As I sit in Starbuck’s looking around at the other patrons, I notice 90% are completely absorbed in their laptop, Blackberry, iPhone, or iPad – myself included. We’ve come to a place where our society is so technology driven that the newspaper seems to have gone the way of litter box liner and every generation is plugged into the web; grandparents are Facebooking, busy parents are shopping on line and it seems every teenager is texting or playing games on their phone. For club owners and operators, the great news is that this technology revolution has opened up countless more avenues to market and promote your business. The tricky part is figuring out not only how it works, but how to make your efforts worthwhile. While I’m no guru on the topic, I’ve heard some great feedback recently I believe will get your wheels turning about new possibilities for your business.
A big buzz with several of my clients recently has been about “social media”, a broadly used term that basically means communication via a website that not only educates the end-user or consumer, but also invites them to interact during that process. A few “social media” channels showing promising signs are the “deal-of-the-day” membership-based shopping sites such as Living Social and Groupon. Members of these websites receive daily emails promoting a fantastic, limited time offer from a variety of local businesses. There’s everything from dining discounts to reduced spa services to short-term fitness memberships and reduced enrollment specials; you name it, you can find it.
One of the real strengths of this type of marketing is the lack of upfront money a business owner needs to invest to give it a try. The process to get started is pretty straightforward. You determine the deal and then negotiate a percentage that goes back to the hosting site once a member purchases your offering. For example, let’s say you present a 30-day membership for $20 – when the membership is purchased, the site cuts you a check for your 50% (or whatever applies) – it’s that simple! You determine the offer and the length of time it runs, you negotiate the percentage split with the site and you reap the benefits in increase traffic, prospects and new members.
One client sold 500 20-Day memberships running a 3-day Groupon ad, while another client saw a great return on offering a specialty small group training class that drove 50 prospects into the club in a single day. Another leveraged the Zumba craze to invite prospects to try out the class, and of course the club, and receive a special ‘one time only’ offer to join the club for $1 enrollment fee. The resulting 35 new members are now a part of his growing EFT.
One last point to consider with these sites is the benefit you receive from the massive advertising budgets they are investing to increase their membership – Living Social is currently running national TV commercials and recently received a $175M investment from Amazon.com – so the volume of prospects you can potentially reach grows by the day.
Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare are other creative ways to promote your business; however the recurring question seems to be, “How do I actually use these tools to drive new sales?” We’ll use Facebook as an example. The first step is setting up your own page where you can promote the club, share photos of the facility and/or recent events and also offer online specials. The big benefit comes from mass exposure, so the key is finding ways to make sure you’re interactive not only with your existing members, but are additionally reaching all their “friends”. One way is to have Facebook members go to your page and “Like” your business. Every time you’re “Liked”, a notification of that “Like” is posted on the news feed all their friends see – which compounds into hundreds (or in some cases, thousands) of other consumers catching a brief but positive glimpse of your company. This can in turn create enough curiosity to bring them to your Facebook page, learning more about who you are. The other benefit of being “Liked” is that anytime you post about upcoming events or online promotions, this also shows up on their news feed.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you over promote yourself, people may choose to “hide” your posts or “Un-Like” you, so a little moderation is a good thing. An effective way to increase the traffic to your Facebook page is to run contests in the club, such as a drawing for a free membership where their “Like” is an entry. As mentioned before, this will get exposure amongst their “friends” increasing the number of non-members entering as well.
Another popular activity on Facebook is “Checking In” at local businesses. Your first step as the business owner is to claim your venue – a simple process that is explained on many websites when you type “claiming your Facebook venue” into any online search engine. What happens then is when I open my mobile Facebook App, I can select your club from a list of companies that are located within my immediate geographical location. When I “Check-In”, all of my “friends” get a notification of where I’m at and what I’m doing – I can even include a personal message. As the venue owner, you have the ability to offer specials for activities like “first-time check-in” or “loyalty check-ins” after a number of times.
One potential pitfall of using Facebook for business promotion is that you may have an occasional member post something negative on your page (I’m pretty sure this comes as no surprise!), so be sure to have someone on your team monitoring your page regularly and don’t be afraid to delete derogatory comments if need be.
As our industry continues to engage technology more as a marketing tool, there continues to be more education out there as far as what is and isn’t working, so be sure to keep your eyes open for webinars (IHRSA is a great resource) and classes on this topic. For those of you out there who have questions or have tried these avenues (or others), please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’m happy to answer what I can and would appreciate your additional feedback. Now if you’ll please excuse me, I have a few friend requests to accept and a game of FarmVille to get back to :)