Sean Ries, the Director of Campus Recreation at The University of Alabama Birmingham, admitted that he is not good at the “hashtag thing,” but is willing to try.
This fall semester, along with his full-time staff at UAB, Ries introduced #WhatisYourExcuse to the campus recreation center at the university. The hashtag, which the rec center shares on all its social media channels, is twofold. Not only is the tag intended to lure students to the rec center, but also so the organization can hear real reasons why students, facility and staff are not coming to the rec.
“We are a humongous campus of almost 28,000 employees and we only have 2,000 employees that are members. We were trying to come up with this #whatisyourexcuse for the students,” said Ries. “Also, we said, why don’t we use it for our faculty and staff to ask, ‘What is your excuse for not coming over here?’ Not trying to make (them) feel bad, but … once we get that hashtag to figure out what those excuses are, we felt we could do a better job selling the membership and also meeting the program needs of our population.”
Ries explained that while the hashtag has brought some problems to fruition, he has seen success with its use. The recreation center has developed a walking program, so faculty and staff at the other end of campus can track their steps and use it as a warm up to workouts.
Additionally, the UAB rec center has created Campus Rec on the Go. With this program, they bring workouts to their members, specifically nurses and doctors at nearby hospitals who cannot leave for an afternoon workout.
“Alabama is a little over 4 million people, and we’re the largest employer in the state. You’ve got a lot of people that have a lot of needs, and that’s a good thing. But then you have to make sure you know those needs,” added Ries.
The first priority, is the student. With it being his 20th year in campus recreation, Reis said he has seen “a little bit of everything” when it comes to campus recreation centers, and how the industry has changed is “unbelievable.”
“We compete with the Y’s, and we compete with the Lifetime Fitness’ or your Snap Fitness’. Now more than ever, we have to continue to try to figure out ways to get people in our doors so we can keep the doors open,” he said. “The population now…they want instant gratification. They want to be able to pull up their phones and be able to get exactly what they want, right at their fingertips. And if you don’t do social media or the hashtags, that’s not going to happen. And then you’re going to fall behind.”
Students came to UAB on Monday, and Ries hopes to see the hashtag take off, both as motivation to get students to the rec and to start a conversation about what is keeping them from visiting.
While he may not be great at “the hashtags,” Ries said he is willing to learn, but has staff to support him, who are strong at using social media. Using those recourses, he believes, makes for good directors.