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Thursday
Jan222015

Crunch Fitness and Active Sports Clubs: Social Media Savvy Members

Two succss stories suggest how much clubs can accomplish!

Good looks and good health – they’re perhaps the top reasons why people join your club.

But they’re not usually why they stay.

In reality, the ties
 that bind are based on
 social interaction. The 
members who are 
likely to keep coming
 back for more are the
 ones who’ve connected socially with staff and other members. And today, one of the best ways to foster a stickier kind of relationship is to get your clients to click with you online on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. These sites, and others like them, offer clubs an unprecedented, round-the-clock opportunity to develop enduring bonds ... because absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder.

Two IHRSA-member club companies that have done an exceptional job of utilizing social media, and have the scars and stats to prove it, are Crunch Fitness and the Active Sports Clubs (see “Club One? No, Active Sports Clubs!” July CBI, pg. 38). Crunch, based in New York City, has more than 100 locations in and around major metropolitan cities in the U.S., as well as Australia. Known for its novel, fun-based approach to fitness and its “No Judgment” philosophy, it’s currently one of the brands to follow.

Active Sports, the company that emerged from Club One, Inc., last February, is the handiwork of industry veterans Jill Kinney, Bill McBride, and Carey White. The company, based in San Francisco, operates 10 clubs in the Bay Area, and manages more than 45 corporate, community, and hospital-based fitness centers throughout the country.

The two of them, taken together, provide an instructive, coast-to-coast case study of what it takes for clubs to succeed socially in this brand-new and still morphing digital age.

ONLINE INTIMACY

Crunch and Active Sports have both made a positive and productive mark on the social media map, but it didn’t come without its share of misunderstanding, missteps, in-depth research, and endless, concerted efforts. The learning curve, Crunch discovered, was both steep and tall. When it first hit the social platforms, it got knocked down hard. We thought we had a plan,
thought we knew how to handle things,” recalls Christina DeGuardi, the company’s senior vice president of marketing, branding, and communications. “But what we didn’t account for is that social media is a living, breathing thing. It requires serious attention.”

So Crunch did what any looking-to-win business would do—it formulated what it hoped was a better plan and tried again.

“Now we understand that we have to be organized and focused,” she explains. “We discovered that social media has to be treated as an integral part of our overall marketing strategy. It isn’t something you can hand off to someone to manage in a vacuum. It demands constant attention and significant energy. After all, you have access to customers all day, every day, all over the world.”

When it was reformulating its program, Crunch attended to the important matter of articulating a strategy: “Our business is based on membership,” says DeGuardi, “and ensuring that the club experience is a positive one means making members feel welcome, making them feel part of a community—both in the gym and online.”

The philosophy has driven steady, satisfying growth in Crunch’s social media metrics. “Our numbers have been rising since the beginning of 2014,” she reports. “For Facebook, we’re at approximately 42,000 followers, an 11% increase; Twitter’s up by 20%, Pinterest by 25%, and YouTube by 41%.”

Two sites, in particular, have far
 exceeded Crunch’s expectations.
“Instagram and LinkedIn have delivered tremendous increases,” shares
 DeGuardi. “In the case of the former, we’re up by 415%. It’s produced the greatest growth in the shortest amount of time. We attribute this, in part, to the platform’s overall popularity, but because it’s gotten more attention, we’re also prioritizing it somewhat.

“We’ve seen more than a 52% increase with LinkedIn,” she adds. “And the site’s been very productive with respect to our hiring, which is a key objective for us.”

CULTIVATING RELATIONSHIPS

As it designed and constructed its social media machine, Crunch learned valuable lessons about such things as staffing, content, and tangible results.

“It’s not good enough to hire someone who simply has a personal affinity for social media,” points out DeGuardi. “You need to find a trained professional—someone whose career revolves around it.”

Crunch has a talented social media manager who works with its creative team to develop content, manage channel updates, and post replies.

Concepts for content come from the company’s staff and its franchise partners. “We also get a lot of ideas from interacting with trainers and instructors in the clubs,” she indicates.

What has Crunch learned about the type of content that works?

“You should strive to create the right balance between the intimate, personal, and corporate,” DeGuardi suggests. “It should be in the voice of the brand, but feel real and genuine. For instance, you wouldn’t want your social media manager to profess how they feel about burpees; rather, you’d want to have a trainer talk about how much they love them and do 50 a day.”

