Digital Health Club 2.0: Deepening Your Club’s Local Reach

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If your email newsletter and your Facebook business page promoting new equipment and membership specials are kinda it, extend your club’s local reach online and deepen connections to current and prospective members with these tips.

Leverage geo-based website, email, and advertising data

When members first joined, they probably gave you a physical address along with their email address. When they visit your mobile-friendly website (you do have one, right?), they may also have location-based services enabled on their phone. So there’s a good chance you know where they are when they’re checking out your latest offer. If you’re going to do yoga in the park, pick a park near where your members live. If you’re going to use geographic marketing in Google Adwords, use your knowledge of member and prospect geographic information to make your dollar count.

Next, take a look at the website content those members viewed, the referral source for their visit, how long they stayed, and where they went afterwards. Were they visiting from their desktop or laptop computer, or from a mobile device?

As dry at statistics sound, they can tell you amazing things: like whether customers found you by searching for the closest local gym vs. looking for a specific type of club within reasonable driving distance. And that may make a difference in how you market to those potential members.

Build digital local communities

A lot of clubs provide custom workout logging software, create their own forums online, and invite members to post on their Facebook page. That’s fine… up to a point. If it’s your national brand’s Facebook page, though, the only thing that ties members together is that their checks all cash in the same bookkeeper’s office.

Do you have a forum for your suburban Houston-based HIIT athletes? Have you set up a Facebook community for your downtown Philadelphia running group? Is your email newsletter something created by a marketing manager in another state? If so, chances are good their April marketing message about outdoor swimming season may fall on deaf ears in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where temperatures are still in the forties.

Regardless of what your national brand is doing, consider the visibility of your club’s local brand online, and adjust accordingly for location. Next, once you set up your forum, Facebook group, or mailing list, be ready to let it develop on its own… or risk killing it when you don’t cede control.

…But only where they don’t already exist

Before you go to the trouble of setting up communities, check whether they already exist.

It doesn’t take much looking to find local online groups that already track their deadlifts or carb intake, swim train together, or run together. It’s far more effective to tap the strength of an already growing community of common interest than it is to set one up from scratch. To prospects, your club-based social media group may appear redundant and centered on an agenda of recruitment rather than they online community they’re already a part of.

True, you have a running coach, but if your members are already trading workout tips, what’s the value in creating a new place to trade workout tips? Which brings us to…

Cultivate existing communities in your geography

In the DFW area alone, we’ve encountered randonneurs (long-distance cyclists) who do weekly rides to Oklahoma, diabetic triathletes, a strongman community, and a “masters of pain” athletic club whose members are all about pushing their limits. We’ve met groups of cancer survivors who are into the Zen they get from running. We’ve met trail running clubs who train and attend events together.

The starting point for your club should be to find those communities in your town, whether that means joining an existing Facebook group, online forum, or just Googling to see if such a group exists. Then, participate in that group first as a listener, then as a fully contributing member (i.e., don’t join just to recruit members or make sales pitches).

It will tell you more about your local prospects than you ever thought you knew.

Reach out to key individuals within communities

In our article on social listening for health clubs, we talk about using listening tools to identify frequent posters and either nip problems in the bud or “catch the wave” when a trend appears to be developing in a social media group. But there’s a third reason to watch for frequent posters: identifying who the “movers and shakers” are in a community.

One DFW-based Facebook group we monitor is focused on empowerment of people with diabetes (often a target market for health clubs) and has around 10,000 (yes, ten thousand) followers. Needless to say, the admins in that group have a lot of sway in what goes on.

You might consider whether such individuals would be a good opportunity for testing out new products or pilot programs before releasing them to a larger audience, and getting their feedback. Nothing works like an online testimonial from a high-visibility local customer who’s a leader among folks in your target market.

Leverage existing third-party tools

Too often, health clubs think: “We need our own mobile app.”

Why reinvent the wheel? Your homegrown app will never be as feature-rich, and these apps encourage users to share on Facebook, Instagram and elsewhere. Instead, promote your own hashtag or create your own club or group within these tools, and you’ve got instant presence in all of these settings! Limit yourself to an app that’s just for members, and you’ve missed the chance at free visibility that attracts future members.

It’s actually smarter (and cheaper) to capitalize on existing apps and online communities. Facebook is full of exercise, fitness and nutrition groups, both general interest and specialized; and millions of people use existing tools like Strava, MapMyRun, MapMyRide, GarminConnect, Suunto Movescount, MyFitnessPal, AtlasWearables, SparkPeople, and more.

Encourage your members to share progress made toward a goal, post personal bests and “flex Friday” pics, and generally share their excitement. It may be as simple as setting up a Club or Challenge on Strava, letting members post GarminConnect or Movescount GPS bike routes and results to a locally-focused Facebook group, or starting a “Mesa, AZ diabetic athletes” thread on Slowtwitch or BeginnerTriathlete.

Refine local marketing and services

Some clubs track what equipment gets used and how frequently; some even use card-swipe systems to track it digitally. You may send out member surveys via email, or provide an email feedback link or Contact Us page on your website.

Even if you don’t have such tools, you do have people who can count how many people are in the sauna on a Tuesday evening, the apparent age of folks using the climbing wall, or how many groups actually reserve the indoor basketball court during work hours.

The question is: what are you doing with that information?

Try to view every piece of data as insight into how your local members think about your club, and think of that data as a resource for refining your local marketing. Does your facilities reservation system show yoga and Zumba classes are full but that the basketball courts are empty? It might be time to add a Zumba class in the basketball court, then follow through with email announcements to that effect (more than just one!), along with Facebook posts, Instagrams of your “extension” classes, and maybe even some local print advertising using EveryDoor Direct Mail (an online-to-print zip code based service of the US Postal Service).

For a deeper look, check out our article on Hyperlocal Marketing.

Set up location-based events

If your club is fortunate enough to be near a city park, lake, or other locale that attracts active, outdoorsy types, take advantage of it! Whether it’s your gym’s triathlon club training, a casual bike ride, or something you don’t do regularly (Frisbee golf, anyone?), it’s a chance for people to notice your club’s brand is out and about, where they might otherwise not see it.

Your national brand may not even be aware there’s a lake three miles west of your club. It’s your job to take the opportunity, and if the weather’s good, pick an excuse and use it to raise your club’s profile online. That means mentioning this special local-only event in your email marketing, well in advance, setting up a registration page or RSVP email, Instagramming pictures of the park’s wildflowers, tweeting little teasers for the event, and posting info in the appropriate places on Facebook. Especially if it’s local, consider NextDoor as a place for sharing information about these special goings-on.

One more thing: People have a natural tendency to want to join special, local, and one-time events if they look like fun.

A running buddy of mine and I once stumbled upon a dog yoga class that a club was putting on in a park less than five miles from my house. I’ve accidentally joined a fitness club’s bike ride more than once, and the worst that happened to me was that I was given a flyer about the club and a website to check for more information. I’d most definitely consider riding with that fitness club’s ride again, and maybe checking out the facility itself — especially if mine didn’t have regular bike rides.

Now, the dog yoga — it depends; which ones like yoga the most?