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Member Engagement Series: How to Start a Blog for Your Climbing Gym

Posted By Emma Walker, Thursday, April 23, 2020
How to Start a Blog

Gyms across the country are missing their members, and the folks who usually climb at your facility are missing you, too. One way to keep your membership engaged in the virtual realm is a blog your audience can access through your gym’s website.

 

If you’re producing engaging, high-quality content—and, when you’re ready for some varsity-level blogging, using SEO (more on that later)—you’ll not only keep your own members coming back, but also draw in other readers searching for relevant content. Here’s how to get started.

 

Build a Strategy

What’s the purpose of your blog? (It’s ok if the initial answer is “Find a way to keep my members’ attention during the coronavirus outbreak.”)

 

In order to publish content that will keep your members coming back for more, you’ll need to identify just what it is your blog does. One way to do this is to do a brief analysis of your closest competitors or take a peek at the results of any recent member surveys. You’re looking for what sets your facility apart—why do members choose to climb there?

 

Your content strategy is an answer to that question. If members say they love the fitness equipment and classes, maybe at-home workouts and nutrition for climbers are frequent topics. Are your members in love with the routesetting at your gym? Perhaps a Q&A with your star setter to learn what inspires them.

 

The content strategy also addresses logistical details. When and how often do you post? Is your gym’s tone warm and casual or authoritative? Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to these questions right away—take a guess, and then refine your content strategy as you learn more after publishing a few posts.

 

Stock Up on Content

Consistency is key—the best way to keep your audience engaged is to post content frequently, and on a regular schedule. To that end, you’ll want to build up a bank of content before you launch your blog. That way, you won’t end up with an unexpected gap in coverage if you have a busy week (or worse, launch a blog, post once, and lose your audience’s interest by neglecting to post again).

 

Start by mapping out the next few months’ worth of posts on the calendar. Add timely posts when they make sense for your specific community—a couple of weeks before your annual bouldering comp, a post by your trainer on getting comp-ready, or when the weather gets warmer, a post on cross-training for climbing.

 

In general, you’ll want a fair amount of “evergreen” content—posts that make sense no matter when you publish them, like a history of your gym or spotlights on staff and members. You can use this to fill in the gaps between your timely content pieces. Watch for a future post on ways to create the content your audience wants to see.

 

Pick Your Platforms

It’s possible that your website is already integrated with a blogging platform, in which case that’s probably the easiest way to start your blog. Regardless of whether you’re using that or a popular free platform like WordPress, take some time to familiarize yourself with the analytic tools your platform offers. This is how you’ll learn which days of the week and times of day to post, and how you’ll find out which topics and types of posts are the most popular.

 

Remember that hitting “Publish” isn’t the last step in the process—once those posts are up, you can use your other marketing channels to bring members to your blog. Posting an eye-catching photo related to your new post on Instagram or Facebook, along with a link to your blog and any relevant hashtags, will help draw traffic to your blog, as well.

 

Engage Your Readers

If possible, enable the commenting capability on your blogging platform so readers can ask questions, make suggestions, and swap relevant stories on your posts. (You can even end posts with an invitation to do so: “Do you have other questions you’d like our nutrition expert to answer? Drop them in the comments!”)

 

Whether you have comments enabled on your blog or just on your social channels, checking on those comments regularly (and responding to them) will help you stay engaged with your audience in a positive, collaborative way. It’s also another tool to find out what people like reading—and what they want to see more of.

 

Keep the Cycle Going

Remember: You’re not going to permanently mess up your analytics by posting on a Tuesday instead of a Wednesday. If something’s a flop—whether you get fewer views or the comments section isn’t what you expect—make a note of it and keep trying.

 

There are lots of how-to, step-by-step guides out there on starting a blog and developing a content strategy, so additional support is only a Google search away. One place to start is the free guide from HubSpot.

 

As you go through the process of developing your strategy and starting your blog, be aware that some amount of trial-and-error is normal. Your content strategy is a living document, so don’t be afraid to update it as you gather more information about what your audience wants.

 

Stay tuned for a future post in the Member Engagement Series on how to curate content your audience will love!

