Membership engagement is the hinge factor of your gym’s success; get it right and your attrition rate will be the envy of your competition, get it wrong and you’ll be losing members faster than you can bring them in. In this article, I’ll reveal half a dozen key factors when it comes to creating and maintaining gym member engagement. 

The 6 Strategies At A Glance

  • Member Knowledge
  • Staff Training
  • Technology Integration
  • Social Media
  • Omni Channel Engagement
  • Soliciting Feedback

What is Engagement?

Often engagement is discussed in relation to the technology that is used to deliver it rather than what it actually looks and feels like to the customers as real living and feeling human beings. And that is what engagement boils down to – the way your company makes your customer feel. 

When it comes to your gym members, engagement should have the goal of making each person feel like a valued part of the team. When they walk through the door, it means that they are greeted by name and the staff know what type of workout they are there to do. The feeling of belonging that is generated from that experience is the very definition of engagement.

Engagement in the gym is no different than in a coffee shop; when you enter your favorite coffee shop, your barista knows your name, starts to prep your usual blend, and brings it to you with a smile. It’s a frictionless experience that fits like a glove. 

6 Keys to Achieving Meaningful Engagement

#1: Member Knowledge

Engagement begins with developing your knowledge about the member. When a member signs up, you have a lot of qualitative information at your fingertips already. Yet, too often we don’t mine that information to increase member engagement. That is a mistake. 

You should create a notation system that pulls the following key information from the induction process with your new member:

  • Preferred name
  • Fitness goal
  • Experience level
  • Support level required
  • An anecdotal note to guide staff (examples: “don’t distract until after workout” for a hardcore trainer or “needs motivational support” for a new member)

You can also increase member knowledge with regular member surveys. Be sure to ask specific questions about their gym experience and what you can do to make it better. An often overlooked, yet potentially vital, source of information, is the exit survey. There can be a tendency to not want to know why a member is leaving the gym. Yet, finding this out, even though it may be uncomfortable, can help you to address problems that may exist and plug the leak. That’s why you should establish an exit survey as a standard part of the membership cancellation process. 

There is nothing that is as valuable as a 5 minute one-on-one conversation with a gym member to increase engagement. When you do this multiple times every day, you will not only be increasing individual member engagement; at the same time you’ll be able to very quickly pick up on what you’re doing that is exciting your members as well as anything that may be disengaging them. 

#2: Staff Training

Membership engagement has to start at the top. You need to model it to your staff when you are on the gym floor. Then you should train your members to follow your example. Set engagement expectations such as engaging with every member by way of a personal conversation at least once every 4 or 5 visits. This needs to be systemized and documented to ensure that members don’t go for three months with no one speaking to them. 

Make membership engagement training a feature of your staff meetings. Hold practise sessions where you play the part of a member and a staff member plays themself. Play the part of all member types, including those who are always complaining.

#3: Technology Integration

Technology, when used properly, can help you to aggregate all of your disparate data points into a place that is easily accessible. Find a software program that allows your staff members to interact with members to have access to the notes they need to personally engage the member in a way that is meaningful to them. 

Sometimes, the problem is not having too little information about members but having too much. If you’ve got thousands of members you can quickly become overwhelmed when it comes to data collection. The problem is often magnified when you have several different silos that are collecting information that is not integrated. When that happens, you are likely to provide your member with an inconsistent delivery of service. 

Here’s an example …

Through the induction of a new member, you find out and make note of the fact that he has had knee surgery and cannot do any type of squatting movement. But then you send out an email to members extolling the benefits of squatting and inviting them to a squat clinic. Your member is likely to get the impression that your operation is impersonal and clinical, which is exactly the opposite of the way you want an engaged member to feel.

Yet, there is an easy fix here, though it does take some effort. By integrating your various information silos and databases, you will be able to segment your email mailouts based on key points of difference. More on this shortly.

#4: Social Media

Social Media serves as an important part of the whole member engagement experience. It provides multiple platforms for engagement and should definitely play a part of your engagement plan. Through Facebook groups, Instagram and Twitter, you’re able to motivate, inspire and inform your members. You should definitely maintain an active presence across all platforms. 

However, social media does have its limitations. A key thing to keep in mind is that you do not own any of the data that is on these platforms. They are also designed with Facebook’s, Twitter’s, or Linked In’s business objectives in mind. We also tend to assume that all of our members are already active users of these platforms. Yet, you will probably find that at least 30 percent of your members are not active users of Facebook, Linked In, or Twitter. 

