By Marshal D. Carper
Last week, we talked about the basic goals of social media and of community building, using my work with a non-profit as an example case study. As you begin to develop your strategy, creating and empowering advocates should be the core of your social media activities, and that core is strengthened through a variety of tactics. Having an active Facebook page may help you turn gym members into passionate advocates, but the real process starts offline, within the walls of the gym.
On this front, Junior Achievement was well ahead of most organizations turning to social media to boost the impact of their marketing efforts. Junior Achievement has been working in the community for decades, and their alumni are sprinkled across the world. They are reasonably well-known and respected, and they host numerous events for a wide range of community members. Offline, Junior Achievement’s community is thriving. It is vibrant and healthy, and everyone involved is happy and passionate about the organization. Their social media was weak because they had not made the effort to make their online presence match their rich physical presence.
Instructor jiu-jiteiros should keep this in mind: your online presence is a reflection of your offline presence.
Prospects will judge your gym based on the quality of your website and the quality of your online content. It may not be the only deciding factor, but it plays a part. If your school was a top of the line high performance engine, you would want a body and an eye-catching paintjob to match. Your website and your social media is that slick exterior. If your exterior is a beat-up station wagon with a cardboard spoiler gorilla glued to the back, no one is going to take your engine—the real hero—seriously, and the ones that do are still going to ask you to park around the corner when you pick them up after school because, frankly, you’re embarrassing.
Establishing a healthy offline community—the engine—is step one, and that is a subject worth many other articles. Essentially, your students should know that their instructors care about them, they should feel as though they are part of a team and that the health and success of their training partners is just as much a priority as their own, they should feel like they are making progress, and they should be having fun (smiles, laughter, and extended mat chit-chat sessions are all good signs).
If your gym community has all four of those traits, you can begin to build an online community that reflects the awesomeness of the offline one. Set up a Facebook page, if you have not already, and fill it with pictures and videos of anything related to your gym: promotions, seminars, competitions, team picnics, etc. Tag everyone that you can. Next, set aside time to make at least one post a day of content of some sort—articles or videos or pictures or association news, something that your students can talk about.
After about a week of consistent content, hang a flier in the gym that encourages your students to log on to the Facebook page. Better yet, give them a reason to visit the page by asking them to give their feedback on a new t-shirt design, on what should be covered in Tuesday’s class, on who their favorite fighter of all time is—anything that will stimulate interaction. Remember: a community is built on conversation. Everything you do with your social media community should be focused on stimulating participation. You can post announcements on your Facebook, but they should be a small fraction of your total social media content.
Maintain the richness of your online community by continuing to provide your students with content day after day. While this sounds like it could be a challenge, it should not take you more than 15 minutes to find an article or video to post (subscribe to multiple jiu-jitsu RSS feeds to have a steady stream of content). At the same time, develop your own content to share. Is someone getting striped today? Take a picture and post it. Shoot a quick video on a flip camera of some students rolling or of an instructor teaching a technique. Record testimonials. Type up workouts. Share upcoming tournament schedules. Talk about local news and sports.
Like it or not, you are the host and social media is your party. If nobody is having a good time, it’s your fault. Bake some cookies. Decorate. Try that new bruschetta recipe that you read in Home & Garden… okay, that metaphor got away from me but you know what I mean.
Your students already have these conversations in the gym. Now you are replicating that experience online and making those small conversations available to every other student. Keep your students engaged with your gym even when they aren’t training by facilitating these conversations.
Next week, to complete this series on jiu-jitsu social media, we will talk about how to empower your advocates, leveraging your community to attract new members to the gym.
Marshal D. Carper is the author the Cauliflower Chronicles: A Grappler’s Tale of Self-Discovery and Island Living and the co-author of Marcelo Garcia’s Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques. Visit his website at MarshalDCarper.com to read more about social media and jiu-jitsu.