Several months ago the gym I belong to started a team competition to help members lose weight and body fat. My wife and I joined the promotion thinking that we could both benefit from a concerted effort to get fit. At the first meeting of our team, I was surprise when the trainer (Josh) told us that we were expected to log/post our workouts on Instagram. In fact, our first homework assignment was to take photographs of the contents of our refrigerators and pantries and post them to Instagram using the promotion hashtag #FitWorldFitChallenge.
Now, I love Instagram and I’m an avid user of the platform. So this was good news to me. What I quickly discovered was that no one else on our team used Instagram and there was a great deal of apprehension about posting photos to this platform. Despite that, my wife signed up for Instagram and that evening we took photos of our refrigerator and she posted them to Instagram. At the same time, I posted an image of the display from my Elliptical machine and added the appropriate hashtag.
After posting the first images to Instagram using the #FitWorldFitChallenge hashtag I noticed that my wife and I were the only individuals who had used it. Of all the people taking part in this promotion, we were it. Perhaps we were just moving faster than others.
Curious, I checked out our trainer’s Instagram account. After all, he was the one who had required us to use Instagram. When I checked out Josh’s account, he had only posted to Instagram once. His account was barren. Even today, three months after the start of the promotion, his account is slim.
Today, he has only posted 8 times. And this has a lot to do with the failure of the social media promotion designed to support the Fitness Challenge. (There were only 49 posts using the hashtag over the three months of the promotion. The vast majoirty of those posts were from two members.) We had people asking us to use a platform that they don’t use and don’t understand. That is failure #1. This social media promotion was a good idea: Give people an opportunity to showcase their efforts and support one another via an online platform. There was every opportunity for online community building. But the coach/trainer who should have been supporting everyone and modeling supportive behavior, was nowhere to be found. The trainer should have been following the hashtag daily, liking our posts and providing supportive comments. That didn’t happen. When one of the members did finally make an effort to post on Instagram, nothing happened. They didn’t received any positive feedback, pat on the back or encouragement. So there was no reason to keep posting. I posted 14 times using the hashtag, sharing my workout results, and Josh commented on/liked only one of them. That’s it.
The second reason the promotion failed was that the gym selected the wrong platform for the audience. This is a really common mistake! The members taking part in the promotion didn’t use Instagram and were apprehensive about using it. The gym would have been smarter to use a platform like Facebook. A dedicated Facebook Group would have been terrific. The members are familiar and comfortable with Facebook and it’s already part of their daily routine. A successful social media promotion starts with a thorough understanding of the audience’s use of social media. What platforms work for them? Where can you find them day-in and day-out on social media? That understand has to be where you begin.
Finally, if you ask people to take part in a social media promotion or online community, you’ve got to support and nurture them. It is not enough to launch a promotion and let it happen organically. Encouraging online sharing and community building is hard work. If you’re not willing, prepared or staffed properly to do the hard work, then your promotion is destined for failure. You need to start a promotion with a firm protocol for your daily engagement activity and monitoring. There needs to be a plan for success.
One positive outcome from this experience was that my wife and I struck up a friendship with one of the female trainers at the gym (Ellen). Even though Ellen doesn’t post a lot on Instagram, she monitors it regularly and to this day still leaves supportive comments on my posts – long after the promotion has come to an end. I even tag my workout posts with Ellen’s Instagram handle, so that she’s sure to see them. (I used to do the same using trainer Josh’s handle, but that wasn’t enough to provoke any action. It became a negative.) Another positive outcome of posting workout results to Instagram has been the support that has come from my existing friends on the platform. Two or three friends have been incredibly supportive and I thrive on their comments and workout advice.
My advice: When you design your next social media promotion, begin with the habits and proclivities of your target audience, and go from there. It’s not about what platforms you like, it’s about what platforms your audience incorporates into their daily life. As marketers we have to be sensitive to the fact that our social media preferences may not be representative of the audience we’re seeking to engage.