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Engaging and Updating Your Community During Coronavirus

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Recently there has been rapid and highly impactful change across every industry. The fitness sector is no different, and COVID-19 has changed the way some gyms operate and, in a situation that is becoming more common, has led to the temporary closure of many facilities across the world.

Gyms and fitness studios that have spent years building up a brand now face the possibility of temporary closure in a matter of days and weeks. In a lot of countries, gyms are in that reality at the moment. This situation may seem tough, but there is one thing that you can rely on to get you through this challenging time – your community of members. 

As we have documented before, your community is one of the bedrocks of a successful fitness business. Every modern gym or studio needs to be delivering the best member experience possible to have any chance of sustained growth, and community is one of the three pillars of great member experience. 

At this time, more than ever, you will need your community. And, they will need you, especially if members have to isolate themselves socially. Depending on what stage your business is at, be it limited capacity classes, a reduced time table, or a complete movement to streaming live classes online, you will need to have a clear communication strategy to update and engage your members. 

In this article, we will look at the best practice for all your communications, the main channels of communication you can use, and 5 ways to engage and update your members during this time. 

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Best Practice for All Communications

Around the world, many countries are moving towards recommending the complete closures of pubs, restaurants, retail outlets, and any other commercial premises where large groups gather. This is temporary to maintain social distancing protocols recommended by the WHO and stop the spread of COVID-19. Fitness facilities are a part of this, and while some are still running a limited timetable of classes with a reduced class size to maintain social distancing, others have closed their doors for now and moved their workouts online. Whatever stage your business is at, you need to keep in mind the following best practice guidelines for communicating with your members. 

Follow Official Guidelines Only 

At the moment, our news channels, social media feeds, and Whatsapp groups are dominated by COVID-19. Sporting, cultural, and other large scale events have been temporarily suspended, meaning there is little else to discuss. Unfortunately, there have been incidents where false and misleading information has been spread about COVID-19, intending to cause panic. Any update you give to your members should be in line with advice from the WHO and your country’s government. For example, in the USA, the CDC is the official source of health information, and its dedicated business page is here. 

Positive Tone of Voice Is Key 

Uncertainty and fear are some of the more common things people are feeling at the moment. With closures of businesses, social distancing, and isolation recommended for many people; there’s been a shift in how people live their lives right now. Before this escalated, your studio and gym was likely a positive and motivating space for your members to break up their daily routine. Now, this positivity and motivation must be expressed in any communication you have with your members. With every message they get now likely to be negative in some way, position yourself as a friendly and positive voice in these uncertain times. 

Define Clear Channels of Communication

If you successfully built a strong community in your fitness business, you will no doubt have clear channels of communication between you and your members. If not, though, you must do so now. Focus on having one public arena where you and your members can talk. Also, have a private line of communication where your members can access you individually with any concerns or issues they may have. For public forums of discussion, a WhatsApp group is one of the best ways you share information with all your members. It also allows them to talk with and encourage other members during this time. For private communication, phone calls, email, and SMS are the most suitable.  

What Are the Main Channels of Communication You Can Use? 

One of the great things about today’s world is that it’s never been easier or cheaper to communicate through a range of different channels and platforms. The same applies to how we create content to get the message across. In truth, we are better prepared for the impact of COVID-19 than ever when it comes to reaching and engaging with our members remotely. Here are the main channels of communication you can use right now. 

Chat Groups

As we discussed in the previous section of this article, group chats are an excellent platform for engaging with all your members in the one space. Most gyms and studios will have this set up already, and typically Whatsapp is the most popular. Within these groups, you can update your members with the latest news on the status of classes or any online activity you will be doing. Members can also reassure and encourage each other. However, as we have laid clearly on the previous section, do not allow members to share unverified sources of information on COVID-19. 

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Email and SMS

Both email and SMS are channels that you will no doubt be using regularly. For any communications that you send out, you must get them out on as many channels as you can to ensure each member gets updated with the latest updates from your gym or studio. For example, some members don’t like participating in group chats, but you will have their email address and phone number from signing them up so you can connect with them there. Email specifically can be useful for sending out more detailed information such as workout and nutrition plans. 

