Chantal: Hey, Scott. Welcome along and thank you so much for being a guest on the show.
Scott: Thanks so much, Chantal. I’m super excited about today and, yeah, can’t wait to get stuck right into it.
Chantal: I think that this topic is something that we all want to know more about, and I’m really excited to be able to bring your expertise to the listeners of the Fitness Business Podcast. We’re talking about social media, or the use of social media, in gym workplaces. So perhaps from your experience, talk us through some of the issues that you’ve seen from people using social media in the workplace?
Scott: Yeah, absolutely. There are a whole host of issues and the really important thing here is there are internal issues, so between a gym owner and their employees, and then there are more external issues, so between the gym and its members in more of a public domain.
On the employee side of things, it generally stems from inappropriate comments being made or people being put in a bit of a precarious position. Yeah, we’ve seen pretty much every situation imaginable, from employees making defamation claims, to employees saying that they were sexually harassed, and then, of course, that just creates a whole host of headaches and issues for both the employees and the gym owner in that situation.
Then on more of the external side, it generally stems from people taking offence to content that is put out on social media by gym owners. Yeah, once again, it can be any number of things. People can be saying that the content’s inappropriate, it’s breaching certain terms and conditions, whether it’s the gym’s terms and conditions or Facebook’s terms and conditions, or pretty much anything. We see a whole host of different claims in that regard.
Chantal: You actually sent me through an article before we caught up today, which was exactly in relation to that, where a gym owner in the States had, I think, posted a photo, put quite a controversial headline, and then there was a massive uproar. There was a walkout of a whole lot of members. Am I correct in saying that?
Scott: Absolutely, and the thing is, it really snowballed very quickly, in the sense that one person took issue with the particular content that was put up by the gym owner, and then that one person just managed to gather a swarm of other people behind them, and then before you know it, there were multiple negative Google reviews and just general uproar. The media were kind of circling and it went from what was generally considered to be a pretty benign situation of a gym owner posting something on social media, to an absolute Armageddon situation very, very quickly.
Chantal: Yeah, we might actually include that link in today’s show notes, so everyone can have a read, because it’s quite a detailed article and it’s certainly a little bit scary, as to what something like that can turn into, and it’s one of the reasons that we wanted to talk to you today, so that we can make sure that we are thinking about how we’re actually placing our social media, how our staff are using social media, so that hopefully nobody else gets themselves into that situation.
One of the things, Scott, that I think most gym owners do these days, just by default, as part of their sign-up form, is quite often we put a photography waiver and stuff like that. So we have certain rules that we make people aware of when they become members of our gyms. What rules do you think, or do you suggest putting in place to manage issues around social media?
Scott: Yeah, I definitely recommend having some form of social media policy or some kind of guidance so that everyone is on the same page about, really, how to deal with social media. It should be backed up with some kind of training on a continual basis to make sure that everyone is on the same page, to the greatest extent possible. In terms of what you would put into that policy, on a public post type of level, the most important thing is how you react when you get someone who is criticising something you’ve posted or taking offence to something that you’ve put out there.
Now, what I always recommend that my clients do is, if you’re getting really emotional about a comment that someone has made, you should always sleep on it and really think carefully about how you address any, I guess, anger or any kind of comments that are made by members, or just people in the public generally, that you think have a potential to harm your reputation, because nothing will make it snowball faster than a really negative, over the top, emotional reaction from the gym owner. Obviously, it’s important to be fun with content that you put out on social media, but you’ve got to know your audience, and if in doubt, probably don’t.
On more of an internal … from an internal perspective, never underestimate the power of the screenshot. What I mean by that is, you might be having a conversation with one of your employees over social media, whether it’s in Facebook Messenger, in WhatsApp, or whatever domain, I guess, you’re in, but keep in mind that conversations can be very easily screenshotted, and that information can be stored, and you never know when that can come back to bite you. We do live in a world where political correctness is … it’s increasingly becoming important and … Yeah, I’d say be very careful about saying anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable saying to a group of people in public.
Chantal: It’s interesting that you mention WhatsApp, because when I think about social media, my mind instantly goes to Facebook, and Instagram, and Linkedin, and Twitter, but of course there are all of those internal chat channels, like WhatsApp and Slack, and that so many people do use these days to communicate with your team, so I think that’s actually a really good thing for us to remember, that it’s not just kind of those public facing social medias but where you’re communicating with your team, in what you think might be an internal only conversation.
Scott: Exactly. Exactly right, and you get this kind of illusion of privacy in those internal communications. If it’s a WhatsApp group with the gym owner and all of their PTs, or their manager, or whoever, you think that, “Oh, this is a secretive domain in which no one else can actually look in on this conversation.” But going back to what I said earlier, people can very easily screenshot conversations and send it to their friends, and say something like, “Oh, I can’t believe the guy who owns this gym,” or, “the lady who own this gym said these things.” Then it gets into the media’s hands and then, yeah, it’s on for young and old.
Chantal: Exactly. Scott, is there such a thing as a standard social media template for businesses or do we need to start from scratch in creating something?
Scott: Yeah, so I’m a massive fan of substance over form, so whether you call it a social media policy, whether it’s a guideline written on the back of a napkin, honestly the form doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that everyone’s on the same page about how social media should be used and how the business should be engaging on social media, both internally and externally. The form of that is kind of irrelevant, as far as I’m concerned, and I have no doubt that some of the best-drafted social media policies are sitting in someone’s top draw and have never ever been looked at. So, yeah, it’s more important how it’s actually used, rather than the wording.
Chantal: And from a legal standpoint, should a social media policy be presented to the employee upon their initial employment? Should they be signing a document to say that, yeah, they’ve read and understood it? What’s the formality around something like a social media policy?
