Bad reputations are easy to get and nearly impossible to reverse—until now. Social media, specifically Facebook, is a powerful vehicle that can help fitness facilities shed a public perception that they never wanted. Facebook now has more than 800 million active users. More than half of them log on daily. The average person has 130 friends, and the average person “likes” 80 brands or companies. The people are out there, they are a captive audience, and they want to like you.

The following are four ways for your health club to get “liked”:

  1. Ask people to “like” you. If you are going to use Facebook to help manage your reputation, you first need to get your members to “like” you. The easiest way to get them to do so is simply to ask—by sending an e-mail blast to members, posting signs around the club and ensuring your sales staff ask new members to “like” you. No one wants to like a fan page that no one else likes. If you don’t have fans, then people assume it is for a reason.
  2. Be transparent. When a member registers a complaint on your Facebook wall, your first thought might be to hit the little “X” beside the comment and send the complaint into the cyberspace trash can, but this is not a solution. As I mentioned before, the average person has a few hundred friends. If you delete their complaint without a resolution, they will tell all their friends. Instead, handle the issue, and then make sure to let everyone see how you handled it. Did your company accidentally make a mistake? If so, apologize for the error, suggest a solution and thank the member for bringing the situation to your attention. You should have a member service department. If you do, use it. If the complaint is that one of your machines is out of order, then snap a picture of your maintenance person repairing it and post that picture on Facebook. Show your current and prospective members that you have nothing to hide.
  3. Give away free stuff. One of my favorite things to do is run contests on Facebook. I love to enter contests myself. I will enter almost any contest that promises me the possibility of walking away with stuff. For example, I frequent a University of Michigan football bar that holds a raffle at halftime each week. You can buy tickets for $5 each. I buy $15 in tickets, and one time I won a hat. I was pumped about it. It didn’t matter that the price tag on the hat was $12; I entered a contest, and I won. You can get people like me to like you by using the (very basic and free) “questions” app. Offer an incentive in the form of a giveaway for interaction. Suggestion: Have people do a flexing pose in your gym (or wearing your club’s shirt in public places), post the pictures on your page by a certain date, then have all your fans vote for their favorite. The winner receives something like a hat, gift card, T-shirt or something else of your choosing.
  4. Engage with your fans. One of the best side effects of social media is that it gives a personality to a company or brand. The formerly silent company now has a name, a face and a voice. Find the right person at your facility (perhaps a marketing director if you can’t afford a social media manager) to manage your page and have them post daily or multiple times a day. Make sure they respond to all questions and comments. They also should “like” people’s comments or their status. For example, if you post, “What’s your favorite post-workout meal?” a fan might reply, “I like a protein shake and tuna.” Some gyms and companies forget that second step of responding to their comment. It can be as simple as, “That’s a great suggestion! It is important to have protein for a post-meal workout.” A response can bring a smile to their day.

A reputation can be destroyed in one day. It may take a while to gain it back, but by doing just a few simple things on Facebook you are on the right track. With every day and every week, and with every post and every new fan, you are on your way to making your brand what you want it to be.

David Buzo, director of marketing for ZX Fitness, manages eight North Carolina clubs. He also is the owner of MONA Group, specializing in social media, website design and digital advertising. He spoke on the social media panel at Club Industry 2011. You can reach him at david@monamarketing.com or on Twitter at @MONAgroupMKTG.