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The fitness market is more saturated than ever, and the competition to get new members through your doors is stiffer than ever. National gym franchises, small group training boutiques and home workouts are just a portion of the options available to consumers — where does community recreation fit into the picture?

According to Tina Badurina, the senior vice president of marketing and communications at the YMCA of Central Ohio, the key differentiator for the industry is total inclusivity. At the Central Ohio Y, that means everyone is welcome, including whole families, patients with chronic illnesses and even those who might need financial assistance.

“We are a non-profit with a promise to serve all and strengthen community,” said Badurina. “No one is ever turned away from a Y experience due to inability to pay. The Y also offers extensive opportunities for children, teens, adults and families, allowing us to custom tailor messaging that is more engaging than a simple offer.”

To market its facilities to the community, the Central Ohio Y has several marketing strategies, and none have a greater reach and effectiveness than social media.

“This year, social media will account for at least 50 percent of our overall marketing budget,” said Badurina. “Social [media] platforms allow us to geo-target specific communities, zip codes and people.”

But social media and other marketing methods are just one part of the equation, and help get prospects through the doors for the first time. Once they’re inside, it’s up to your staff and programming to keep them engaged.

“Engagement is key,” said Badurina. “Our priority isn’t just to make a new member feel welcome, but intentionally connect them to a community of like people within the Y.”

Connections are the best way to keep members engaged and motivated, according to Badurina. “The sad truth is it’s easy to simply give up when you’re going it alone or have unrealistic expectations,” she said. “It’s easy to feel isolated and bored when you don’t have someone holding you accountable.”

Accountability is the best way to help new members and their families achieve their fitness goals while also feeling a sense of belonging to your facility. Joining a group exercise class — anything from high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to yoga — can provide just what the doctor ordered.

“Studies have shown that up to 95 percent of people who join a group class to lose weight will successfully finish the program,” said Badurina.

And when it comes to getting a new member or family committed to your rec center, time is of the essence. “The first 30 days for a new member is critical when it comes to making connections and getting involved in various activities,” said Badurina. “If a new member comes in once and you don’t see them for the next two weeks, they’re likely already on the bubble.”

To help keep new members and families engaged, the Central Ohio Y uses a system of consistent communication to share relevant programs and opportunities with them.

“We use a 30, 60 and 90-day plan that keeps us in constant contact to keep the member engaged and interested in new opportunities,” said Badurina.

It also doesn’t hurt to add a personal touch. “Instructors need to know the names of the people in their classes,” said Badurina. “Also, membership teams need to check reports for new members. Those who aren’t coming in should receive a personal phone call to check in and then enthusiastically invite them back into the branch.”

Constant and personalized communication with current and prospective members is the best way to make them feel welcomed in your facility and motivated to come back. At the Central Ohio Y, this simple principle continues to yield the best results for member engagement.

“The more we know our members, the more they’ll feel connected, valued and successful,” said Badurina.

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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