Virtual Solutions: Responses to Questions about How to Engage Members During the COVID-19 Shutdown

Virtual Health Partners (VHP) CEO Jillian Cohen participated in Club Industry's April 1 virtual town hall, "How to Engage Members with Virtual Solutions During the Coronavirus Shutdown." Some of the submitted questions went unanswered during the call due to time constraints. Cohen and her team have responded to many of the unanswered questions below. The questions have been categorized by type. 

The virtual town hall is available on-demand here.


Q: What is the greatest challenge with executive management to embrace virtual platform and new functionality of this concept?

VHP: Although there is no single answer for the greatest challenge within different organizations of different sizes and objectives, we feel like one of the biggest challenges has been organizational change and the offering of so much free content.

To be able to successfully adapt to this new trend, executive management has to decide how to create content, organize it, analyze it and remunerate each party accordingly to obtain the best results for the company and its clients. Partnering with VHP can allow organizations to severely reduce the costs of creating and implementing a home grown solution while having access to all of the data necessary to ensure the best client and employee outcomes.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in getting members to convert to a virtual platform?

VHP: The greatest challenge would be providing the most relevant content to your audience and staying engaged with them. The key is knowing your audience and providing personalized and customizable content for all types of users. There is a lot of free information out there; you need to make yours meaningful and something of value.

With the increase of demanding expectations of users, such as easy access and immediate response, virtual platforms are the solution to respond faster and drive customer engagement. Users also want a one-stop shop, so having a platform that can have trackers, nutrition and fitness all in one place accomplishes this.

Q: In the midst of the current "virtual explosion," how are people differentiating themselves? How are people offering members-only content? Tips for creating new/creative content when there is so much virtual fitness content being put out right now. How can I generate educational content for my clients and maintain variety and continuity for the topics?

VHP: One way to differentiate yourself is to not only offer fitness content but an all-in-one comprehensive program, including nutrition, lifestyle modification and fitness support right at your member’s fingertips. You need to know your audience and to provide content that is relevant for all types and levels of exercisers during this time. The key is providing a variety of features, such as live and on-demand classes in nutrition, fitness and lifestyle modification; live virtual one-to-one appointments with nutrition specialists or fitness trainers; the ability to join support groups; unlimited instant messaging with health experts; trackers for weight, activity, and fitness; a food diary as well as curated recipes, weekly meal plans and cooking demos.

A way to differentiate fitness content itself is to offer different mediums, live classes, recorded live classes, and pre-recorded content of different lengths and type. Ensure the content can be done at home and can be adjusted for different fitness plans.

Q: What do you recommend for facilities who have mandated fees? For example, recreation centers cannot refund student memberships. Now is a time we must show value. Ideas on what we can offer besides virtual classes, etc., to show value to all our students.

VHP: In addition to virtual classes, you can offer to your members educational and on-demand content that they can use anytime, anywhere. You can also provide support groups to keep members motivated and unlimited instant messenger to offer the immediate possibility to ask any questions to health experts during these stressful times. Contests for prizes and participation are also another fun virtual option.

Q: Have you seen or heard of fitness clubs and chains trying to hire full-time heads of technology or chief digital officers to help them create virtual offerings? Or are they just trying to figure out the technology on their own now? 

VHP:  We have, and it’s very costly. Although it might be a good long-term play for you to truly benefit from the advantages of virtual fitness and lifestyle, in-house creation and implementation will be cost and labor intensive in comparison to partnering with top tier technology providers.

Q: How to adapt to a technology-driven engagement when technology isn't your strength.

VHP: At VHP, we can help you understand how technology can drive customer success and implement a ready-to-go application tailored to your customers in less than 72 hours.

Q: How to take current COVID-19 short-term solutions/offerings into the post-COVID-19 world? How do we prepare for the new normal as it evolves?

VHP: One of the best ways to leverage virtual fitness once the COVID-19 situation has been resolved is to utilize your customers’ data to identify which customer could benefit most from your online offerings and help them achieve their goals. You will have to maintain your efforts to engage with members after COVID-19 by including live offerings to your program and sending emails and reminders about your live events.

