An admission: My daughter provided the inspiration for this column. She recently asked if she could open a Facebook account because her MySpace account had “way too much drama.” (Did I mention that she is 15 years old?) My wife reminded me that regardless of the medium, the drama related to teenage girls isn't exclusive to the Internet.
In my next several columns, I'll show you that social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and a multitude of others will become the most effective nexus for your business. But first, here are general statistics that will be significantly dated 30 days after I've written them:
In three years, Facebook grew to 175 million users, and 1 million more are signing up monthly.
Twitter began the year with approximately 3 million users and is now up to 75 million users.
Most research shows that it's not just early adopters or people growing up texting who are signing up for social networking sites. The fastest growing populations signing up on these sites are older demographics, particularly women.
Social networking will be a non-negotiable tool for your business because people around the world are flocking to these sites to connect with people, share videos and books, locate the nearest Starbucks and, as we know, even help win a presidential election. Owning and using handheld devices and laptops is now nearly universal.
The infrastructures of most social networking sites are already built to be plugged into your facility's existing technology and can be used as a means of gaining people who are interested in what you offer — instantly. If you question me, follow a Twitter stream (called “tweets”) on an interesting social subject or that leads to conversations from someone even marginally in the public eye.
Odds are high that regardless of your demographics or your facility, your members are already using a social network medium.
Here's a tiny sampling of tangible social networking benefits:
It makes your club known to large concentric circles of your members' acquaintances. This provides huge, free marketing leverage.
By creating a Facebook and/or Twitter account for your facility and linking it to your Web site, you are proactively touching customers in ways that are important to you.
By using your staff (personal trainers, dieticians, coaches, etc.), you can create Twitter streams or instructional videos with very simple tips to remind your members (and potential members) about new classes, instructors and trends.
Social networking connects members with each other in an extremely simple manner, creating a community that leads to a greater chance of long-term behavioral change.
By monitoring “tweets,” you can find out what people are saying about their experience at your facility without cumbersome surveys. Then you can adjust accordingly to meet evolving member needs.
You can keep in touch with members who disappear from your club without additional cost. Remember, former members may not be in your club, but they frequently log onto social media sites.
In the not-too-distant past, Google was a noun, not a verb. The same thing is happening now with online social networking sites. I believe that these sites may be the most important vehicle in our time to grow your business and connect with thousands (even millions) of people interested in health and fitness.
Oh, by the way, I said yes to my daughter. I never had a chance.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.