Anne Reuss

Community Management Lessons in a Rock Climbing Gym

By: Anne Reuss | May 4, 2015 | 
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Community ManagementBy Anne Reuss

A couple of months ago, I found myself somewhere I would have never pictured myself: Working at a rock climbing gym.

I was in need of work, and, at the same time, I had started a new blog to act on my passion for helping people build better bodies and minds for stronger business.

When I saw Life Time Climb (a brand new venture) was hiring, I smelled an opportunity to reflect on my career direction and combine my passion for community management and fitness.

I was excitedly toying with the idea… 

Then I started to feel uncomfortable.

That’s when I knew I had to go for it.

If you’re not willing to sacrifice your comfort, you don’t have what it takes. Julien Smith in The Flinch

Why the uneasiness?

Because it was a change of scenery: I went from a full-blown digital presence as an online marketer with very rare communication barriers to constant face-to-face situations.

Life Time Fitness is a gawk-gorgeous and giant club I’ve been going to for two years, and as familiar as I am with the members, strange faces surface.

All the time.

The first week Life Time Climb opened, I had butterflies every time a new person came through the door who had no clue I am Deaf. Every interaction was going to be a mystery!

Turns out, I didn’t have THAT much to worry about. People are generally very positive and easy to work with as long as I act cordial.

Plus, you know that Midwest charm works like a charm…

It also took me back through the foundation you need for community management.

Be(live) the Brand Mission

In short, the Life Time mission is to provide a friendly, entertaining, and educational member experience.

When we went through corporate training, they were avid about making sure we knew our material and shared a common desire to turn this new venture in a safe, radical, and hardcore climbing gym.

Every member has a unique background when they first come to the wall, so it’s my job to find out more about them and make the experience as fun as possible.

I’ll expose them to different types of routes or climbing (like bouldering) and suggest ways to incorporate it in their workout routine.

It came naturally because I believe in it.

I love the physical and mental challenge fitness presents.

Climbing is for everybody, and figuring out how to conquer a route leads to inner strength. My favorite part is seeing the members build confidence the more they climb!

If you aren’t excited about your work or building subject matter knowledge, it’ll become painfully obvious, which hinders your community management. 

Be Brave – Don’t Become Too Comfortable

Being uncomfortable doesn’t just grow yourself, it can grow your community!

Ask yourself:

  • Have you gotten too comfortable and familiar?
  • Are you trying to meet new members?
  • Are you trying to meet new influencers and build a relationship?
  • Are you asking people for honest feedback?

Keep Your Communication Style Fluid (But Prepare, Prepare)

I made sure I was prepared before we opened.

I brainstormed possible ways I could make communication a smooth experience for our members.

A few examples:

  • Unless your last name is Johnson, lip-reading last names is unbelievably tough! So I brought in a dry erase board.
  • It’s our duty to remind the new climber every time that the sport is inherently dangerous and could have dire results. It’s a mouthful. For me. So I ended up highlighting it on the waiver to grab their attention. Now it’s laminated with a permanent place at the front desk, which has turned out to be effective for everybody.
  • During safety orientation, I let the members absorb information in a way they’re most comfortable with by speaking, gesturing, and demonstrating.

Two months later, I rarely need to do this as much, but because I was prepared, I’m proud to say there have been no crash and burns!

Don’t Hit a Wall With Community Management

Strange faces still surface, but many have turned into familiar ones.

What keeps me going is a formula of perseverance, hunger, and empathy.

  • Perseverance demands confidence. The climbing gym is new to our fitness center, and to encourage attendance, it’ll take time and consistent enthusiasm about the sport of climbing to grow our community. It also means I have to continue to be uncomfortable and erase any fear people will judge me for my Deafness. 
  • Hunger makes you creative. Chocolate & Caviar reminds us, “constraints are the mother of creativity.” My limitations (in terms of hearing abilities) are a gift. It forces me out of my comfort zone every day and I’ll get crafty with my communications. Embrace any limitations you may have and get creative about how you connect to people.
  • Empathy rules. People twist, yak, and speak up for a BASIC reason: They just like to be heard, and know they have been heard.

I know deep in my core what it’s like to not be heard.

Pay Close Attention to Your Community

I use this feeling to fuel every interaction and pay close attention to the member’s experience.  

Have we made them feel safe and confident about climbing?

How do I prevent them from getting bored or intimidated?

Woof. That’s quite a bit after two months at Life Time Climb.

Community management is tough, so if you’re trying to bolster yours, remember to:

  • Believe and live the mission
  • Embrace uncomfortable situations.
  • Keep your communication style fluid and be prepared.
  • Stay rooted in perseverance, hunger and empathy.

As we like to say, next time you hit a wall (get stuck), climb it!

About Anne Reuss


A fitness-fueled freelance digital marketer, Anne Reuss wants to help you supercharge your life and business through fitness. Her engine runs on peanut butter burgers and pull-ups. Being Deaf has given her superhuman listening powers & a love affair of obstacles - so get your mind and body engines ready and stop waiting for happiness and success to fall into your lap with her upcoming blog Lift Live Lead!