Casey Conrad has been in the health and fitness industry for 25 years. In addition to authoring “Selling Fitness: The Complete Guide to Selling Health Club Memberships,” she has created and published more than 20 other sales, marketing and management training products specifically for the health and fitness industry. Conrad is the creator of the Take It Off in-club licensed weight-loss program and founder of an international chain of weight-loss centers called Healthy Inspirations. She has spoken in 16 countries, is a feature presenter at conventions and trade shows worldwide, and writes monthly for numerous international magazines. Conrad can be reached at her Web site, www.healthclubsalestraining.com. If you would like to receive Casey’s free e-newsletter on simple tips for adding technology to your club’s marketing, go to www.smartclubmarketing.com and register. The site also provides club operators with links to Internet tools to help you build your business.

For many of us over the age of 40, we only have a peripheral awareness of Internet communities such as Facebook, YouTube and MySpace. We may hear our kids talk about these sites or read a news story about the newest 23-year-old millionaire who started one of these companies, but the majority in the 40-plus market don’t really understand or use these sites—including me. Sure, there undoubtedly will be some of us in the “upper” age brackets who use these social networking tools, but it’s nothing like the teens and 20-somethings who are the driving force behind the explosion of such social networking sites.

What started out seemingly as kids’ play, however, has turned into a huge business that has tremendous marketing implications for every club operator. These community sites utilize the concept of blogging. A blog is nothing more than an abbreviation for the term “Web log,” where people place information that they want to share with others. This placing of information is called a “post.” Therefore, when people are posting information, they are blogging. Now, let’s discuss the business application of blogging to the health club business.

Why Should I Blog?
Although I am a new advocate of business blogging, the one question I get from almost every club operator I discuss this with is, “Why should I make a blog for my business?” Perhaps the most powerful reason you should create a business blog is to reach customers and prospects effectively.

I can’t explain all the techno mumbo jumbo behind it, but today’s blogs use a feature called an RSS feed. RSS stands for “really simple syndication” and is nothing more than a technology that is used to notify users of content updates on a Web site or blog. RSS was created so that when someone wants to be told about updates to a favorite site or blog, they don’t have to log into that site to check; rather they are automatically notified that new content has been posted.

To the non-technical person, this may not seem like a big deal, but here’s why it’s important: RSS feeds don’t have to go through the normal e-mail channels, which means they don’t get kicked out with SPAM filters. This is huge in Internet marketing because as much as 60 percent of e-mails sent through databases do not make it to their destination because of SPAM filters. As a result, with blogs, you virtually get to speak directly with both customers and prospects.

Another powerful reason you should be blogging is for the quality of your communication with customers and prospects. Blogs allow for and advocate interaction. Not only does the owner of the blog post information, the readers can respond back with comments. Although this can have its drawbacks, such as the occasional upset customer who lambastes you on the Internet through the blog, the pros do outweigh the cons. Having this type of open information transfer may push a business to be more responsive to their customers. If a company doesn’t take care of its customers, those consumers might just “blog you out.” With good business practices and regular monitoring of your blog, most businesses don’t have any major problems.

An additional part of the blog communication is the diversity. Not only can you post written information, but you can also use audio and video technology very easily to add interesting content that will capture the attention of visitors. Another benefit of audio and video is that search engines are searching for this type of content now, which means your site will be better optimized when you add audio and video to your blog.

The bottom line is that blogging is technologically good for your Web site presence and is a friendly and powerful way to communicate with both customers and prospects.

Does My Target Market Blog?
The younger generations are much more apt to blog today, but remember just 10 years ago, only a small segment of the population had e-mail. Today, 70 percent of all Americans use e-mail. The same thing will happen with blogging—i.e. the consumer will catch up with the technology—and when they do, if you are trying to play catch-up, you will miss the best opportunities.

Think about those individuals who began using e-mail and building Web sites for business in the early days of the technology. One of the most important advantages was Web presence, and these early adapters secured domain names and began generating recognition with search engines to the extent that they still maintain an incredibly high-ranking status. High-ranking status means high visibility, which means more prospects and ultimately more money. If you don’t get your blog domains early and start using them and optimizing them, you will be hard pressed to catch up.

A second advantage of having an early Web presence was the ability to build a huge database of prospects. There were many early adapters who didn’t utilize list-building strategies, but those who did were able to use those lists to proactively communicate and sell to interested prospects. Although a blog isn’t usually intended to capture e-mails, it does become a fabulous tool for linking prospects back to e-newsletters, free downloads and other trial offers that do capture prospect information. The bottom line is that even if you don’t understand much about blogs and blogging today, it’s here to stay.

A blog is just one of a cluster of Internet marketing tools you should be using in your current marketing mix. No one thing you do is going to be “the” source for new membership sales, but the reality of the situation is that traditional marketing efforts are becoming less and less effective. You shouldn’t stop traditional forms of marketing, but you better start entering the world of e-marketing or you will be left behind. By creating blogs in conjunction with your Web site, e-database system and e-newsletters, you can grow your business.