The blizzard of information and prophesying about trends in social networking is mind-boggling, and every pundit has a take on what the next best thing will be. Some say that MySpace is dead, and Facebook is the future. Others have said that Twitter, Brightkite and newer platforms will be the communication tools that matter.

Clearly, no one knows for sure how this medium will develop. Think about your parents or older friends, many of whom are now heavy Facebook users. Two years ago, would they have even known what Facebook meant, or even what it was? You must ask what those who are shaping this medium want. Recently, I spoke with several people for different perspectives on social networking.

Jeff Zwiefel, senior vice president of club operations for Life Time Fitness, Chanhassen, MN, says metrics are key. “We are working with our club members on the front end of this phenomenon by testing some of the mediums in our clubs in a variety of ways with some early encouraging results, and believe me, we are following it closely and measuring everything,” he says.

Andromeda Wuebker has been an IT executive for two decades. She also is a health club member and offers these suggestions regarding this medium:

  • Gather feedback from your staff and members before creating a Facebook page. Ask them to be specific with their suggestions. Do not activate any networking technology until you know what you want to accomplish.

  • The club should have an easy-to-find fan page. Consider one for trainers and instructors, too. This tool can give you valuable testimonials and feedback.

  • Encourage members to direct friends and family to your site or particular Twitter feeds that might interest them.

  • As a club, you have tremendous leverage to broadcast new programs, featured trainers and special events. Use technology to do so (but sparingly), highlighting only truly unique programs.

  • Do not add content to any of your platforms unless you believe it will add value for your members.

  • Designate someone to update your site daily and make them accountable.

  • Moving forward, think not only of your current customers but your future customers, too.

  • Become a student of social networking. Follow the trends online and through the media.

  • Consider links that provide videos for exercisers outside of your club (travelers, office exercisers).

  • Find partners who align with your philosophy and direction to link with on your platforms.

  • Help members connect with each other and encourage groups of like-minded members to help each other with accountability or share information.

Some health club members I spoke with offered these suggestions:

  • If a new specialty group starts, use social networking to promote it.

  • Use social networking sites to announce class cancellations or substitute instructors.

  • Encourage trainers to have a blog or Twitter account that members can follow. This account should give members information they can use, not talk about what the trainers had for breakfast. Translation: the content needs to help members.

Wuebker sums it up best by saying, “Your customers will increasingly rely on tools like Twitter and Facebook for all aspects of their lives. For your future customers, these technologies are already baked into their daily routines. You can gain tremendous leverage and get ahead of the curve by starting now with some basic tools and IT platforms. This space will evolve quickly, and you want to begin experimenting now to find your rhythm and what works for your customers.”

Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services and First Fitness Inc., which was rated as the No. 1 health coaching online training service by The Wall Street Journal. Florez can be contacted at gregory@fitadvisor.com.