Scott: Yeah, so the absolute best case scenario is getting the employee to sign something acknowledging that they’ve received the policy, and that they’re comfortable with everything it says and they promise to adhere to it. That’s certainly what I recommend for my clients. I do recognise that it’s not always a perfect world that we live in, and going to that extreme isn’t always possible, but really, you should have some kind of paper trail demonstrating that your employees should know exactly what your rules are and what the boundaries are, so that if there ever are any issues you can quickly say, “Well, look. I’ve got this evidence here. You should have known better and you breached the policy, for whatever reason.”
Chantal: Scott, one of the things that we see a lot of today is personal trainers within a fitness facility, who are … they’re influencers, they’ve got big followings on Facebook, and Instagram, and Snapchat, and they are often … whether it’s formal or not, they’re often acting as ambassadors for our facilities. They’re representing our facilities. They’re taking photos and videos within there and tagging the gym name and that type of thing.
Talk to us about that. How do we best manage that particular situation? How do we ensure that a personal trainer or a fitness instructor that works for our business is representing our business in the way that we want them to? Should we have a formal arrangement with that person? Is there any advice you can give us around that?
Scott: Yeah, so this is such a delicate balance, because on one hand you want that PT or whoever it is, the instructor, to have the freedom to really connect with their audience. At the end of the day, if they’ve built up a good following, that’s a testament to how well they’re connecting with their audience. You don’t want to just turn them into a mouthpiece for your gym, and that will create more issues than problems it’ll solve, if you go down that path. That’s my personal view on it.
In terms of actually quarantining the content and making sure that it’s all okay, the biggest issue that gym owners will face is they are not actually the ones who get to click on the post button. It’s actually the PT, or the instructor, or whoever it is, that has that power. So you can have all the pretty looking contracts you like and you can make them sign as many things as you like, but at the end of the day, that risk is still there.
It goes back to what we discussed earlier. Having a good social media policy and making sure everyone is on the same page about what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable, that’s the most important thing, because if you can cultivate a little bit of a change within that PT and maybe they go from posting quite outrageous stuff to more moderate stuff, then that’s a good thing. Having a good policy in place and the training to really cultivate that change is the best way of doing it.
Chantal: One of the things that I neglected to mention earlier, and I want to bring it up so that people don’t miss out on this bit of information, is you said right at the very beginning how important it was that if you get a negative piece of feedback on social media, that you don’t have that gut reaction and answer immediately, but you take the time to actually sleep on it and have a think about it before you respond.
I just want to remind everyone that there’s a fantastic book that was released by Jay Baer, called Hug Your Haters. Hug Your Haters basically gives you guidelines on how to respond to negative comments and negative feedback on your social media sites. So if anyone needs a little bit of guidance around the actual ways in which to respond, then that’s a really good reference for you to check out. It’s Hug Your Haters, Jay Baer, and he was a guest on the show back in 2016. I’ll put the link in today’s show notes.
So, Scott, to finish off today, I think it would be nice to leave all of the FBP family, perhaps, with your top three tips for how to get started in implementing a social media policy, or even a culture, around the usage of social media within our facility. Have you got a couple of takeaways you can leave us with today?
Scott: Yeah, absolutely. The first thing I would say is, keep in mind that it’s substance over form. You should not be caring about whether you’ve got a 30-page policy that’s airtight or something written on the back of a napkin. The most important thing is that you actually truly live the values within that policy and that you make it clear to the PTs and everyone working in your business that that is the way you deal with social media. There is no point in having a policy if no one’s going to actually follow it. Obviously, from a legal perspective, the more formal you make the policy, the better, but just make sure it doesn’t sit in the top drawer, and make sure that you continually revisit it and get everyone’s buy-in on it.
The second thing that I would definitely say is, keep in mind that it’s now easier than ever before to gather a swarm of people behind you and to really attack something you don’t like. The takeaway from that is, if you really annoy someone, or if you post content that someone thinks is a little bit objectionable, you need to keep in mind that that first response that you provide is critical, because if there’s a lot of commotion around a certain post, or an article that you’ve published, or some content that you’ve put up, and then people visit that in a swarm because there’s all this commotion, you want to make sure that you have a very clear and deliberate response provided, so that the regular person looking at your page will think, “Oh, these guys are pretty reasonable and this gym’s taking appropriate steps.” I certainly echo your comments about Jay Baer’s book. You should definitely take some guidance from that.
The third thing that I’d say is, in terms of pushing the envelope with social media content, I’ve seen this more and more, purely because we live in an attention economy, where everyone is trying to grab everyone’s attention, and there’s this massive saturation of different gyms trying to go after the same segments. Of course that encourages people to lift the stakes a little bit and not just have plain and boring content on social media. That’s a great thing, but keep in mind that the more you jostle for position and try to be more outrageous or more crazy than other people, the higher your risk is, so just be mindful of the content.
Chantal: Yeah, that’s three fantastic pieces of advice, Scott. Thank you. Now, you deal every single day with legal issues in the fitness industry, so if people have listened to our chat today and they want to know more, they want to chat to you about something specific to their facility, what’s the best way for them to get in contact with you?
Scott: I’m definitely a fan of the more personal approach, so you can just email me. It’s just firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chantal: That’s great. And, of course, we’ll put all of Scott’s contact details in today’s show notes. So I love that we talked about this topic. I feel like it’s something that we can probably revisit again in six to 12 months’ time, because things are changing so rapidly in the world of social media and we learn as we go. So, Scott, I want to thank you so much for taking the time today and sharing your experience with listeners of the Fitness Business Podcast.
Scott: Thank you so much, Chantal. Really appreciate it.
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