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  community development  marketing  member communications  tech strategy 

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Tech Tools to Run Your Climbing Gym Virtually During and After COVID-19

Posted By Caleb Fitzgerald, Friday, April 17, 2020
Climbing Tech Strategy

As COVID-19 has shuttered climbing gyms across the globe, gym owners and managers are stuck determining how to run their business virtually. Climbing gyms by nature are an in-person service. Identifying ways to continue engaging your community is crucial to weathering a long-term closure.

 

After identifying strategies and ideas on how to engage your community, you’ll likely need to find software to assist in collecting information remotely, creating content, and organizing information. I’ve compiled a list of recommended software and broken out the benefits of each as it relates to climbing gym operations. When installed correctly, each of these recommendations will continue to be helpful after reopening. I have included a few specific examples where a recommendation might fit into climbing gym operations.

 

Regardless of which tools are used, all technology should complete two goals for your company. First, the customer needs to find the new process easier. Second, the new technology must beat having a human do the task or process.

 

All these software products are recommendations of my own based on how either I have used or seen them used in climbing gym operations. I encourage you to read through each company feature list and determine what will work best for your specific needs. Lastly, I am not affiliated with any of the companies who offer these software products.

 

Collect Information

Climbing gyms, and frankly all businesses, need to collect information almost every time there is an interaction with a customer. Climbing gyms often collect information to schedule a class, edit a membership, survey customers, or sell products.

 

When looking into software to collect information, it is important to use software that integrates well into your existing workflows. For example, when a customer enters their email it is automatically put into your email marketing software.

 

Typeform Google Forms Formstack Comparison

 

Recommendation – Typeform

 

I personally use and highly recommend the software Typeform. It is well-designed and acts more as a conversation than a typical form. I find its simplicity both helpful for customers and for speed in getting a form up and running. Typeform has 100+ integrations to other applications, a crucial feature to trigger downstream operations.

 

Example use case: Use Typeform to register a participant in a climbing competition. Then, based on the participants responses on competition category, Typeform tags them for an automated email campaign. Emails then go out with segmented content. Those in harder divisions receive content about workout classes and retail purchases while those in easier divisions receive content about introduction to movement classes and community groups. These tags can also be used in the future for updates about the climbing competition in case there is a need to contact one division but not the others.

 

Create Content

Transitioning to a virtual business means focusing many more resources on media for social posts and emails. As this is the main interaction your gym will have with your customers during closure, focus on well-designed content. Luckily, drag and drop design software has made this very easy for those of us who are design-challenged.

 

Canva Spark Snappa Comparison

 

Recommendation – Canva

 

Canva encompasses all the best features of a drag and drop design software. Starting out, the tutorial helps show the workflow that you will want to follow. Templates are titled with terms that make sense to search. In fact, the comparison graphics in this article are made using Canva and took less than an hour to make. At $12.95 a month, it is a great investment to improve your brand’s design.

 

Example use case: Build a cross-channel promotion that has unified design elements. Using a Facebook and Instagram post/story template, create your sale content for social media. Then, take those same design elements and use a banner template for your email campaign. Finally, use a postcard or poster size template with the same style and colors and print a handful for your front desk.

 

Stream Content Publicly

Many gyms are offering online, live-streamed fitness classes and yoga. Most gyms have elected to make these free for anyone to participate in. These classes are often streamed using Facebook Live, Instagram Live, or YouTube Live. All these options are free and easy to use. One is not necessarily better than the other.

 

When determining how to livestream, consider the channels that you typically reach your customer base through first. For instance, if you tend to interact with your customers via Facebook – use Facebook Live.

 

There is one exception to following your customers. If you are intending to co-stream with another person, Instagram Live will likely be your only simple option. Co-streams are great for interviews, Q&As with two people, or highlighting an athlete or business. There is an added bonus that in a co-stream, notifications go out to both users’ followers, effectively amplifying the reach of both accounts. There are ways to co-stream on other channels, but they often require more advanced software and occasionally hardware that is out of the scope of this article.

 

Stream Content Privately or Behind a Paywall

If you are interested in offering classes or other live-stream offerings as a paid service, Zoom and Crowdcast will likely be your best options.

 

Zoom starts at $14.99/mo. I use Zoom and find it very helpful for business-related events. It was really designed for business meetings and sales calls. Only now, mostly by necessity, are they beginning to adapt to other groups. Zoom is the best option currently for any livestream where you want your participants to talk with each other. If you are hosting a webinar and have the budget, I find Crowdcast far more user-friendly and chock-full of features that help promote livestreams.

