IHRSA 2020 Speaker Opens Window on Tomorrow in Tech

Crystal Washington, an author, futurist, and charming guide to all-things-internet, will “Imagine the Future” with the attendees of IHRSA 2020.

Crystal Washington, an author, futurist, and technology strategist, will ask her audience to “Imagine the Future” during IHRSA’s 39th Annual International Convention & Trade Show in San Diego. Her appearance is sponsored by MXM.

Washington is the owner of CWM Enterprises and the co-founder of Socialtunities, both of which counsel on the strategic use of social media. CBI had the chance to discuss her ideas before IHRSA 2020.

CBI: The internet has literally changed the shape, face, complexion, character, and mood of the world. If you had to describe its overall impact succinctly, what would you say?

CRYSTAL WASHINGTON: The internet has shrunk the world and at the same time pushed us all further apart. It’s smaller in the sense that we now can have an impact on someone on the other side of the world in an instant. We can, for example, send money instantly to the victim of a natural disaster. It’s pushed us apart in the sense that, having developed a near addiction to the internet, we’re substituting it for handwritten notes, face-to-face conversations, and even spending quality time with one’s family.

CBI: Your forte is apps, social media, and the web. If a club owner were to ask you what were the most important things they needed to know about the subject, what would you say?

CW: Number one, I’d say that you have to think about this technology strategically. There’s no such thing as an app strategy, or web strategy, or social media strategy—it’s all part of your marketing strategy. These are just methods you utilize to communicate elements of your marketing plan—in the same sense that cold calling, for instance, might be a part of a club’s marketing strategy. So that’s No. 1.

CBI: And No. 2?

CW: You have to know your target audience—you have to know who they are, where to find them, and how your messaging affects them. In the case of social media, join the networks that appeal to them. When it comes to being on the web, or buying ads, or having a presence in different places, you have to understand their browsing habits. And when it comes to apps—if you’re looking at using or developing them—you should be aware how they’re using apps now.

Make sure you’re thinking about how these efforts are impacting the consumer. It shouldn’t just be about your internal efficiency. In the final analysis, it’s about the user experience.

CBI: You’ve noted that technology is changing human beings. In what ways do you regard this as clearly positive, and in what ways do you feel it warrants concern and further study?

CW: I don’t want to give away too much of my presentation by delving into this topic too deeply, but I’ll share one element of it that I’ll be discussing. We know, for certain, that technology is changing how we relate to one another, and the world around us, in some pretty fundamental ways. It is, for instance, shifting our response time and the way that we develop relationships. But, for the moment, I’ll leave it up to you to think about how it’s happening and whether it’s positive or negative.

CBI: You’ve also observed that the internet and social media have created a new group of “haves” and “have-nots” in business. Explain what you mean by that.

CW: If you understand things such as social-media marketing and search engine optimization, you have a clear competitive advantage over those who don’t. In your industry, for example, where people are searching online for clubs—especially in larger cities with lots of competition—an operator who knows how to use these tools is so far ahead of someone who’s still relying on, say, word of mouth. Understanding digital technology, and being able to employ it to attract and engage customers—that’s definitely going to give you an advantage.

“...where people are searching online for clubs—especially in larger cities with lots of competition—an operator who knows how to use these tools is so far ahead of someone who’s still relying on, say, word of mouth. Understanding digital technology, and being able to employ it to attract and engage customers—that’s definitely going to give you an advantage.”

Crystal Washington, Futurist

IHRSA 2020 Keynote Speaker

CBI: Any other examples?

CW: Yes. Just take a look at the job market. Today, many organizations—in fact, I’d say nearly all organizations—prefer that people submit job applications via the web. So you have to have an email address, and be comfortable using the technology, in order to establish a dialogue with a potential employer. And what I’ve found—particularly when speaking to human resources (HR) professionals—is that there are a lot of people out there who are fabulous workers, but who might be older baby boomers or less technically inclined. And because factories are shutting down or other things have happened, they’re unemployed. Incredibly, they might not even have an email address. They’re very uncomfortable in this new environment. Digital natives definitely have an advantage over these people.

CBI: Conversely, does there come a point when technology no longer provides a distinct business edge?

CW: Good question. The landscape is going to become much more crowded in terms of companies utilizing technology to obtain a competitive advantage, and more and more people learning how to make use of it. Then, it’s going to take an additional level of savvy to stand out from the crowd. It’s kind of like when you first learn something in kindergarten. If you’re the first one to learn how to write your name, you’re the big kid on campus—right? But, by the end of the year, everyone can write their name, and, so, now you have to do something else—whatever that is—to stand out from the other kindergartners. That’s where technology, is from a business perspective.