Q: What liability issues arise with offering live classes to community members on social media? Do participants sign a waiver prior to participation? Do you need a physician’s release or liability release from new clients? With virtual PT, how does that insurance work and can it be covered by the club?

VHP: You can handle any potential liabilities by asking clients/members to sign a waiver before beginning participation in exercise activities to protect your instructors’ interests. You can also educate your members via handouts or notifications to ensure that the environment and equipment they are using are adequate and proper.

Virtual/On-Demand Classes 

Q: What is the best platform of communication (email, webinars, virtual touch point) to reach users during these uncertain times?

VHP: During these uncertain times, we believe that the best platform to communicate with users is a mix of all virtual communications. People demand easy access and immediate response, so the best way to reach them and drive engagement is to use targeted emails, webinars, discussion groups and all social media.

Q: When it comes to virtual sessions or classes, how often should you be having them throughout a day? Should you have a consistent schedule of virtual classes? How effective are pop-up virtual classes?

VHP: We recommend offering a variety of classes every day so they can choose what content is relevant for them. One tip is to send ahead a schedule of all classes to your members.

Q: From a visual standpoint, do you feel that you should have multiple cameras with some sort of producer assisting when broadcasting a future live-in-studio class?

VHP: We do not feel that this is necessary for most exercise that is being done in the home. Having a sense of personalization is more important.

Q: How do we convince clients to go to online training?

VHP: You need to send in advance the schedule of all your online sessions and communicate your schedule or event on social media and via email. You can also host webinars to talk about your live offerings. You also should send reminders before your classes start.

Q: We are a small community recreation center. Does size matter when trying to reach customers virtually? Is it cost effective?

VHP: Digital marketing is the most cost-effective way to reach a target audience and increase its brand presence. You can use a variety of free virtual marketing methods such as blog writing, SEO, social media and much more.

Q: How can local gyms work together in virtual classes?

VHP: VHP can partner with local gyms and offer to their members access to our virtual comprehensive program in nutrition, fitness and lifestyle. Partners can use their own fitness staff and content in addition to our VHP basic offerings. There is no cost to get started with us.

It can be a great idea to pool resources in order to reduce costs and increase virtual offerings. VHP is keen to support the local economy and its members and can help you do so by entering into a multi-party agreement to do just that.

Revenue Generation

Q: What is the best way to bring in money during this time? 

VHP: Through use of a contained platform with the ability to take payment, engage with clients, and provide a vast array of services including live streaming classes, one-on-one personal training, group support, along with unique additional components such as nutrition and lifestyle support programming.

Q: What are the best practices for selling online content? 

VHP: One of the best practices is to work with a proven platform that has the ability to monetize live streaming and content. Another best practice is the ability to add your own content and additional components that will differentiate your offering among the many standard fitness platforms.

Q: How do we add virtual solutions as a profit center moving forward?

VHP: VHP has a blueprint for successful implementation for fitness partners. Profit center opportunities exist with current members as well as the ability to engage corporate and medical partners for referral to virtual programming and partnering facilities.

Q: How do you balance trying to acquire new customers and retain revenue without seeming salesy? 

VHP: By providing a solution to an existing problem. Right now, your people are looking for solutions and understand that a quality offering is not free but is reasonable. By providing a differentiated platform that includes all areas to support and engage in relation to fitness, nutrition and lifestyle offering, you are providing a solution during this time and beyond.


Q: What are the best ways to keep members engaged when they can no longer go to the gym? Besides fitness videos, what other opportunities have others tried to engage their members? What are some best practices for engagement during this time? And what is the best marketing strategy once this is over?

VHP: We have found that a great way to keep customers engaged is through live virtual classes and coaching. Not only do members feel a personal connection with the trainer but this also allows them to set up a routine and attend classes like they would ordinarily. Once this is over, we believe that a mix of virtual and physical classes will help maintain or increase customer engagement. Furthermore, we believe that by offering virtual classes, you can decrease your physical attendance rates and, therefore, increase the number of memberships you can offer without overloading your space.

