Before You Go - May 2012
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Fit for Social Media
Fitness Industry Can Benefit From Facebook, Twitter

Social media sites are no longer just for marketing and promotions. They also are beneficial for fitness professionals looking to enhance customer service and create a sense of community between members and their facilities.

This, according to Fred Hoffman, M.Ed., author of "Going Global: An Expert's Guide to Working Abroad in the International Fitness Industry," who also is an international fitness consultant and speaker, and recipient of the 2007 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year Award. Hoffman spoke on the topic of social media at the 16th annual ACSM Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition held in March in Las Vegas.

"It really is making an impact, globally. One of the things I say is to be part of the conversation. And, my feeling is that social media is like having conversations online. If you are not in the conversation, you are not where people are hanging out. You have to be aware of what people are talking about, from a customer relations aspect," Hoffman said in a recent interview.

He points out that social media has been a go-to vehicle for marketing and promotions, but that's just one part of it.

"It's big for customer service, and also for building community," he said.

Hoffman found that while recreation facilities know they are supposed to be turning to social networking sites more for building customer service and community, they don't completely understand it, or how to get started.

The truth is getting started is the most difficult step, Hoffman said. So, he recommends that facilities first create a business strategy, "just like you would for any part of a business."

"They need to actually establish a strategy for social media: I know we need to do this. I need to reach out to someone who can help me," he said, adding that facilities might benefit from finding tech-savvy staff, people of a younger generation, for instance, to help get things started. "They need to get someone to set up the account and use it properly. What do you think you're going to use it for; reach out to people who are using it."

Hoffman recommends that fitness facilities start out slow, with just one or two platforms. Then, when they are more comfortable with social networking, they can move on to multiple sites, such as Twitter or even YouTube, using videos to enhance the Web site.

"If you start a Facebook account, (but are considering Twitter and other sites as well), master one, first," Hoffman said.

At the conference in March, Hoffman had shared a number of strategies for establishing a social media platform, pointing out that there actually are missed opportunities associated with not participating, as stated in a recent press release from the American College of Sports Medicine.

Hoffman discussed the following points at the conference:

  • The importance of listening to your audience and creating an online community.
  • Advice for generating useful content.
  • Basic introduction to a wide mix of social media platforms and the unique function each offers.
  • Proper social media etiquette, in addition to the do's and don'ts on what to say and how to respond.
  • How, when and why to comment on others' content and employ the "Like" button.
  • Time management tips, especially when handling multiple social platforms.

In a recent interview, Hoffman emphasized that one of the benefits of fitness professionals setting up a social networking account is that "it allows them to connect directly to customers, and offer a sense of community," being able to communicate with them on a daily basis.

"You can motivate people to come to a class. You can create special groups for different activities," he said. "If somebody is talking about your club on Twitter, you can monitor it.

"If you can engage your members, and even if they are unhappy about something, [you can communicate] directly online with them," he added. "Now, everybody is contributing to Web sites. And, if they are not allowed to do it on your social media platform, they will do it somewhere else."

For example, Hoffman pointed out that the interaction with members on a social networking site can alert the facility to equipment that might not be working.

"It could be small things. Maybe the shower is not working, or the air conditioning is not working, or the equipment hasn't been working for a week," he said.

To boot, Hoffman pointed out that some businesses that are doing promotions are only doing them through social media sites.

"It might be in the form of weekly passes, sending people to a Facebook page to access that, through Groupon, or something like that," he said.

And, he added, "This is not a trend. It's really something that's going to be anchored in our society, worldwide."

For more information about Fred Hoffman, go to