A version of this article first appeared on the fitDEGREE blog

Technology has become integrated into our daily activities. Whether it’s for information, entertainment, or social engagement, millennials are glued to their phone screens. In fact, a preliminary research study found young adults spend about one-third of their day on their cell phones. So what does that mean for campus rec centers?

Millennials expect information that is fast and easy

Students are preoccupied. Instead of walking around campus looking at posters and announcements, the attention of today’s students is focused on their phones. They do not want to search long for information and expect timely updates to be available in the palm of their hand. Therefore websites, let alone posters, banners and other forms of traditional advertisements, are seen by some as outdated and have become virtually invisible to millennials. A recent study found 84% of millennials don’t like or trust traditional advertising.

Now campus rec centers are not only faced with the challenge of creating programs and events to get students in the door, but have the added new obstacle of adapting its messages to reach millennials.

After seeing the popularity of social media platforms skyrocket, marketers have found a way to take advantage and turn this threat for attention into a tool with the development of smartphone applications. In June of 2016 , Apple’s App Store reported having two million apps and Android, 2.2 million.

Considered by some to be the social media generation, millennials have become accustomed to constant social engagement and find comfort in community atmospheres. In fact, 46% of millennials participate in community-based fitness courses and are more likely than other generations to bring a fitness partner or small group. This provides campus rec centers with a unique opportunity!

If the rec centers on campuses across North America are able to adapt to students’ instantaneous culture and find a way to update students on events, tournaments, classes and other fast and easy information, students will respond. The easiest and most effective way to do so? Use an app.

Here are the top three reasons why your campus’ rec center needs its own mobile app.

1) Don’t be invisible—establish a digital presence

You could print flyers promoting your upcoming event and hope someone sees it. You could post an advertisement for it in the school paper, wait for it to be submitted, printed and distributed, but both take time and energy that you could be putting into planning and executing the actual event.

So what’s a progressive rec center to do?

With over 85% of millennials owning a smartphone, spending over 90 hours a month on their phone using apps and 59% claiming that they use social media to find information—there really is no reason to resort to outdated ways to reach your target student audience.

Join the movement, develop an app!

Students do not want to be bothered with navigating through browsers for information. Apps provide rec centers with visibility and students with the convenience and easy access to information. This direct flow of information sets applications apart from social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter where you are competing with viral videos of cats for students’ attention. These digital spaces have too much noise in them for your rec center’s voice and message to be heard.

An app provides you with a direct, effective, and efficient line of communication to motivate students to engage in rec center programs.

2) Communication is key

Did you know that a recent NIRSA publication showed 67% of students report that campus recreation programs influenced their decisions to continue attending their chosen college/university? That is why creating early communication to build and foster a relationship is crucial. When a freshmen enters your school, many of them are most likely experiencing their first phase of “freedom.” This can be healthy for some, but detrimental for others. By providing students with a fun and social environment, they are more likely to meet like-minded individuals and make friends. This sense of community will have your students not just coming back your rec center, but remaining at that university until graduation.

The issue now becomes how can you reach all your students while keeping it personal and making sure they don’t skim past it like every other email?

Features such as push notifications, live alerts, and updates allow rec centers to reach a mass of students with a single message. Instead of being another catchy subject line in their inbox, push notifications engage students on a more personal level since they are sent directly to their phones.

These outlets help streamline communication and inform students of:

  • Group class schedules & their unexpected changes
  • New programs and upcoming events
  • Alerts for adjusted or Holiday hours
  • Contests and more!

While emails may offer similar benefits, they require more work from staff and are less effective. Flooded inboxes have become an obstacle for establishing clear and effective communication with students. Many students do not look closely at their emails; worse still, many often discard emails before even opening them, making your team’s efforts a waste of energy.

So why not make it easier on yourself by getting rid of all the various email contact lists and the hassle that comes along with updating and maintaining them each semester? Reach all your students with a single, simple push!

3) Check out your options.

Ok, I know what you are thinking. I already have a website. Is an app really worth it?

Your peer colleges and universities seem to think so. In 2014, Campus Computing Survey found that 83% of participating campuses had developed and released a mobile appa 23% increase from 2012.

If you are looking to create an app from scratch, software development companies can charge upwards of $100,000 to create a sophisticated personalized app; and this does not include upkeep and routine updates that are required. Just like anything new, apps from scratch also take a while to work out all the kinks and cause your students more frustration than it is worth.

So how do you get the benefits of an app without developing your own from the ground up?

Apps like Mindbody, Fitocracy, and fitDEGREE give you the ability to create an effective digital presence without the headache that comes along with managing yet another project. Fitness apps like these allow organizations to license for a low monthly fee a tool to  provide students an incredible digital experience. Now rec centers have the ability to offer your own, customizeable rec center mobile app without any of the hassle of app development!

While some of these apps allow users to find classes based on category (i.e. fitness, wellness, etc.), those apps might also aggregate your rec center offerings with nearby competitors, and who wants that? Other apps offer features for users to track their workout routines and share them with friendsbut might not allow students to view and pre-register for classes.

Whatever app provider you choose, you will likely want to keep the focus on your campus community. Your rec center deserves to have a dedicated page on the app, uncluttered with nearby competition. By keeping the focus on your rec center you can give students tools they want: the ability to view live occupancy levels, pre register for group classes, connect with one another on a fitness based news feed, and receive updates of upcoming events! All of these are key features of the fitDEGREE app.

The conclusion is…

We understand that running a program or service, let alone the whole rec center, takes a lot of work and requires the ability to wear multiple hats. Don’t add to the collection.

Choosing a third party for your rec center’s mobile app takes away unnecessary stress and controls costs. Investing in a mobile app offers a way for you to stay relevant, increase student engagement, streamline communication and as a result, get more students involved!

For more information on creating your very own rec center app page, visit www.fitdegree.com and start engaging students today!

Stop by our booth at the 2017 Campus Rec & Wellness Expo

fitDEGREE will be exhibiting at the NIRSA 2017 Campus Rec & Wellness Expo in National Harbor this coming February. Stop by and see our reps in booth #1014.

Visit the online NIRSA Buyer’s Guide for great software and technology vendor options. If you have questions about the exhibitors who will be at the NIRSA 2017 Campus Rec & Wellness Expo, contact NIRSA Director of Corporate Accounts Heidi Cleary.

Nick Dennis is currently the CEO of fitDEGREE, a NIRSA Associate Member since 2015; he can be reached at nick@fitdegree.com.