Q: People who take Zumba classes are different than people who do personal training and are different than a CrossFit member. How do you identify appropriate methods of engagement for each?

VHP: Absolutely, that is why we use our proprietary artificial intelligence, which incorporates quick data-driven questionnaires during registration to determine what the user wants. We encourage a lot of different content to be available, and users will get recommendations through the AI plus be able to filter and favorite what they want. This enables a truly customized experience for each customer’s interface so that they can see what is most relevant to them.

Q: What recommendations would you have for engaging the active aging population with technology?

VHP: We believe that a larger portion of the aging population is becoming more and more technology savvy. Most of them just need a push in the right direction to get started. That is why VHP has a team of specialized customer support teams that will help any member understand and use the application to the best of their ability.

Q: What to do with clients that are not technologically savvy?

VHP: Same as for the above, at VHP, we can help them run through how to use the application so that they might enjoy the benefits that they need. You would be surprised at the level of involvement with those that are not necessarily tech savvy. One would consider the population of people over 65 years old in this category, yet we are heavily involved in the Medicare population with support. We also have navigators in place to help clients understand the various components of the platform.

Q: How to keep people involved? How to engage more people?

VHP: Regular content updates, live classes and outreach campaigns are the best ways to maintain and increase customer engagement. The specific profiling questionnaire completed by each member will also help you tailor your messages for maximum relevance and engagement.

Q: How do you see rewards and incentive programs working with online programs? 

VHP: It is important to be able to confirm full activity participation. The VHP platform is involved with such activity confirmation. The backend has been created to enable a complete reporting tool real time that you can access any time you desire. The data reported can also be used to submit for reimbursement as desired with the Medicare Advantage population or other corporate wellness programs.

Q: How does gathering member data/analytics fall into your strategy? And have you thought of how this can improve member retention and engagement? If so, how?

VHP: Data and analytics are of paramount importance to understand how your members interact with your application and content. As a VHP partner you can have access to all of this data from your customers to enhance/tailor your content and offerings to your customers. We believe that more relevant content and interactions improve customer retention and outcomes. Furthermore, as the fitness industry is getting more involved with the medical industry and in corporate health, the importance of having strong outcomes data is essential.

Q: What ways are you segmenting your customer's members for them?

VHP: VHP provides customer data and preferences so that our partners can decide how to best modify the application for their end users. We enable segmentation at a user level through our proprietary AI and have data-driven outcomes.

Q: How do we use social media to retain memberships during shutdown? What are others doing social media wise to keep engagement?

VHP: We believe that a combination of a virtual offering and social media is necessary for enhanced customer engagement. An effective way we have seen our fitness partners attract/keep customers is by regularly posting exercise routines/content on social media as teasers (i.e. Instagram stories) so that customers may realize some of the benefits of these online classes before they adhere to them. Frequent posting of three to four times per week is key to customer engagement and retention.

Q: What member experience has created the most engagement during the COVID-19 shutdown? 

VHP: Based on the partners we are working with, the best member experience is attained via having a contained platform so as to understand the current activity of your members. By having the capability to engage and track participation after the virtual classes, you will have the greatest likelihood of retaining members.

Q: How to be inclusive without being too general? 

VHP: The best way to be inclusive without being general is the capability to provide different packages of programming for different interest types.


Q: How to film from home and post? 

VHP: We provide clear instructions for successful live streaming and pre-recorded content. Having the correct equipment and setting are important components as well.

Q: Connecting web portal virtual app with Mindbody and FitMetrix credentials 

VHP: As a long-term solution, we are able to work to create a customized approach for whatever the partner’s needs are including creating an API with member management systems.

Q: How do I get the best angles if my client only has one iffy camera? 

VHP: We provide training and a comprehensive guide for partners on this.

Q: For videoing classes, which mode is working better? Zoom, etc?

VHP: Having a closed platform is the best way to record classes and have control of quality and content.