word of mouth marketing

While we are back to a somewhat normal operation, we are reminded of tactics and trends we’ve used pre-COVID. This includes some “old school” tactics that continue to have a huge impact on recreation marketing efforts. I am talking about word of mouth marketing, the traditional “tell your friends” type of strategy that is vital in any marketing plan.

According to a 2014 Nielsen report, 92% of consumers trust the recommendation of their friends and family over all other forms of advertising. What does this mean for recreation? It means creating brand advocates from passionate members could result in more gym memberships, fuller classes and programs, and spark new interests.

Some marketing professionals call this “referral marketing,” but I much prefer the grassroots version: a street team. By creating a street team, you can “foster good will and energy that already exists… making brand users feel part of the brand family,” as shared by Justin Kirby and Paul Marsden in Connected Marketing: The Viral, Buzz and Word of Mount Revolution. Giving enthusiastic members a job as a street team member provides them with an outlet to share all of the great experiences they’ve had at your facility, answer questions and generally promote your programs. It’s even better if you give them swag to hand out to capture the attention of the everyday student.

Not sure how to start a street team to fully utilize the power of word of mouth marketing? Here are several steps to help you get started:

Applications and Interviews

Not every gym enthusiast is going to be right for your team. You have to make sure they have the necessary skills for the gig. When accepting applicants, I look for things like past recreation experience, opportunities that involve teamwork, communication and initiative, and applicants who can think on their feet during an interview. I value members who can use common sense to figure out an answer to a question or how to go about finding it.

Education on Programs and Services

I want my team to be knowledgeable about our programs as they are the “face” of our facility when they are on campus with our information booth. To ensure they are up-to-date on our offerings, we have some protocols in place:

  1. First, all of our members need to know and study our quarterly Rec Guide magazine that has the quarter’s offerings. This is their bible and by the end of their first week, they know exactly what pages to find answers to common questions.
  2. Second, I strongly suggest all of the street team members follow our social media accounts. The more they interact with our programs and information, the more likely they are to remember.
  3. Lastly, I meet with the full team at least once a month to review administration items, answer questions, brainstorm interactive booth/tabling ideas and provide professional development so they can continue to grow in their role.

Teamwork in Word of Mouth Marketing

Since the street team will, most likely, be under minimal supervision when tabling on campus, it’s important they build trust and teamwork with each other from the beginning. In our monthly meetings, we work on this through:

  • Team building games
  • Mini competitions
  • Group presentations
  • Sitting in on interviews when we need to hire more hands

I have found when they trust each other, they hold each other accountable for doing their jobs, showing up on time and helping to cover each other’s shifts when last minute things come up.

Learn From Them

As current students, the street team knows what resonates well with their peers and what does not. Let them tell you how they want to get their information.

For example, the street team found students wanted to take photos of the flyer rather than actually take one. Based on their recommendations, we started airdropping flyers to students instead of handing out physical papers. This allows us to print less, which is good for the environment. Students are also getting the information about our events and services in their desired format. Plus, it allows us to maintain social distancing and minimal physical contact.

EXTRA CREDIT: Check out the top 2021 digital marketing trends Ashley Demshki sees continuing to grow.

When deciding where to go on a shift, I let the team tell me what places on campus are busy and during what times. From this, I create a schedule centered around those busy times on campus. We also test new locations and times, and after the shift, the team gives me feedback through an online feedback form. This lets me see what adjustments need to be made for the future.

Whether you’re out during lunch time, staffing a table at the resident halls in the evening, or representing your rec at a staff/faculty benefits fair, having boots on the ground in a grassroots effort is a sure way to gain more exposure and referrals to your facility.

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