April 7, 2015
Social media is fueling a major change in the fitness industry. The days of trudging along on the elliptical and mashing refresh on YouTube videos of “8-Minute Abs” are numbered, largely thanks to the growing communities being fostered by fitness instructors and companies, trainers and health coaches on social media. Molly Hanten and the team at Alchemy are part of that social-media-powered movement, and they’re helping transform the way Minneapolitans approach group and physical fitness. In six months, Hanten and four founders employed social media and word-of-mouth marketing to kick-start their unique fitness program and, as a result, turned Alchemy from a dream into a North Loop studio with a loyal, growing fan base – including two of the Fast Horse ponies.
From early days in PR to Core Power yogi to founding a fitness studio, Hanten’s passion for strength and community has never wavered. She was kind enough to spend some time with me this week and talk about her path to Alchemy, how they’ve engaged the local community and their answer to the #fitspo craze taking over Instagram.
AW: Tell me a little bit about your path to Alchemy. When did you know you wanted to work in the fitness world?
MH: I actually started in PR, but quickly learned that I was not someone who enjoyed being at a desk all day. As someone who always taught yoga on the side in college, I started teaching full time at Core Power Yoga and eventually moved out east to help open a couple of Core Power studios. I met Mike, Andrea and Tyler [Hanten’s co-founders, plus Scott, whom the group met through early Alchemy classes] through CrossFit and I loved what the combination did for my body and mental state. We always talked about starting something, and when I moved back to Minneapolis as a result of a hip injury, it seemed like the perfect time to get going. As much as you can believe in fate, that was really it. The idea of Alchemy has really changed so much since the beginning, but people liked the classes and we knew we had something… so we went for it.
MH: Who we are – our brand voice – really stems the five owners, and that is important for us to convey. Nowadays, the quickest and most obvious way to connect with members and people who enjoy Alchemy is through social media. We constantly ask ourselves, “How are we getting people to pay attention to us and engage with us?” “How do we know it’s working?” “How does the brand fit into this space?” Our approach to social media is an ongoing discussion among everyone at Alchemy, and our plan continues to evolve as we see real-time feedback.
AW: Recently, a handful of fitness “gurus” have been criticized for featuring hard body, total transformation photos of people using their program, without any real context around the lifestyle changes required to get those results. How does authenticity play into your voice and strategy on social media?
MH: In the beginning, we talked a lot about whether we wanted to use the typical fitness hashtags, such as #fitspo, #fitfam and #fitbod, and talked about how that would come across. It was a pretty easy decision to decide absolutely not to use those hashtags. The conversation and engagement around those posts do not reflect the people we’re going to – or trying to – reach. While those things may get people to follow you for six weeks, they aren’t truly interested in what you’re offering. We never talk about weight loss or results in three weeks because those things aren’t realistic. The five of us come from backgrounds where we have made fitness and health a lifestyle, not a quick fix. That’s what we want our members and people interested in Alchemy to understand.
I also think we do a good job in our personal lives of living what we want Alchemy to be for our members, and that’s reflected in the conversations Alchemy is part of on social media. We’re super into fitness and we want to be healthy, but we also live regular lives and want to enjoy ourselves. Truly, that’s the life you don’t see in some of those transformation posts… it can be a restrictive, lonely lifestyle. Alchemy is the opposite of that, it’s about strength and community and enjoying your life. Mixing those things together to create a lifestyle around it.
AW: Are you guys getting good response on your social platforms? What’s the key difference in performance on one platform versus another?
MH: Yes. We have more likes on Facebook, but we usually get more interaction on Instagram, and people tend to respond really quickly to our posts. Andrea handles our marketing and she does a really great job of constantly capturing and sharing content, whether it’s updates at the studio, photos of members or lifestyle inspiration. Video content has been huge for us.
MH: Huge fitness communities can really do incredible things for your body and we’ve really tapped into that with Alchemy. Our combination of high-intensity training, paired with yoga, is really what’s going to get you those results. We have people coming in and saying how they don’t need to spend an hour on the elliptical anymore… and they shouldn’t be doing those things anyway because they don’t generate the noticeable results people are looking for.
Community is what keeps you coming back and accountable. We’ve worked hard to create a different, accepting community that welcomes people from all levels of experience and fitness backgrounds.
AW: Has it been difficult to bridge the gap between yoga and strength training to create Alchemy’s community? They’re seemingly polar-opposite. How do you marry those interests into the Alchemy voice?
MH: They’re surprisingly more similar than we think, and I know that from my own experience. I’ve been part of them and made incredible friends in both communities. Yoga people and strength-training people are both interested in intensity and a challenge, and they are not afraid of competition. It’s more than going to LA Fitness and jumping on a few machines — fitness is a lifestyle and something they’re passionate about. They go to work and look forward to a workout, thinking about it throughout the day and looking up the routine that awaits them. Once they learn about Alchemy, I think they realize that’s the community we’ve created.
MH: We toyed back and forth about whether to offer a free week, but we really believe there is an extreme value in our product and it’s something we’re super proud of, which is why we offer a discounted class for first-time visitors (cost is $10).
We’ve also done a lot of guerrilla marketing around the city with free passes, and we offered five free classes a week for four months before we opened. That really allowed us to get people in the door to try the class before we even opened. Those people ended up helping us get the word out, whether it was by bringing friends to try the class or sharing their positive experience on Facebook and social media.
We also believe part of our product is the space and getting to experience the studio. That requires a lot of social-media marketing, and we’ve been creating new events to generate excitement for our members, as well as partnering with other great companies. Examples include our upcoming Bridal Boot Camp, the Push Up Challenge, hosting classes at Aria and Martin Patrick 3 and our partnership with Juice So Good. We’re also hosting an Agency Night on the second Thursday of every month, offering a $10 class for anyone in the agency world who’s interested in Alchemy.
AW: Well, Fast Horse. It sounds like the challenge has been issued and it’s time to suit up. Hopefully it’s not a routine with burpees…
Alchemy combines yoga, strength training and high-intensity conditioning to provide an unmatched group fitness experience. It can be customized to each individual regardless of background, experience or injury. Learn more at: alchemy365.com.