Marketing Your Health Club With Instagram

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Should your health club or wellness business hop on the Instagram bandwagon, or is it just another social time-suck without a clear connection to revenue? The answer depends on how you use it.

Instagram’s visual. It’s location sensitive. And it’s viral. Its user base has grown 3000% in the last two years, and businesses are excited about it because it captures customer emotion, shows products in use — and the images are shared VERY widely.

However, the key to Instagram is to remember that the primary goal is to communicate the proverbial thousand words in a single picture. Whether that’s a picture of an exhausted trail runner leaning against a tree at sunup and showing off his Hoka One Ones, or a trainer demonstrating amazing do-it-yourself body weight exercises, it’s the message behind the picture that matters.

These Instagram marketing guidelines for health clubs and wellness businesses will help keep prospects clicking:

1. Focus on the feeling, not the product or service

There’s a certain poetry to images that makes people share them again and again. Ask any trail runner to describe their perfect moment outside and chances are you’ll get a verbal description of the previously described exhausted runner leaning against a tree at sunup. THAT’s what you’re selling. Not the shoes. When people buy the shoes, they’re buying that moment in their minds.

Ask yourself what “feeling” your wellness business sells. If you said, “healthy living”, try again; that’s not a feeling, it’s an operational objective. A feeling is knowing you can mow your own grass, chase your grandkids around the yard, or beat your friends at pick-up basketball. Then ask yourself how your products or services fit into that picture.

Sharing a picture of your latest stretchy-band exercise is just… a picture of somebody using a stretchy band. Sharing a picture of somebody using it on a crisp fall afternoon by the giant reflecting sculpture in Chicago’s Grant Park leaves viewers thinking, “Wow, I wish I could just head out to Grant Park with one of those in my bikepack and work out under the artwork.”

2. Understand ALL of your audiences

Rodney Miller is a pretty amazing guy. He’s a strongman who specializes in things like lifting 300-pound Atlas stones and deadlifting cars — and he’s also well-known in the Type 1 diabetes community.

That means that when it came time to share a photo on social media, specifically Instagram and Facebook, Rodney had several built-in communities: his fundraising beneficiary, the American Diabetes Association, Facebook groups of diabetic athletes, other strongmen and strongwomen in general, his local strongman gym who provided his lifting rack, his local TV and radio broadcasters in Midland, and…Subaru, whose local dealer provided the WRX he’s lifting in these shots.

Not bad for market reach.

And Rodney wasn’t even trying to sell anything!

3. Take the feeling viral

By themselves, pictures are just pictures. If you take a photo of a trainer smiling at a client or a treadmill sitting on your fitness floor, you might as well post a picture of your lunch. No one will care.

However, the best Instagram photos are memes — catchy ideas that spread themselves. They stick in your head, and you feel compelled to share them.

These elements help make images viral:

  • Drama — Showing your product in a stunning action photo speaks volumes. So you sell camping equipment? How about showing one of your customers with it strapped to his belt while rock climbing a near-vertical incline just as dawn breaks in the background? You won’t have to explain what it’s for or why it’s good.
  • Resonance — with specific audiences. For Rodney, it’s other people with diabetes, Subaru fans, powerlifters and so forth. For our rock climber, it’s campers, hikers, ultra trailrunners, mountain climbers and so on.
  • Quirkiness — This can be any surprising or unusual use of your product or program, such as a life hack, custom training tool, or problem-solving approach.
  • Immediacy — You may have just days or even hours to put together an Instagram campaign; don’t think too much about it. Successful Instagram images either ride a trend or start one. Whether that’s paleo, bacon, strongman, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, ballet-inspired workouts, or aerial silks, keep in mind that what’s interesting about them today might not be so interesting in 24 hours. Your photo of one of your weightlifters holding a sow over his head will only ride the bacon meme for so long. After that, it’s just a strong guy holding a pig.
  • Simplicity — the less thinking is required before sharing, the better. This is not the place to explain the science behind your supplements.
  • Humor — All other things being equal, a little clever humor helps an image meme spread quickly.

4. Put legs on it

By itself, Instagram is little more than a mobile picture sharing service. It’s far more effective when you use other social media sharing services such as Facebook and Twitter to spread your images to a wider audience. And it’s easy — Instagram asks you if you want to connect or share stuff through various social media platforms. If you use multi-channel social sharing tools like Hootsuite, you can reshare images from Instagram and the caption and photo credit will automatically entered into the Compose box.

And while you can superimpose text comments on your images in Instagram, saying less and showing more can help Instagram transcend written language. Often, the most valuable thing you can do is simply add suitable #hashtags to your images.  That makes them easy to search, share, and spread to other viewers through social channels.

5. Keep it real…up to a point

You don’t have to use stock images. Some of the most powerful Instagram images have a candid, in-the-moment quality. But blurry, unrecognizable images with bad lighting won’t cut it.

You’ve got options for getting great images, ranging from paid photographers to employees with a knack for photography. If you’re taking your own photographs, take as many as you need until you get a good one.

It’s perfectly appropriate to stage your photos. In fact, you’d be surprised at how often gorgeous images have actually been edited. In their original form, they may have looked completely different! Instagrammer Chompoo Baritone demonstrates this on her Facebook page. Here’s one example from that page, showing someone “doing yoga on a secluded beach.” Notice that this beach actually wasn’t secluded at all!

He’s got lots more examples on her page, and I encourage you to take a closer look. You’ll never think about Instagram the same way.

With a little work, you can create the perfect moment that communicates volumes about your business.

6. Get customers involved

Asking your customers to post photos of themselves doing something relevant to your business is low-hanging fruit. One wellness center asked clients to share pictures of planks, for example.

7. Go behind the scenes

There’s something really genuine about an open-kimono approach to how you run your business. Being willing to share pictures of folks making your organic yoga mats, folding fresh towels outside your locker rooms, or fixing a piece of gym equipment acknowledges reality: Somebody has to clean the towels. Somebody has to craft that mat. Somebody has to fix the equipment, and darn it, yes, the equipment sometimes breaks down.

The message in behind-the-scene pictures can be that you’re not skimping, that you actually knuckle down and sweat the details, and that you take pride in the most menial, humble parts of your work. It says you value hard work, treat people right, and that they enjoy their jobs. One of the most effective Instagram campaigns ever came from Starbuck and showed how they process coffee beans.

8. Make images actionable

Instagram limits posters to hashtags, text superimposed on images, and comments only seen within Instagram. That makes it hard to create a path for viewers to go from image to action. As a result, many companies using Instagram superimpose promo codes or QR codes onto their images so that customers can act on them.

9. Don’t forget your profile

If you’re good at sharing images related to your business, people are going to click on them, and ultimately, find themselves in contact with you through your Instagram post. Don’t forget to put enough contact info in your Instagram profile for people to actually MAKE contact with you! At the very least, include your phone number and a web address or Facebook page so that folks know how to follow up.

10. Track your statistics

Use tools like to keep track of your followers, image feed speed (don’t flood users with images), likes, and so forth. This will give you a better picture of how your Instagram campaigns are doing, whether you’re losing or gaining followers, and who’s taking action.

Apply these principles of visual marketing to the Instagram platform, and you’ll capture the imagination of audiences more likely to buy, leading prospects to action at the deepest emotional level.