CHICAGO -- Nearly 50 attendees started Thursday off early attending Casey Conrad’s session entitled “The Real Truth about Generating Leads and Memberships with Social Media.”

Conrad runs a social media marketing (SMM) consultancy Communication Consultants (www.caseyconrad.com) and is the author of “Selling Fitness” and “Selling Personal Training.”

Her talk focused on SMM and Internet best practices for club operators interested in optimizing their Web presence and online relationships with existing and new members.

“Guerilla marketing and referral marketing for memberships are working well in clubs today, but the traditional media advertising marketing isn’t working as well to drive memberships anymore,” Conrad said.

“The four key SMM tools for clubs are a blog, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook,” she added. “But don’t try to start them all at the same time. Start with one, and then add the next and the next until you have a complete set.

Twitter

Conrad encouraged all seminar attendees to start their SMM activities by running a search on Twitter for their club.

“You might be shocked with what you find,” she said. “Of course, listen to what they have to say, but are you participating in the conversation?”

Conrad continued to explain how Twitter has become the new incoming information call, and regular monitoring of the name of your club on Twitter can become a valuable member lead generation tool.

Blogs

Conrad recommends that your blog should be at the center of your SMM efforts because it’s something you can completely control (if done right), and Google loves fresh and relevant content. But don’t forget about links. Links in and out of the blog add to the relevance of the blog content and act to increase your Google search rank.

Struggling with what new content ideas to post to your blog? Conrad recommended various ideas, including opinions regarding news or events, happenings at the club, compliments and awards for others, stories painting the personality of the club, and pictures, videos, messages of hope and inspiration.

But ultimately, your blog efforts should be focused on optimizing interactions with your followers.

“Get the visitors to your blog into a list or database that you can use to get them to buy something from you down the road,” Conrad suggested. “First, get your visitors to know, like and trust you. But don’t set up a blog without them having the option to opt-in or subscribe to your RSS feed, so they can be notified when you post new content to your blog in the future.”

Facebook

Regarding Facebook, Conrad said any club owner or manager who doesn’t have a Facebook page for their facility should be embarrassed.

“Fifty percent of Americans are on Facebook today, with the fastest-growing segment being people 50 years old and older,” Conrad noted.

Conrad didn’t recommend building private, custom social media websites such as Ning, but instead use existing social media networks because otherwise you will not be optimized.

With Facebook, as a club owner you must be very transparent, especially if you’re trying to drive people to offers. Don’t try to lure people to a link to sell something without being upfront about it in the initial post.

“Make your Facebook posts interesting, relevant and fun to the point that a reader would share them with a friend,” she said.

Video

The ease and potential to create compelling video has increased immensely over just the last 10 years and allows you to connect deeper with your Web followers.

“Video can create celebrity status for you or your trainers at virtually no cost thanks to YouTube,” Conrad said. “Video also has the magic ability to give you credibility and be seen as an expert.”

Create a set of core videos (maximum of six) to keep re-using over and over again.

“A video about weight loss, an abdominal workout video and other videos that you’ll be able to refer to consistently in your SMM efforts allow you to generate critical mass and interest on YouTube,” she said.

And don’t forget to set your mobile phone to vibrate during her future education sessions. If not, Conrad will might make you drop and bang out 25 push-ups like she did to the unfortunate show photographer whose phone rang in the middle of her explanation of YouTube.