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Urban Sports Club: working with the widest possible variety of influencers to get the word out

Smartphone and desktop application Urban Sports Club has revolutionized and democratized access to sports and wellness. By connecting and leveraging 10,000 partner locations across Europe, Urban Sports Club offers members the ability to customize their routines with more than 50 sports and wellness activities. An intangible brand — members interact with the brand via the app, using a QR code to check into facilities — Urban Sports Club is more reliant than most on strong messaging and creative storytelling to build and maintain its client base. In this interview, Urban Sports Club Social Media and Influencer Lead Julia Bell discusses how she’s building and refining the brand’s influencer marketing strategy, challenges specific to the German marketplace, and how audience expectations of influencers are evolving.

picture of Influencer Lead Julia Bell
picture of Influencer Lead Julia Bell

Can you outline Urban Sports Club’s strategy for influence?

We have a multi-layered strategy. When I arrived in the role 18 months ago, the first thing we tackled was to develop in-house content. We knew that if we wanted to grow on our social media channels, we needed more content. To do that we needed to work with content creators. We work with them on a barter deal; we give them free Urban Sports Club membership and they create content on a monthly basis for us. Typically, that’s the biggest pool of people that we’re working with.

We’re very city-centric because Urban Sports Club is based in the studios and the gyms. That means we need influencers working for us in every major city. That’s where Kolsquare comes into play a lot. We’ve got our headquarters in Berlin and offices around Germany but it was important for us to be able to identify influencers in specific cities, where we might not have a thorough market understanding.

We have about 80 influencers running on barter deals. We are going through a process of refreshing it, because we realize that we’re quite female heavy; as our company tries to move towards a more B2B space, we want to have a mix of genders, but also we’re really going to have to start searching for a mix of age groups.

What is your approach to selecting the right influencers for your campaigns?

This is one of the hardest brands I’ve worked with in terms of selection. Urban Sports Club has a really beautiful message which is about a world where everyone enjoys doing sports and can benefit from wellbeing practices. That means we have to target the general public. But in influencer marketing these days, people are known for a niche. You’re either known because you’re a bodybuilder or yoga teacher, or because you’re a body positivity influencer, but to find someone that everyone can relate to is really difficult. The other point is that ordinary people like you and me generally don’t have big audiences.  People follow creators for specific reasons, and it’s always the people on the extremes who become popular on social media.

If I’m looking for someone who’s fit, or really good at yoga, that’s cheaper because there’s so many of them. But right now, for example, we want to make sure that we have an age variance. It’s rare to find someone 55-plus producing good content because they didn’t grow up with Instagram, and they probably just don’t have the time. They might have a family, a job etc. So either they’re expensive, and there’s very few of them. It’s hard to find creators who fit in between the extremes.

What changes have you noticed as the market has matured in Germany?

It used to be that the quality of content was much lower in Europe than America, but it is getting to an equal level now. The content quality is just as good in Germany as it would be in America. With that, the prices are going up, often because the influencer has teamed up with an agency. The issue we’re having is that if an influencer gains a certain amount of following, then there’s a lot of eyes on them, not only from brands but also people who can make money off them. It’s fair enough, because at one point it becomes too much for one person to manage all the DMs, emails, the contracts, and content creation. That’s why they need an agency or agent, and then of course, the prices go up for collaborations.

Also, as the algorithms change and with new channels like TikTok, they’re now having to do everything. They’re being pushed to use TikTok and X and all of the other platforms, which means that they need help and it becomes a longer process. The whole industry is becoming a lot more professional which is good, but more expensive.

Which platforms are most pertinent for your campaigns?

Instagram is still our biggest channel by far. At one point every manager wanted to know what we’re doing on TikTok, but I’m very driven by the numbers and I still have not seen, in any company I’ve worked for, or those around me, who are making a majority of their revenue from TikTok. It just doesn’t have link clicks or conversion rates. TikTok is not about the brand or the influencer, it’s more about the video. You could have 1 million followers and post a video that gets 100 views. It’s all about the content over the creator. That’s why when you go on people’s TikTok pages, you see the same video, the same formats by the same creator. It’s very identifiable, but that doesn’t help us as a brand. So of course it’s important to focus on where your main engagement and potentially revenue is, and test other channels on the other side.

