Engaging new users can be a challenge. If a student isn’t naturally inclined to exercise or seek a fitness community, how do you get them through your doors? More importantly, how do you get them to come back?
Northern Arizona University (NAU), who’s campus rec department has posted good participation across all rec programs over the past five years, focuses primarily on engaging students with growth opportunities.
“For us, it’s about the development of the whole student and trying to build that sense of awareness of themselves, a sense of discovery and trying new things and removing barriers to make these programs accessible,” said Rhonda Powers, the director of campus recreation at NAU.
According to Powers, keeping programming accessible and understanding campus rec’s role in students’ overall wellness is critical. “How do we — as an institution — take care of the whole student and his or her development?” she asked. “Where do we see ourselves within the wellbeing concept?”
But the other piece of the puzzle is helping new users see the benefits of campus rec to their wellbeing. Accomplishing this can require engaging students with new programming or a combination of several programs.
“We’ve married our fitness programs with our outdoor programs,” said Powers. “This lets us go to Sedona and do a yoga class in the Red Rock country, which appeals to broader range of students.”
Programming isn’t the only arrow in your quiver. Your staff can be your most effective method for reaching new users through sharing positive experiences and cultivating relationships with fellow students.
“One of the strongest marketing tools we all have in this industry is word of mouth,” said Powers. “When you hire staff members and develop a good culture, they become family. They get excited about what they’re doing, start to participate themselves, and then, that turns into word of mouth when they’re talking to students across campus.”
Powers shared her student employees have taken it upon themselves to market their campus rec department. “Our staff has really bought into one of our taglines, ‘Rec with Altitude’ — NAU is at an elevation of 7,000 feet — and made their own flag [with that tagline],” she said. “They went out on a camping trip for the weekend and took the flag with them.”
Whether you get new users involved with programming or the outreach of your student staff, the underlying focus of your efforts should be improving students’ wellbeing, not boosting participation numbers. Shifting your focus to how recreation can benefit students will make you more effective at engaging new users.
“At the end of the day, it’s about building their community,” said Powers. “If they build their community and their network of friends, and they’re meeting new people and becoming connected to the campus, then they’re more likely come back.”