July 03, 2014
Case Study

Social Media Marketing: 300,000 direct referrals driven by merging social media and brick-and-mortar programs

SUMMARY: As 24 Hour Fitness continued an expansion, the marketing team wanted to use social media to drive new memberships. Unlike their current brick-and-mortar system, social media allowed a more powerful referral, directly from a friend or family member.

See how this effort was able to drive more than 300,000 direct referrals while integrating social media with the existing in-store system.
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content


With 400 locations around the country in 18 states serving 4 million members, 24 Hour Fitness is one of the largest fitness companies in the United States.

Growing that number while succeeding in keeping all clubs united in the mantra of helping members succeed in their individual fitness goals is a constant challenge, according to Joe Beruta, Head of Marketing and Communications, 24 Hour Fitness.

For this campaign, the team saw an opportunity in the social space to capitalize on the power of social media "and the audiences and eyeballs that are on those platforms to refer," Beruta said, adding that receiving a trial offer to try a 24 Hour Fitness location from a friend or family member is very powerful.

For a number of years, the company ran a brick-and-mortar referral program that had "relatively high cost implications," he said.

The marketing aspects cost far more than it would with social media.

The benefit of social media platforms, he added, is that it "really changes the business model and the marketing model from an expense and cost perspective for us."


The social media referral campaign was implemented in March 2013, and the team's biggest hurdle was weaving it into the then-current referral process, which was done at the physical locations.

The marketing team created a landing page, and retrained staff to enable members to easily and quickly share a three-day pass to their friends and family.

Step #1. Integrate the new program into the current system

From Beruta and his team's perspective, the goals of this campaign were to drive more referrals than through using solely a brick-and-mortar approach, and to make the program more cost effective. From a customer's perspective, they wanted to make the process efficient and easy.

"As an individual, you can log in to Facebook, share our three-day trial pass across all your friends and family that you're connected to on Facebook. So, one share has an exponential impact in how it gets populated out there and put in front of people from a very reputable source," he said.

To achieve that same level of outreach through the brick-and-mortar program, Beruta added, "I would have to spend multiple millions of dollars in display advertising to get the same level of direct contact."

The beginning of this campaign was comprised of integrating the company's then current data and seeking out ways to enhance and enrich it.

The first step was to build social sharing into the 24 Hour Fitness website, where members could share a free trial pass through social media platforms, like Facebook, or email the sharing landing page.

Social login

As Beruta and his team began seeing the positive performance of the program, they started to fold in social login, which allows members as well as prospects to use their social credentials to log in. From there, they could interact on the website or purchase funnel and data was collected.

"For us, that just helps from a convenience perspective and continuity for our consumer base to use another component of social for their everyday use on our website," he said.

Step #2. Promote via email channel

Part of the way the referral program is marketed is through 24 Hour Fitness' email program to existing members. The program was featured in a uniquely created email send with the subject line, "Take your friends to the gym this summer."

Inside of the email began with a headline that stated, "Fit for all your friends. Send them a free pass" and continued with a personally addressed note:
It's beach season and time to get swimsuit ready. So grab a friend and hit the gym together. It's a fun and motivating way to make your workouts more effective. Share a FREE pass through your social networks today.

The member is then taken to the landing page, where they filled out their name, email address and phone number, at which point they could "Share a free pass by email" or share a free pass using their social networks.

"That is the ease of use and the power of it. We have over one-third of our member base with opted-in email addresses that help us as we go forward and try and get the word out there that we have this opportunity," Beruta said.

Step #3. Integrate physical locations

After a prospect clicks through on the referral, they were dropped into "what we call our Web pass chute, and you fill out your information. You select your closest location or the particular club you want to attend," Beruta said.

Right on the spot, the prospect could print out the pass and head over to a 24 Hour Fitness to begin the free trial.

The biggest focus in this process outside of setting up the platform, according to Beruta, was training the club staff across all of the national locations to understand the process and integrate referrals into the new member onboarding program.