CBI: Despite your immersion in the field, you acknowledge you’ve had some crazy technology missteps. Care to share one or two with our readers?

CW: I’ve had quite a few. One of the funnier ones occurred the night before one of my presentations when I accidentally deleted the Prezi (a presentation tool that can be used as an alternative to traditional slide-making programs such as PowerPoint). Prezi lives on the web, had never been downloaded, and so, with Prezi, there’s actually no way to recover your information.

I had this beautiful presentation, tailored to the client, that I was very pleased with. I was completely done, trying to save it, hit the wrong button, and deleted the entire thing!

CBI: That can’t be the end of this story. What happened?

CW: The good thing was that I didn’t panic. I was actually able to recall and reconstruct everything within an hour, which was really rather impressive because creating Prezis can get pretty complex. … So, I’ve definitely had some missteps along the way.

CBI: Do you have any sense of the fitness industry’s adoption and utilization of social media and success with it? Where do health clubs sit on the learning curve?

CW: The fitness industry as a whole, I’d say, is probably a middle-adopter.

Clubs are a B-to-C business, and B-to-C entities tend to be more cutting-edge and much earlier adopters than other sorts of businesses, period. It isn’t in the forefront, like clothing or other forms of retail. But, by the same token, it’s not in the back like healthcare or financial services, which have to contend with legal restrictions or FCC rules, or some of the less “sexy” businesses, such as construction. Fitness is actually sitting in a pretty good mid-position.

CBI: You’re an enthusiastic tech advocate but you’re also acutely aware of the pitfalls, the most common mistakes. Any cautions for our readers?

CW: One of the biggest mistakes I see people making—both professionally and personally—is that, when it comes to technology, they come down with the “shiny button” syndrome. What I mean by that is they see something new and innovative, and immediately think, “Oh, we need that,” when, in fact, they may not.

Don’t look at a new app or piece of technology, and think, “This is going to solve my problem.” Instead, re-evaluate your processes, pinpoint the problems, and, then, see if there’s some technology that, conceivably, could help you solve them. Unfortunately, most organizations and people do it the other way around. That’s one of the biggest pitfalls.

CBI: Anything else?

CW: The other thing I’d caution your readers about is time management.

If you notice that you’re developing compulsory behaviors—finding it hard to just sit and wait without doodling or doing something on your phone; or being unable to stop looking at your phone even when you’re with family or friends—that suggests it’s time to unplug and restore the balance. …Which is something I’d certainly encourage.

We want to make sure that we’re using technology, and that technology isn’t using us.

“We want to make sure that we’re using technology, and that technology isn’t using us.”

Crystal Washington, Futurist

IHRSA 2020 Keynote Speaker

CBI: One of the huge tech trends in our industry today is the explosive proliferation of exercise streaming services, i.e., the Peloton phenomenon. Any thoughts on this development?

CW: There are a few ways we can look at this. On the one hand, streaming offers a host of benefits, giving people the information they want, when they want it, in the moment. In the case of fitness, it gives them a chance to find an instructor they can click with. It provides them with a way to become a part of something. It meets the needs of individuals who, for one reason or another, can’t—or hesitate to—make use of a real club: e.g., people who are strongly introverted, or have a disability, or live in rural areas.

So I think it’s just a wonderful branding opportunity.

CBI: And on the other hand …?

CW: Obviously, over time, as their popularity grows, there will be more and more streaming services, and things will become more competitive. So, the question is, if you’re thinking about doing something like this, how will it benefit the end user? What can you provide that others aren’t already offering?

And you have to be really honest with yourself, because, as business owners, we often think there are things that distinguish us, differentiate us, when, in reality, we’ve commoditized ourselves. If you decide to participate in this trend, how can you provide new and real value?

CBI: So, imagine a future for us, if you would, with respect to technology. What is the world going to be like in 10 or 20 years, for people? For businesses?

CW: I think that the world’s going to be more connected than ever. I also think that people are beginning to feel overwhelmed by this constant connection, which is not unlike being under surveillance. We’re going to start to see a pushback against so much technology. We’re not going to stop using it, but we’re going to begin to seriously question and/or resist it.

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Craig R. Waters

Craig Waters previously served as the Editor-in-Chief of Club Business International.