SO WHAT?

The Blog of Dr Paul Bedford

Creating a Community


Just the work ‘club’ creates a sense of community, however many clubs fail to maintain even the most basic level of communications with their members. Clubs are places you join, meet likeminded people and share experiences. Many of those interviewed described no sense of community in clubs that they had previously been members of. Members want to engage with their health club on various levels, sometimes a transactional level other times at a friendship level. This can challenge some operators as only seeing the relationship as transactional and when the transactions are complete the relationship os over. 


Over 80% of those interviewed said that the club they enjoyed being a member of was the one that provided them with a sense of belonging. That the member was part of something. sometimes on the periphery and sometimes at the centre but always a member. 


Fitting in was a key motivator for day-to-day behavior for usage. They described clubs that had this feeling as a lace you would look forward to going to in addition to the value that they placed on the workout.


I have been a member of four clubs, when you find one that values you as a person not just as a paying member you enjoy being in the club more. I never felt judged, I always felt like they were pleased to see me, genuinely pleased to see me. 


This sense of fitting in and belonging begins with the joining phase. How you tour and the way you demonstrate interaction with existing members. Experienced exercisers recognize the relationship that staff have with members. 


If during the tour you see the sales guy talking to members in the club you get a sense of what is to come. If they are not interacting with existing members then the chances are they wont interact with you once the sale is made. 


This personal interest translates into a belief in that staff care about members not just about the sale. 

Once the member has joined the sense of belonging should begin. Those interviewed did not seem so keen on new member evenings as might then be expected. 


Its a bit like when you go on holiday and the first morning you have to go and see the rep. 

They explain stuff about the resort that you didn’t know and then try and sell you stuff. Its the same in health clubs but the staff seem less enthusiastic to do them. I have been to a couple now and it can just feel like a waste of time for everyone.  


Therefore clubs should seek to find ways of quickly integrating the member into club life. Explaining what is normal on a day-to-day basis was seen as useful, as opposed to letting the member find out for themselves. 


So they told me that between three and six the club has larger numbers of children and parents in. Saturday afternoons are quite in the gym, but the tennis crowd dominate the courts and the bar area. Sunday morning is a mix, lots of parents in with kids using the pool. The gym and classes are also busy. 

 
It appears just tell members what to expect is of vale to them, but often overlooked by clubs. 

Without question the biggest factor in creating a sense of belonging were the clubs staff. Interview after interview produced the same comments about particular staff members being the link to the club. The staff member relationship appears to be important in the short and long term. During early stages of membership it is the staff that reassures and supports the member. Over time this develops into a working relationship and sometimes even friendship. 


You have got to understand, when I joined I was not in good shape, I am no greek god now but I am so much better than I was. Having the staff around me to give me feedback was so important on those days when I had had enough. Sometimes just a smile would do. They knew I had been in and I knew that someone had seen me workout. It was like a validation of my existence as a member. 


These sentiments appear to be true throughout the club, with members stating that the receptionist or the bar person or the class teacher all had the ability and opportunity to provide feedback, support and validation. It is the staff that members build the relationship with not the building or the brand, but the people. When members describe loving a club they are almost certainly talking about the staff as much as the facilities. 

 
This poses a question for club owners on how they recruit the most appropriate staff. To often it appears that a body, anybody will do, other times qualifications are the main prerequisite, but it appears the ability to get along with members is what the members value the most. 


I have been doing yoga for years, most of the yoga teachers `i have met are so uptight about yoga, but (names teacher) is really relaxed about the whole thing. Her classes are great you feel included, its not just those that can do all of the advanced stuff that get the attention, I am sure she speaks to everyone at some point in the class. 


Social Factors and fitting in
The recent white report has identified that the difference in membership types by demographic profiling is negligible across the sectors. This may be due to the improvement in the public sectors quality of provision or because they have adapted the same marketing approaches that were used by the private sector to build their membership bases. either way people who once joined private sector clubs are now just as likely to join those in the public sector. 

 
This lack of diversification has meant that members are far more likely to meet people like themselves in every type of club. This leads to members feeling like they fit in with other members more quickly, but will still require clubs to continue to integrate new members into club life rather than expecting member  to do it for them. 

 
It used to be that if you joined (names club) you needed to be a certain type, you know have a nice car, big house, kids in private school. But now you see just as many builders vans in the car park as you do Mercedes. 

This normalizing has lead to experienced members re-thinking what it means to be a member of a club. They are using this to there advantage from a connivence and price perspective, shopping around to find what best suites them. Friendships between members are now being built based on the exercise experiences they share rather than on the socio-demographic backgrounds. Conversations between judges and plumbers are about the sessions they have just completed or are going to do tomorrow. This is magnified in the cross-fit and boutique type gyms, where people are coming together to share common experiences. 

 
It has become less about who you are and more about what WE are doing. This doesn't mean that members are necessarily looking to workout together but share their experiences with others.

 
Social media has allowed this approach to proliferate. With the increase in mobile devices to recored and store exercise data, members are using social media to post their workout experiences to demonstrate to themselves and to others that a session has been completed. Members report using a wide range of apps and devices to collect collate and share their results. This has been member driven, with clubs generally only engaging with members digitally about the club.

 
Where clubs are using digital approaches to stay in contact with members are recognizing the benefits of this updated information but are also critical of some of the deliver content.


I recently got an email form my club, it started dear valued member. If I am so so valuable why don’t they use my f***ing name. It just a generalized B.S. e-mail about how greta the club is and what is coming up that I can BUY. Its a sales letter disguised poorly as a news letter. They have got nothing to say but they think this is good for member relationships. 


Where digital is appreciated is day-to-day news about the club, class and changes to normal practice. 


I was on my way to the club and I got a tweet that the showers in the mens changing rooms were out. I ditched my morning workout and went straight in to work. I was a bit miffed that I missed my workout but please i didn't go out of my way just to be greeted with a notice on reception when I got there. By the time I had got to work they had sorted it and had sent another tweet apologizing for the inconvenience. Thats just being thoughtful.  

 
Where members are using technology and social media is to set up there own Facebook and linked-in groups. These are not the clubs official sites but member based pages. These sites appear to be a mix of praise and criticism for clubs. some are set up with the sole purpose of complaining other are places where members go to meet each other discus training ideas and classes and generally hangout. It also appears to be a way for new members to make friends who attend the same classes and who have had the same experiences. In this environment members who would not normally be able to voice there opinion about a particular issues are able to join the conversation. These digital conversations lead to real world conversations within the club. 

 
When I joined the club i looked to see if it had a Facebook page. It did but it was all pretty boring. I found another site for the club set up by one of the girls who does a lot of spinning. I watched the conversations and then started to join in. I started with asking questions about shorts and discomfort. It seems everyone was really happy to discus the underwear or no underwear choices in a spinning class. At the next class several of the members approached me and said they had been wanting to ask the same question. One bloke came up to me and said, I go commando, I am not sure if it was a chat up line or what but it made me smile. 

 
Members appear fine with the idea of digital interaction with the club, but several rules seems to apply. 

Don’t think that sending me e-mails is as good as providing actual service. Digital  
communication is not a replacement for service.  

  • Use a personal tone when speaking to members digitally, as a valued member is to 
    corporate. 
  • Don’t just communicate with me to sell me stuff.
  • Stop hiding changes to terms and conditions in the bottom of a two day spa promotion.