Social Media 

Most people are constantly engaging with their social media channels, and around 45% of the world’s population now use social media, spending an average of 2 hours and 23 minutes a day on various platforms. Most fitness business will have a presence on social media already, with Facebook and Instagram being the most effective platforms. We have detailed how you build communities on social media, and now it’s more important than ever to do so. Use your social media channels to update followers about your studio or to share and promote workout plans, nutrition plans, and live workouts. On Instagram, especially, there are several ways to share updates, be it a regular post, a live stream, Stories, or Instagram TV. 

Live Streaming Platforms 

Live streaming has become an integral part of every major social media platform with Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter, all carrying live streaming capabilities. Skype and a newer platform called Zoom are also capable of delivering high-quality live streaming. For most gyms up until this point, live streaming may only have been used for Q&A sessions or presenting a live workout now and again. However, now you may find yourself using this channel nearly every day – especially if you have closed your facility and need to deliver classes to your members online. We will go further into how you do this in the next part of this article, and you can check out this article on how to use Facebook Live for your fitness business for further inspiration.

5 Ways to Engage and Update Your Community During COVID-19

Now that we have gone through some best practice for communication and the channels you can communicate through, let’s take a look at 5 key ways to engage and update your community during this time.

1. Regularly Update Members on Any Changes Your Business Is Making

With things being so uncertain at the moment, you need to make sure that members stay informed on the latest updates from your business. As things change quite quickly, classes that members have booked a week or so in advance may not be on the timetable anymore. Share timetable changes as quickly as possible across the main group chat, email, SMS, and social media channels. A lot of studios have a class cancellation fee set up to encourage attendance so it may be a good idea to pause this during this time, especially if a member’s home situations change at a moment’s notice. Make sure information like this is widely known among the community to encourage people to still book in while classes are running. 

2. Regularly Update Members on the Latest Health and Safety Protocols 

If you are still running classes at a limited capacity, it’s a good idea to share best practice health and safety tips from the WHO and local government on the best way to keep safe during class. This will include things like social distancing in class, wiping down any equipment with antibacterial wipes and using antibacterial gel for hands before during and after class. In the event your facility has to close, it’s still important to share official information regularly. The health and wellness of your members is always a priority, even when you have close your doors temporarily. 

3. Share More Content Around at Home Workouts and Nutrition 

With members isolating themselves at home, there is an increased need for information about working out at home and keeping on track with nutrition, especially if there is limited access to all the food supplies they would typically purchase. Social media and email are the two best channels to communicate this information. Social media especially allows you to get creative with how you share information. Use video, infographic, and detailed written posts to get information across in different ways. If you feel you may not have the best design skills to create infographics, use an online tool called Canva, which allows you to create infographics aligned with your brand colors easily. 

4. Use Fitness Trackers to Champion and Motivate Your Members 

If you have got to the stage where you have had to close your doors and move classes online, you may be thinking it will be harder to track the progress of your members. However, fitness trackers are a great way to keep your members motivated and accountable. Some great tracking apps you can use are MyFitnessPal, Jefit, and Strong. You can track members’ progress during any live workouts you put on or set challenges asking members to complete a certain amount of steps, for example. This can allow you to continue with Member of the Week/Month and give that extra motivation to members to continue working out at home.  

5. Continue Your Class Schedule With Live Workouts 

The rapid spread of COVID-19 means a lot of businesses may need to close temporarily. If your business is one of these, you may need to move your classes online. This may seem like a challenging change in the way your business is run, but it’s one of the best ways to keep your community together and hopefully keep retention rates high. It may seem counterproductive to encourage members to workout out at home instead of the studio, but they will appreciate access to workout experience they enjoy. And, they will no doubt be excited to come back and experience the real thing when you open your doors again.

You will have to choose whether to broadcast the workouts for free for everyone or make them password protected for members only. For more information on streaming live exercises, specifically through Youtube Live, take a look at this detailed Knowledge Base article. 

In Summary

Building an engaged, happy, and motivated community has always been part of delivering a great member experience. In uncertain and somewhat tricky times, you can’t let the quality of this member experience drop, so you need to engage and update your members regularly. And, once things return to normal, both you and members will be glad you put in the time and effort to keep your community together.

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