 

Crowdcast starts at $29/mo. Designed as a platform for creatives to livestream music, art, and other related content, Crowdcast has tons of features to run paid livestreams. Users do not have to download any software and can login via any browser, Android, or iOS-based system. Payments can be charged at fixed prices, sliding scales, or via a pay-what-you-can system. If you decide to use Crowdcast for free events it also allows for multi-streaming. This is where you run your livestream through Crowdcast and the software streams it directly to your other channels simultaneously.

 

Regarding youth programming, both software options can lock the event via password.

 

Run Social Media Efficiently

Social media is an integral part of most climbing gyms. Running multiple accounts across platforms can become tedious and difficult. By using a social media scheduling software, you can log into one account, one dashboard, and cross-post easily.

 

Even more, scheduling software provides crucial insights into the best times to post for maximum engagement. Most climbing gyms do not need to overhaul their entire social media plan to reach more people. Instead, they just need to post when their followers are online.

 

Later Sprout Social Buffer Comparison

 

Recommendation – Later

 

Later’s most compelling feature is the linkin.bio option that gives businesses the ability to link posts to outside websites without having to change the actual link in bio. This works by pulling all your posts from your feed then mirroring them through the linkin.bio link. From here, users can click the post they are interested in and they will be redirected to the link that you choose. Other great features include optimum scheduling times, a media library that links to Google Drive and Dropbox, and a dedicated email for staff to upload content for posting.

 

Example use case: Staff can email media directly into Later for the social media manager to post. Each week, the social media manager can spend an hour or two scheduling out the next week. Any sales or announcements can be coordinated to go out on the same day at the optimum time for followers per channel. Information about what content is performing best can guide what you spend your time and energy on creating later. For example, if posts with cool overhanging moves do better than retail store hero shots ask your staff to get more photos of overhanging moves.

 

Summary

Overall, taking the time to determine what software could make you and your staff’s lives easier will pay dividends through the COVID-19 closure and beyond. Simple changes like reducing the number of steps to register for a competition or timing your posts to go out when customers are scrolling through their social media feeds are easy to do with the right tools.

 

Particularly now when we cannot see each other in-person, it is critical to improve your tech strategy and engage customers digitally.

 

Links to all software mentioned in article: Typeform, Google Forms, Formstack, Canva, Spark, Snappa, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Zoom, Crowdcast, Later, Sprout Social, Buffer

 

For more information on how to define and execute your tech strategy, watch the recording of my Community Call! You'll learn how to identify strategies and tech tools that will put your gym in a better position to get back on your feet. (By the way, you'll need to be signed into your member account to watch. Don't have one? Sign up!)

 

WATCH WEBINAR

 

Caleb Fitzgerald Head ShotAbout the Author

Caleb Fitzgerald is the founder of Black Gallina Consulting. Trained as an engineer, he now uses those engineering concepts to help business leaders navigate complex problems. He spent five years as a climbing guide in the Midwest. Nowadays, you’ll find him on his favorite kinds of climbs in the Pacific Northwest – tall multi-pitch climbs.

 

Tags:  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  marketing  member communications  programming  tech strategy 

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Member Engagement Series: Educational Content

Posted By Hilary Harris, Thursday, April 16, 2020
Educational Content

It’s been five weeks since the first climbing gyms closed their doors to their communities. Since that time we have seen gyms around the world - in classic climber style - dive into the problem solving strategy that is at the core of what climbing is about. We have a giant route in front of us that has never been climbed and are not even sure where it goes. This is a true adventure, so we need to dig deep into our toolkits to optimize our chances of making it to the top.

 

As with all challenges, opportunities arise for those that are resourceful and innovative. Consider this time as an opportunity to strengthen your relationships with your customers by engaging them in new and meaningful ways.

 

Last week I wrote about how to keep your climbing gym community engaged during closure due to COVID-19. Let's take a closer look at creating educational content.

 

Content Curation

Most climbing gyms offer a variety of programs and classes. They range from kids programs and teams to yoga and fitness classes to technical clinics.

