By Steven Tharrett, Special AFS Contributor & Author of STUDIO SUCCESS!

Social media has become one of the hottest platforms for marketing and messaging. The “experts” would lead you to believe that social media is a “slam dunk” when it comes to generating fans, followers and of course, prospect traffic. In reality, social media can be an outstanding marketing tool, which in combination with other marketing strategies can be effective in generating consumer interest.

Social media is not an exact science, and if it’s not managed properly, it can be a drain on your time and ineffective in driving client and/or member traffic. They key to leveraging social media as a marketing tool for your business is to focus your efforts on a select few social media outlets, the ones you know prospects and clients are most likely to be utilizing.

O2 MAX does an outstanding job with social media and has actually incorporated this into their brand value proposition. Following are several tips that can help you leverage your social media efforts and contribute to your overall success in generating customer interest and purchase intent.

1. Limit the number of social sites you engage. Contrary to the pervading mantra, its best if you focus your social media efforts on two or three of the most respected and useful sites. In identifying your social media platforms seek to understand the social media habits of your prospective and/or existing clients. Facebook obviously has an incredible reach and can generate a large fan base if used properly. 

Facebook allows you to carry-on a two way dialogue with fans by sharing stories, photos and even video. Google+ is newer, but it is also an excellent platform for carrying on dialogue with your existing and future clients. By being on Google+ it will drive your rankings on Google rankings, giving your studio a great profile outside of your website. If one of your points of differentiation is your expertise around a given topic area, or you wish to provide regular insights into your brand, possibly Twitter or even LinkedIn can bring value.

2. Keep it simple but authentic. Managing your social media efforts, even if it only involves two or three outlets can be time consuming and can take away from everything else you need to do as an entrepreneur. There are excellent, available tools that allow you to effectively manage and schedule your social media efforts.

Two of the better known are HootSuite and Tweet Deck. Remember that the authenticity of your social media efforts are important, as savvy consumers will know when your releases are automated. As a result, balance your use of automated tools such as HootSuite with more personalized releases.

3. Be Professional. Remember that anything you release on social media is a reflection of your brand, and your brand is everything. Your studio’s releases will likely be seen around the world, therefore you want to make sure everyone is seeing and feeling the essence of your brand. As a result, don’t delegate the management of your social media efforts to just anyone, make sure that whoever is handling your social media is professional and they clearly understand the tenants of your brand’s value proposition and style guide. 

4. Size does not matter, quality does. The pervading thought among individuals and businesses is that the more fans and followers you have the more successful you are. The real key to leveraging social media is to attract the right audience and convert them to true advocates for your brand. 

Having 500 fans that are passionate about who you are and what you offer is significantly better than having 5,000 followers who have little to no real interest in your studio other than to say they are a fan. They key in this regard is to use social media to carry on authentic and trusted dialogue with your audience, not just sending out a constant stream of information.

5. Build a trusting relationship with your audience. Too many businesses, including health and fitness studios, use social media to talk to their audience rather than carrying on a conversation with them. Those that are most successful with social media have a conversation with their audience; they listen, discuss, respect and follow through. If all you do is send out sales pitches or one-sided news then you are disrespecting your followers. Social media should be a conversation among friends.

Stephen Tharrett, along with Mark Williamson, are the co-founders of ClubIntel - a brand insights and consulting firm serving the health, fitness and private club industries. Starting in 2014, Stephen spent 20 years with ClubCorp, serving in a variety of roles from athletic director to SVP of athletics, golf and tennis. From 2008 to 2010 he served as CEO of the Russian Fitness Group. He has served on the board of IHRSA, as well as serving as its President. He has also served in a variety of volunteer roles for the American College of Sports Medicine, including serving on its education and certification committees and co-authoring the 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions of ACSM’s Health/Fitness Facilities Standards and Guidelines. Stephen is the author of ten books on fitness, including Fitness Management, 3rd edition and AFS’s Studio Success. He presently serves on AFS’s Advisory Council and is involved with other industry organizations.

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