Another thing to remember is that when you start a Facebook group, you are starting from zero. You may have a database of members but you have to either go out and invite them all individually to join the group or wait for them to find you. All the while you are at the whim of the platform’s algorithm to control how easy it is for your members to find you. Attracting members to your group and keeping them there can also eat up a lot of time and effort. 

An analogy that I like to use regarding Facebook groups is that you are putting your energies into building a house on rented land without a lease. Then someone comes in in the middle of the night and changes the locks on you. Similarly, when a platform, such as Linked In, changes its permissions or Facebook changes its rules, all of your efforts to engage your members can be for nothing. 

There are also privacy and security issues around social media that may be problematic for some of your members. For example, you may have members who are not comfortable with publicly talking about their weight loss challenges or other fitness goals in a group setting. 

#5: Omni-Channel Engagement

To create the level of personalization that you need to really engage your members, you need to engage them on an omni channel level. That simply means that you are communicating with your members at the most effective touchpoints. The result of an omni channel engagement program is that when Joe walks through the door, he gets the welcome that he likes, he gets access to the services that he wants. If Joe’s wife, Sylvia, walks in five seconds later, she gets the experience that she wants and that engages her, which may be completely different from her husband.

To be honest, not many gyms are succeeding with the omni-channel approach to engaging their members as individuals. But that doesn’t mean that your business can’t do it. 

There are 5 steps to creating an omni channel engagement marketing approach …

Information Gathering

You need to gather together all of your collected data on your members that informs your communication with them. This can be quite challenging for many gyms because they don’t actually know where all that data is being stored. So, they need to map out where they are collecting behavioral information about their members

Break Down the Information

The next step is to amalgamate the silos of your collected data. In some cases, that may mean investing in software that allows for the consolidation of your technology. If the data is in too many places, it will not help make business decisions. 

Segmentation

Once you have amalgamated your data, you then need to segment it. We often talk about market segmentation when it comes to outbound marketing yet rarely concerning inbound engagement marketing. Yet, this step is vital to making sure that each of our members is consistently receiving messages that are aligned to his or her situation, goals, and personality. 

The more narrowly defined your database segmentation is, the more ability you have to engage your members. 

Content Personalization

Once you have segmented your membership database in accordance with their goals, likes, and needs, you will be in a position to send out messages that recognize them for who they are and what their situation is. 

For example, imagine that you’ve got a member – let’s call her Susie – who has been training for two years but is currently injured and unable to start a new program for another couple of weeks. You have all of that information about Susie. Imagine if you were able to move her to an email segment dedicated to members who are injured and having to pause their workouts. You know those members will be frustrated and probably worrying about losing their gains. 

Send an email to Susie that provides motivational messages to keep her amped to get back to training. Assure her that she will soon get back to her old level and give her some active recovery exercises to perform in the meantime. Why not even offer her a complimentary protein shake after her first comeback workout?

Imagine if you were Susie. Would an email like that make you feel engaged and appreciated as a member? You bet it would!

While we’re on the topic of emails, here’s a quick tip to increase engagement through responses to your emails. Simply ask your members a question at the end of the email. For example, if you’ve just provided a nutrition tip, end by asking what they are cooking tonight for dinner. The more your members engage with you through email and social media, the more they will feel part of your gym community. 

Automation

Automation occurs when the personalized engagement messages that make your members feel warm and fuzzy are happening as a matter of course rather than as a hit-and-miss affair. Here is an example of how an automated segmented messaging system might work for a new member:

  • On Day 7, they should get a congratulatory message that reaffirms their decision, and reinforces the benefits of it.
  • On Day 12, they receive a message that provides tips regarding training, nutrition, and recovery that is appropriate to their training level.
  • On Day 14, they receive another message with specific content that is at their level and usable.
  • On Day 30, they have been entered onto your monthly email list for their specific market segment.

#6: Soliciting Feedback

As has become clear in our discussion, communication is at the heart of member engagement. Effective communication goes two ways. You’ve got to communicate with your member as a human being and you need to provide multiple opportunities for your member to communicate back to you. 

Different members will have different feedback preferences. To accommodate all of them you need to provide a range of feedback opportunities. These should include:

  • Email
  • A suggestion box
  • Signs that say something like “Got a suggestion? Let us know.”
  • Staff who know how to listen and ask open-ended questions

Summary: 5 Engagement Tips You Can Implement Immediately

  1. Do a deep dive to find all of the data you have on your members, and gather it together in one place.
  2. Align the data to your goal of increasing customer engagement.
  3. Invest in and make maximum use of technology that drives engagement. 
  4. Develop an email and social media posting calendar that is segmented according to member characteristics.
  5. Set a staff goal to have a one-to-one conversation with every member every 4 visits.
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