What gyms can learn from the online fitness communities

James Poole is the co-founder of Advent Running, a rapidly growing free running group that has recently been nominated for the best online community at The Running Awards, 2016. James is also a triathlon coach, an ultra runner and a member of the 2016 British Spartathlon Team.

We spoke with James to learn about how to create a successful online fitness community and what gyms can learn from the growth of groups like AR.

 

The Fitness Network:

What are the benefits of being part of an online fitness community?

James:

The hardest thing can sometimes just be getting out of the door, whether it’s for a run or to the gym. Being part of online fitness communities can be very motivational. We have 2,500 members on Facebook who don’t know each other physically, but they value their relationships with each other because they help each other become better versions of the runners they are. It also gives you access to a wealth of information.

The Fitness Network:

What have you found to be the most effective online channels of recruiting new members?

James:

We find that a combination of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram works best, as you can pull in a greater number of people, however we do try to use Twitter and Instagram to drive people back to our Facebook page. This is the platform where there is the most scope for creative content. It also allows you to write more and to create events.

The Fitness Network:

Who, if anyone, do you identify as a competitor in the market and how do you deal with market competitors?

James:

Anything that stops people getting out and being active, whether that’s the TV or the pub… these things are competitors. We just want to see people getting active. If that’s with us, brilliant. If that’s with a gym or another running group, great. Gyms are competing with each other because they have a revenue stream from selling memberships. Running groups are not businesses as such. First and foremost, they’re communities. We just want to focus on creating a great environment for our runners.

The Fitness Network:

What changes are you seeing in social media at the moment and how are they impacting on fitness networks?

James:

We’re seeing people posting more and more pictures of themselves on social media from gym classes, which can be very motivating. The flip side of that is that no one ever seems to post about their bad workouts. We’re all human. We all have good days and bad days. I think that some more honesty would benefit people. We need key influencers who say, ‘it’s ok to not want to go to the gym. It’s ok to not run a new PB every time you have a race’. That is what will resonate with people.

The Fitness Network:

Do you think gyms use social media enough to connect with their existing members, or could they explore this avenue further?

James:

An online community creates a sense of belonging, and when people feel like they belong, they probably have a greater level of loyalty. AR doesn’t have bricks and mortar, but what it does have is a strong online community. If you have that one person that is a really valuable asset to your business, you need to think about what contact your clients have with that person once they’ve left your gym.

You could strengthen these relationships even more online, ensuring that your classes are always full. I don’t know whether bigger gyms could learn from the more bespoke brands who seem to have caught onto the idea that people like to buy into an individual rather than a brand.

The Fitness Network:

What tips would you have for gyms looking to create a strong online presence in order to retain and grow their membership rates?

James:

You need to be regularly posting on social media and making sure that your content is of a high standard. It’s important to try and encourage others to be involved as well. It’s all very good and well to post lots of photos, but if no one engages with them then it’s almost pointless.

We ask people to post pictures of their runs, good or bad, and this is almost more powerful than the content we post, because it’s very real and very honest. We also spend a fair bit of time making sure that our photos are nicely branded. Hopefully people will see that we’ve put the time and effort in and know that this is reflected in what we put into all aspects of AR.

 

Posted in Digital Marketing, Gyms & Clubs, The Fitness Network.
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