiple contacts at once, filter them by status (leads vs. clients) and alphabetize them by first and last names. “I have been pleasantly surprised to receive a number of leads who have been a perfect match for my services,” says Debra Bennett, yoga/Pilates instructor and wellness coach in Newtonville, Massachusetts. With her diverse background and specialty in integrative programming, she finds it difficult to define her target audience and develop a direct marketing strategy. However, IDEA FitnessConnect allows her to publicize her programs and tell people her business is active, healthy and thriving. “Having tested out a number of other advertising and marketing arenas in the past few years, I can honestly say that IDEA FitnessConnect has been the highest return on [time] investment in addition to my website.”

Future focus. IDEA FitnessConnect will continue to increase directory exposure by partnering with other websites that list fitness professionals and that allow for verified credentials to appear on those sites.

Evolving Beyond 2012

What does the future look like for IDEA FitnessConnect? Besides adding new features and upgrading current ones, it will continue to build trusting relationships with fitness professionals and groups of health professionals throughout North America. “Our goal with IDEA FitnessConnect is driven by wanting to elevate the meaningfulness of certifications and trainings of our fitness professionals,” says Mike Bannan, director of business development for IDEA. “If a new tool or service doesn’t fit within that principle, it doesn’t get developed.”

In the next few years, IDEA FitnessConnect will build features with greater customization, allowing fitness professionals to better cross-promote their efforts. Although IDEA FitnessConnect will not turn into another social networking site (leaving the “friending” and “following” to Facebook and Twitter users), look for tighter integration with Facebook to create more “real-time” activity between the two platforms. Client engagement will also be a primary focus in future development.

A tool to engage clients and help them achieve their goals will be released soon—think challenge-focused. And finally, anticipate greater flexibility in the current tools, such as the newsletter and client-share features.

IDEA FitnessConnect will continue to serve as a functional platform connecting fitness professionals with consumers. Use it minimally or make it integral to your fitness professional efforts. Ultimately, it is up to you to recognize its possibilities in the new year.

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