Finding the Right Social Media Mix for Your Fitness Facility

Have you heard about Vine? It's a social media service from Twitter that allows you to create and share six-second looping videos.

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(photo by Bob Hubner)

Have you heard about Vine? It's a social media service from Twitter that allows you to create and share six-second looping videos. Really.

We're sorry if you didn't know about Vine until today, because now you feel worse about social media, don't you? The advent of Facebook was bad enough, you might argue, but at least you've come to understand it. Twitter is okay, too. What about Instagram? And Pinterest? And Google+? And YouTube? And now Vine? (Which is actually really cool.)

If you feel like you can't take it anymore, you should know that "most small businesses feel like they are wasting their time on social media." That was the recent conclusion of a survey by a company called Mantra, a social network for small businesses. Mantra reports that 61 percent of small businesses don't see any return on investment on their social media activities, yet almost 50 percent say they've increased the time they spend on social media.

That sounds an awful lot like many health club members, doesn't it? "I just don't get it," they will say. "I work out every day, but I don't lose any weight."

To such a member we might ask, "Well, what are you doing when you leave the gym?"

And to these unsatisfied business operators using social media we would ask, "Do you have any idea why you are on social media in the first place?"

As gym owners and managers, we encourage you to embrace social media, but we don't want you to be Kool-Aid drinkers. Never invest in social media (or anything else, for that matter) without knowing what benefits it will bring to your business. We believe you can have reasonable goals with social media and achieve them with reasonable time, money and effort. (This sounds more and more like you talking to your members, doesn't it?)

The first thing to recognize about social media is that it is extraordinarily complementary to what you already offer. Your fitness facility is already a social gathering place, which leads to a logical way to fit social media into your business. It may sound overly simple, but be - wait for it - social. We think of social media as a way to expand our relationship with our members beyond the walls of our clubs, allowing us to interact with them more than we otherwise would. While doing that, we know we're also going to reach a lot of other folks. Whether those nonmembers become members is secondary to bolstering our reputation, becoming more visible and building a community.

Three Things to Avoid Doing on FacebookThree Things to Avoid Doing on Facebook

Our goals are simple: We want to communicate, be social and be present in our members' and followers' lives, even when they are nowhere near our buildings. A marketing consultant might call this "mindshare."

Our website and email campaigns always include our social media icons, and we occasionally use the Internet and emails to proactively highlight our social media activities.

For example, we'll tell members about new platforms we are using, and we'll encourage them to follow us and tell their friends. We want people to read our emails, and from there visit a page on our website. Then we want them to visit our Facebook page, where they might see something on Instagram or Vine.

We do virtually nothing with Twitter, which seems just fine with our members. However, a few years ago several prospects told us, "We checked you out on Twitter and you hadn't tweeted in weeks." We resolved never to let that happen again, and that's one of the reasons we love Instagram, Pinterest and Vine. They Tweet automatically, so when we use those other platforms, we also look alive and well on Twitter.

Instagram, Pinterest and Vine are great ways of creating compelling content. Plus, because they are so much less formal than Facebook - we know it's odd to think of Facebook as "formal" - you can appropriately use a motivated staff member to help create and curate photos, images from the web and short videos.

Then, if you're ready for it, cross-pollinate by putting your Instagram and Vine content right onto Facebook and Twitter. For the record, we do not automatically post from Instagram and Vine onto our Facebook page; instead, we provide web links to those services from only our best content on Facebook.

Google+, which is similar to Facebook, is in our future, but only because a presence there can help with results shown in Google search engines. And our YouTube presence is nothing more than a repository of videos that we use on our website. Think about what you are trying to achieve and which platforms can help you achieve it.

Back to Vine and why it helps us achieve what we want. You'd be amazed at how compelling a six-second video can be, especially because Vine allows you to string together several images in a stop-action sort of way. It's perfect content to use on Facebook, because people click on it, comment on it, like it and share it. We started with simple videos with scenes from in-and-around our clubs on any given morning. We posted them on Vine, which generated tweets, and then we posted the web links on Facebook, where we also encouraged people to follow us on Vine. The "likes" and comments flowed, and we were happy.

We've often likened social media to a cocktail party where you need to know the rules. You can't just show up and start shouting about your business and expect people to buy from you. You need to schmooze. You need to be conversant. That wasn't so bad when there were only one or two of these virtual cocktail parties, but today there seems to be a new "must attend" party every day.

The trick is to make it seem like you attend all of the parties that make sense for your business. And when you're at those parties, know why you're there. Build relationships and expand your community. Be a little cool, too. Good things will flow from that.

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