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24 Hour Fitness Uses Social to Win New Members

  |  June 19, 2014   |  Comments

The health club chain finds social referrals via Twitter and Facebook more cost-effective than traditional member acquisition programs.

24 Hour Fitness, a California-based chain with more than 400 clubs and about 4 million members across the U.S., has turned to social media to help it win new members — and says it is reaping the financial results.

In January 2014, for example, the company says it registered more than 8,400 new direct referrals via online sharing, which generated revenues of more than $600,000.

A little more than a year ago, the fitness chain decided to start emphasizing social media referrals rather than relying on traditional recruiting methods, such as direct mail campaigns, giving financial incentives to existing members, and using in-store signage and brochures to alert members to the promotion.

"Traditional brick-and-mortar referral methods can be quite expensive," Joe Beruta, head of marketing and communications at 24 Hour Fitness, tells ClickZ. "We saw so much communication going on via social platforms and we wanted to capitalize on the natural, word-of-mouth referrals that happen there."

Although individual clubs had been encouraging online referrals, 24 Hour Fitness wanted to make social referrals a company-wide effort over numerous platforms. To do so, it installed social log-in tools from Gigya designed to ease user sharing over social media.

Starting in March 2013, the company began emailing current members offers for a three-day free club pass that they could share with friends or family and personalize with a message. Users who clicked on a link in the email could share it either via email or over social media networks of their choice, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Pinterest.

Although there is no financial reward for the referring member, Beruta says the company emphasizes the motivating power of working out with a friend or family member. "This is also a way to help people succeed with their fitness goals," he says.

Beruta says the company has seen a "significant" rise in the volume of new membership referrals since the program was started. Although 24 Hour Fitness is not releasing complete data, a case study it conducted shows that it received 331,500 online referrals in the first three months of the campaign. Getting that many people to click on an ad and shop on the site would normally have cost the company some $3 million in digital display ads, according to Beruta.

The Gigya software also enables 24 Hour Fitness to track the number of referees who actually redeemed the offer, as well as who the top referring members are. It can then send new prospects special promotions or pricing information deemed relevant to them, and reward its top referrers with promotional gear such as a package including a workout bag, T-shirt, water bottle, and blanket.

Linking the referral data to its member database also lets it send out targeted offers such as group training sessions to current, potential, and, or past members. "We can be more relevant in our communications and not only drive engagement with current members but win back lapsed ones," Beruta says.

The platform also helps the company keep a pulse on which social networks are more important to its members. Whereas initially, Facebook and Twitter were the dominant sharing platforms, with around 77 percent of referral shares on Facebook and 22 percent over Twitter, Pinterest has moved up in importance over a period of nine months. Pinterest shares over the platform rose to around 11 percent in that time period, while Facebook shares dipped to around 59 percent.

"Pinterest has popped up as a major slice of our pie. That tells us we need to look at them in the near future for sponsored pins and digital advertising," Beruta says.

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Mary Lisbeth  D'Amico

Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.

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