Last year, my friend and I both started using a running app. The app coached us through sessions and let us keep track of our goals, routes, calories burned, and distances. It also gave us the option to link to our Facebook accounts so that our intentions and our successes (and, yes, failures) could be publicly broadcast. My friend chose to keep her Facebook community up-to-date; I chose to lie low.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that she’s still running (she recently signed up for a 10K), while I’ve called it quits. We started out pretty equal in terms of experience, fitness, and determination levels — but she found the motivation to keep going, while somewhere along the way I got bored or distracted or lazy or something. To be honest, I don’t entirely know why I stopped. But I suspect I know why she didn’t: She had a community to support her.
It’s a scientifically verified fact that when we have a community supporting our efforts to accomplish a goal, we’re much more likely actually to actually accomplish it. In one study conducted by Weilos, a social media site where people post about their attempts to lose weight, individuals who documented their progress by publicly posting photos of their bodies lost 1.2 pounds per week, while individuals who relied only on a diet and exercise program lost .27 pounds. In another study, published in 2013 in Translational Behavioral Medicine, one group of participants enrolled in a weight-loss program was asked to publish progress, questions, and requests for support on Twitter; a second group was asked to post nothing. While the two groups showed equal amounts of weight loss, individuals who posted most frequently always lost the most weight. The message is clear: Establish a community and you’re more likely to stick to your goals.
The thing is, not everyone whose goals involve weight loss or fitness wants a virtual community. That’s where fitness facilities come in. With a fitness facility, you are able to provide exercisers with real-life access to a group of people with similar goals and real-life access to a staff whose purpose is to help further those goals. Those are huge assets, and we constantly hear industry stories suggesting that facilities with the best member retention and most successful word-of-mouth new membership campaigns are the ones that make people feel they are a part of something. As Anthony Wall, Director of Professional Education at the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, California, expressed it in a recent post on the IHRSA blog: “Exactly how a club creates a sense of belonging and community will depend, to some extent, on the type of facility. However, at the end of the day, it comes down to making members feel welcome…. the one thing that all successful health and fitness facilities have in common is staff who are genuinely concerned about members, and enjoy being part of their involvement in club activities.”
Ali Lucas, Director of Marketing for BodyBusiness Health Club and Spa in Austin, Texas, agrees. “Hire and fire the right people,” she said in the same blog post. “Define your purpose and values, and compare every decision against them. Compensate and reward employees based on their performance. Train them to create a consistent member and guest experience.” She tells the story of a former member who had to cancel because she was moving out of state. The member posted a video testimonial — which in itself is telling — saying that she was going to miss two things: her church and her health club. “Lots of gyms have nice equipment and good classes,” the member said in the video, “but it’ll be hard to find one with the same kind of heart.”
That’s what you want: for your members to recognize the heart in your facility, and to feel an emotional attachment to the community they have there. Building such a community depends first of all, on your staff. It also depends on your efforts to promote social interaction, whether you introduce members to each other, hold networking events, form clubs that address members’ interests, or, yes, build up an online social media presence. Whatever your approach, make it part of your membership and retention strategy to make your facility a true community. You’ll know you’ve achieved that when you hear a member call it “home.”