"Right away — obviously, most people are engaged on social platforms — right away, they understood what it was and saw the power of it. So, it was an easy communication and training opportunity," he said.

All of the 400 locations for 24 Hour Fitness feature kiosks as part of the new member signup process, which the team leveraged as an already-existing component, and members can access the referral sharing from it as well.

"As new members come in, we're asking them if they'd like to refer friends and family because we know success is higher with a workout buddy," he said.

Being able to include the referral social sharing in the kiosks was an important aspect, Beruta explained, because it empowered club owners to "really drive their business at a local level."

A big feature was that 24 Hour Fitness was able to offer social sharing of the referral program everywhere it interacts with customers to maximize the impact.

"Not only as a prospect coming into our location could you go on to that particular kiosk to do a share, but then if you wanted to do that in the comfort of your home, you could do that via our traditional website," he said.

Adjust to shifting media

In March of 2013, when the team launched this effort, most of the social shares of referrals were coming in through Facebook and Twitter. In February of 2014, they saw Pinterest show up with a larger slice of pie that hadn't been a factor at the beginning.

"So, as you can imagine, our digital marketing and social media team started looking at social activation and social acquisition opportunities on Pinterest through sponsored pins and other things that we could potentially leverage there," Beruta said.

That information, and keeping an eye on the growth of certain social media platforms, helped the team test out where they should be from a social media perspective and strategy.

"We have seen shifting in terms of the shares and what social providers they're doing it on. So, at one point, when we first started off, obviously Facebook was the 800-pound gorilla with share volume," Beruta said, "but over time, Twitter picked up, as did Pinterest."

He said Pinterest has spiked within the 24 Hour Fitness audience with health and wellness becoming a larger content section on the platform.

"Obviously, where those audiences are, we're going to try and be. The beauty of this is it also gives us a window into where we should potentially look for display advertising or sponsored links, or in the case of Pinterest, sponsored pins," he stated.

In nine months of the campaign, Facebook has taken 59% of the shares, Twitter 27% and Pinterest 11%. When it began, Pinterest sharing was not even used.

From this campaign, Beruta added, the team took away that they needed to be focusing on Pinterest outside of just referrals to make sure "we're capturing as much as we can in new member units, and also making sure that people are aware that we've got content and offers that are out there in these different social spaces."

Reward high value customers

The marketing team accessed the social sharing data that enabled Beruta and his team to rank the biggest brand advocates who were sharing the referral.

They took the top 5% of those sharing, and decided to reward them as brand loyalists. 24 Hour Fitness wanted to send them "a surprise and delight to reward and recognize them for how active they are on social in terms of their shares, their referrals, and just talking about us in a variety of different ways."

Since the top 5% are specific members, their local gym rewarded them with a tailored package including a branded workout bag, T-shirt, water bottle, blanket and thank-you letter.


For the marketing team, there are a few takeaways from this effort, Beruta said.

"One is the expanded audience that we had access to that we hadn't in the past. Second to that, we're always looking to be efficient with our marketing costs, and this helped us in that regard," he said.

Some of the results this social sharing campaign has driven are:
  • More than 8,400 shares in January 2014

  • 300,000 direct contact referrals in the first three months

"From a conversion perspective, out of those 8,400 we've gotten a conversion, that gives us over $600,000 in lifetime value revenue," Beruta said.

The team is constantly trying to build a better profile of their customers, he added, and how to speak with them with the right offer through the right communication channels.

"We're continuing to always learn from it and optimize, and obviously, the example of Pinterest showing up on our radar nine months after implementation, those are the types of learnings that we take and try and leverage and use," Beruta concluded.

Creative Samples

  1. Facebook share

  2. Referral landing page

  3. Referral email send

  4. Pinterest post


24 Hour Fitness


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Content Marketing: IBM creates dynamic website, lifts social referral traffic 291% in one year

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Social Media Marketing: Startup achieves 900% Facebook fan growth through sweepstakes

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