Items that are “unique, humorous, or require a reply” are productive, especially when they feature real people. “We posted photos of a group exercise teacher with her puppy—because everyone loves puppies—and it was very popular. We also used social media to launch our #GymSpired campaign, which highlights clients who’ve overcome obstacles or gotten impressive results with our trainers; others get inspired and love to cheer them on.”

Quantifying the results produced by social media is an emerging art, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that it is, in fact, paying off. “It’s great when we can tie financial results to social media—which we did with one recent retail campaign—but that’s rare,” says DeGuardi. “However, what’s great is that, with the exception of staff time and the expense of monitoring platforms, there aren’t a lot of hard costs associated with what we do. We really spend very little.”

Crunch’s goal is to continue to grow the number of members it’s reaching. “We’re at about 35% right now. ... And, needless to say, we don’t only want to interact with them online; we also want to keep increasing engagement at the club level, too.”

LEVERAGING THE ‘LIKES’

Crunch is a mature business with a well-established image, while Active Sports is, in a sense, an old business with a new identity, and, as a result, anxious to clearly define its brand with consumers. It’s a fresh face in the market, and eager to become a familiar one.

“One of our primary objectives is to increase brand awareness,” notes Kari Bedgood, the firm’s vice president of marketing and public relations. “We’re seven months new, which means we have a lot of room to grow.”

The company has a solid social media history, but now is doubling down on its efforts. “We’re highly focused on the build stage,” says Bedgood, “and are investing 20% of our total spend on social media and related advertising. We’re currently at 15% of our goal for number of followers; as of October, we had 1,236 followers on Facebook and 832 on Twitter.”

In addition to funding its efforts adequately, Active Sports is looking to other club companies, such as Crunch, for ideas and direction. “We get inspiration from other brand leaders, and from popular bloggers and influencers,” she continues. “The landscape is constantly changing, and the more knowledge you can acquire—the better. You need to be careful not to lose your authentic- ity, but it’s important that you learn from consultants, agents, experts, etc.”

Active Sports has a strict and comprehensive social media policy, and a strong, in-house social media arm. “Our marketing department owns and manages it,” Bedgood explains. “Access is carefully controlled and vetted. Deciding who owns posts, and who responds, is critical, and involves an audit of their personal online presence—because it’s directly related to our brand.” It’s a serious and constant responsibility. “It’s a daily commitment,” she adds. “Each of our general managers, for example, spends upwards of two hours per day personally responding to online feedback.”

Bedgood has some valuable suggestions for others who are about to embark upon, or want to fine-tune, social media initiatives. It’s critical, she suggests, to know what and when to post, and to monitor and leverage the results effectively.

“Don’t over-post,” she advises. “It’s not a one-way communication channel. Your followers shouldn’t feel as if they’re being spammed or bombarded. ... With Facebook, for example, we post at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. One to two times per day is what we’ve found works best for us.”

She also recommends that clubs set up notifications and monitor platforms so they never miss a beat, and to not be shy about soliciting followers. “Integrate ‘invites’ as many places as you can—welcome e-mails, newsletters, new member kits, mobile apps, in club signage, cardio stickers, etc.,” she says. “And be explicit about how members will benefit—discounts, surveys, expert advice, sneak previews, and resources such as videos and recipes. Provide a persuasive ‘why.’

Active Sports is equally diligent about monitoring and understanding the wealth of information it’s gleaning. “Everything we do has the intent and purpose of growing our business,” Bedgood emphasizes. “But ROI measurement from social media can be difficult at times. Aside from the number of likes, reach, and click-throughs on posts/campaigns with a specific call-to-action, we strive to increase and track satisfaction with regular Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys. We’ve also partnered with Medallia, a Palo Alto, California–based firm with an analysis platform that permits us to gather daily satisfaction feedback.”

The social media environment is a new and challenging one, but, Bedgood believes, one with unimagined rewards. “It allows us to listen to and engage with members in a whole different, 360-degree way,” she concludes. “We’re building connections that extend beyond our doorways.”

Reader Comments (1)

very interesting article. Thanks for posting.At the IHRSA Trade Show in Los Angeles there will be exhibitors offering solutions to assist clubs to use technology to improve their member to member communication. This maxim has been published in IHRSA research reports on retention in the past, but technology will make it easier to achieve this.

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