Is Social Media the WikiLeaks of Your Fitness or Wellness Business?

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What happens when a social media “brushfire” of negative posts harms your fitness or wellness brand, sales, and Google rank?

We all know about WikiLeaks, the international organization that publishes secret and embarrassing information from anonymous sources. Consider the disgruntled customer or employee who goes home fuming about service cutbacks or cleanliness and complains openly on Facebook, Twitter, or Yelp! Now you have your own very public release of damaging information in the way of negative posts.

These five tips can help make sure your fitness business doesn’t end up the target of such posts.

1. Never, ever speak ill of any of your customers, even in private.

Don’t allow anyone—and that includes you—to make snarky comments in the breakroom about the heavy-set guy who always brings a snorkel to his swim sessions and splashes about noisily in the pool. Not only does it paint a very bad picture of the kind of people you hire; it WILL get out.

2. Communicate clearly and enforce rules.

If you don’t want customers to throw towels on the floor, let them know it’s a safety risk, and make it easy to put them elsewhere. When a rule gets broken, remind the customer why it’s a rule and suggest a more positive alternative. Don’t allow customers to routinely flout your rules. I visited a restaurant recently that doesn’t allow pets at patio tables. The manager firmly stated the rule, mentioned the health code, suggested locating the pet outside the patio railing, and then brought out a water dish for the dog.

3. Be nice to your people.

Nothing prevents damaging “leaks” like not having anything damaging to release. Give hard-working team members a rewarding environment and pay attention to the little things. If it’s an employee’s birthday, someone at home may be waiting to take her out to dinner. Is letting her leave a few minutes early really going to hurt the business? Even if there’s no chance for advancement, offer your team opportunities to learn, grow, and feel appreciated.

4. Look after your customers.

This can also get you through the rough times. Keep your karate studio open a little longer for the regular customer whose job requires weird hours. Waive the sign-up fee for a customer who’s rejoining after a long absence. Little things have a way of creeping into customers’ consciousness and creating a warm fuzzy vibe that’s just as contagious as any negative post. When you have to raise dues, customers will remember the kindness and brag about your brand.

5. Be an active part of your customer community.

This is probably the one thing most businesses get wrong. It’s not about setting up a Facebook page and posting self-praising promotional copy. It’s not about tweeting coupon links. It’s not about paying someone with no real experience to post to Facebook on your behalf. It’s about inviting open dialogue, actively listening to what customers are saying, and doing something about the things you can change.

Positive chatter, social engagement, and  improved search rankings all start with a positive brand experience. That’s something any fitness business can achieve, and it’s something every fitness business should achieve. Without that, nothing you do—not your best ad campaigns, nor your saltwater 50-meter pool, former Olympic coach, or “secret sauce” workout program—will inoculate your business against the damage that an angry customer or resentful employee can do in just minutes.