You do see the trends trickle into Instagram and as a result, content creation is becoming a faster process. For us as an intangible brand, it’s very hard for us to try and show how to use our product and all its benefits within seven seconds. We’re having to constantly play with the briefings we give to influencers. We’re trying to integrate the use of the QR code that our app uses for reservations and check-ins as a feature in the videos, in the first two or three seconds, so people see there’s an app being used and it’s not just someone walking into a yoga studio.

It’s getting faster; making an Instagram Reel, you have to speed everything up to tell the story. The challenge is: how do I tell my week in Berlin with Urban Sports Club in 12 seconds and showcase all the sports I did?

Is that where it’s useful to look at more traditional content formats like posts or carousels?

Definitely. We see a lot of our influencers tell the story underneath in text. Your feed has become like your website, it’s the way that someone searching for you can see who you are and what you offer. Reels are the way to get new people in because that’s being shown to people that are non-followers [through the recommendation system] and your Stories give information for the people that follow you. Typically Reels are more entertaining for quick information like free yoga studios to visit in Berlin. Carousels are good because they get quite a lot of engagement and they’re aesthetically pleasing. But when you have to tell the story, Stories are where your audience is actually engaging with it and not just flicking through.

Are you seeing a change in the relationship between influencers and audiences? Are influencers having to work harder to keep audiences engaged?

I’m seeing all of them jump on the trend of ‘raw authenticity’. You see it with celebrities on Instagram who post a blurry picture with no makeup, or hungover in bed, to show their followers they are real people. Some people do it well, but some people are trying too hard. People don’t want to follow someone just for pretty pictures anymore. They want to see all sides of it. It’s like how we wanted to see paparazzi pictures of celebrities coming out of nightclubs in magazines; that’s exactly what’s happening on Instagram. There is a lot more demand on influencers to share more to keep the audience. And typically, the regular influencer just doesn’t have as much going on as a celebrity does, so it’s hard for them to fill the gaps. You’ll see big YouTubers sharing crazy Stories because it’s all about going more raw. But it’s like being in a rat race, just having to share more and in the end they have nothing private left.

Are influencers in the German market branching out into sharing more responsible messaging around environmental issues, or other issues impacting society?

Definitely, because influencers are becoming like brands. People demand so much of them. With everything happening in the world like wildfires and natural disasters, people are looking at them like big corporations, and saying, ‘you need to do something about this’. It’s too much to put on someone. It’s cool when some of them pick up on one issue that they’re really passionate about, it’s important that you get to know what these people really care about. But — it’s horrible to say — when they’re jumping on every single trend, whether it’s Pride Month or Earth Day, people are seeing through that now.

It’s hard for them because people are calling them out about why they are not talking about this or that problem. Then when they do it, they’re either not doing enough, or they probably don’t have a PR team like companies do, to assess them and help them, so they get canceled.

About Kolsquare

Kolsquare is Europe’s leading Influencer Marketing platform, a data-driven solution that allows brands to scale their KOL Marketing strategies and implement authentic partnerships with KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders). Kolsquare’s technology enables marketing professionals to easily identify the best Content Creators profiles by filtering their content and audience, and to build and manage their campaigns from A to Z, including measuring results and benchmarking performance against competitors. Kolsquare has built the largest community of influencer marketing experts in the world, and offers hundreds of customers (Coca-Cola, Netflix, Sony Music, Publicis, Sézane, Sephora, El Corte Inglés, Lacoste, …) the latest Big Data, AI and Machine Learning technologies to drive inspiring partnerships, tapping into an exhaustive network covering 100% of  KOLs with more than 5,000 followers in 180 countries on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. As a Benefit Company, Kolsquare has been pioneering Responsible Influence by championing transparency, ethical practices, and meaningful collaborations to inspire change.

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