 

In thinking about creating online content, consider the enormous amount of resources available that you can share. Rather than always attempting to reinvent the wheel, think about how you could instead curate content - using your gym platform as a means to share other people’s content.

 

It may seem counterintuitive that this would increase interest in your gym. Wouldn’t that just direct people away from my channels? The answer is no! Sharing content shows that you are plugged into the industry and are providing additional value to your members.

 

If you do this enough then people will know that your gym provides them with valuable information, and that’s what this game is all about: creating value.

 

Original Content

The advantage of producing original content is that it continues to connect people with your staff and your local community. If the content is done professionally with the right equipment (i.e. lighting, microphone, staging, etc.) then it could bring long term value to your gym in ways that curating content cannot.

 

The downside of it is that if whoever is recording the content does not have the equipment to make a video repurposable, their time may be better utilized by researching content they can add their own comments to and then reshare.

 

Every gym is different and has different resources, so I recommend that you assess your situation carefully before paying people to produce content. Make sure that your investment brings you value both in the short and the long run. It looks like it is going to be a while until things return to business as usual.

 

Live vs. Recorded

There are a variety of platforms available to share video content. Some are better suited for live streaming classes while others are best for uploading recorded content.

 

User experience is considerably different when participating in a live stream vs. a recorded video. Live stream gives people a sense of belonging together more so than watching a recorded video. It also allows for two-way communication.

 

One downside is that if someone cannot join, they miss the class - although it is possible to record the class and upload it as a video later.

 

Pre-recordings allow for editing and producing a more professional product that can bring you enhanced long-term value.

 

Below are some additional resources to look at when considering what platforms to use for what.

Kids Programs & Teams

Programming for youth offers a lot of opportunities, but I don’t recommend attempting to keep kids engaged for multiple hours, multiple days per week online. It is probably a good idea to reduce the online time during practice and assign more homework that can be done on their own time in between official meeting time.

 

Use Zoom or Google Hangouts to run an online practice focused on body weight conditioning and presenting scholastic information such as analyzing videos. Both platforms allow for screen sharing and seeing multiple people at once.

 

Be sure to save time at the end of practice for the kids to just hang out together online. The social time is incredibly valuable for them.

 

Yoga

There are literally thousands of online yoga classes and apps available for people to choose from, so you may be thinking that there is no point in providing these through your gym. It may be a good idea to recommend some of these if you do not offer yoga, but if you do then your instructors likely have a following and this is a great time for them to build it.

 

I have heard stories of some instructors bringing in hundreds of folx into an online class and increasing their following across state lines. Not only does this bring value to your local gym, it also helps your instructors increase their supporters.

 

I recommend using Zoom or Google Hangouts to run your classes if you want to see your participants and be able to cue off of them. If not, Facebook Live is also a good option.

 

Fitness & Training Tips

Fitness is similar to yoga in that there are thousands of videos available. Again, if you have instructors at your gym that can create original content from home, great! Even if they can utilize the content curation strategy and post it through your social channels with a short commentary from a familiar face, your members will be grateful.

 

If they do create original content, have them upload a video and edit it if needed. It can then be uploaded to either IGTV, YouTube, or Vimeo to name a few.

 

Technical Classes

This is a perfect opportunity to share your technical expertise with your community. Use your platform (IGTV, YouTube, or Vimeo) to share valuable tech videos or have your instructors record videos from home.

 

While technical skill sets may be hard to teach without the gym as a resource, there are many basic things you could teach and/or reshare. Some examples include:

  • Knot tying
  • Terminology
  • Rope handling and coiling
  • Traditional gear - types, ways to use it
  • Gear reviews (shoes, harnesses, belay devices, etc.)

Stay tuned for more in-depth articles on member engagement strategies in the upcoming weeks!

 

Hilary HarrisAbout the Author

Hilary Harris is the Founder of EVO Rock + Fitness. A licensed architect, retired professional climber and coach, and experienced gym owner, Hilary has been involved with all stages of business planning, design, construction, operations and expansion of climbing gyms in various markets across the US. Hilary has overseen strategic brand and business development in varying capacities for EVO since 2010. She also holds a Leading in Finance Certificate from Harvard Business School.

 

Tags:  branding  climbing culture  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer service  marketing  member communications  programming  tech strategy  youth team 

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