By CHRIS FREYTAG
Social media is changing the way people communicate. Facebook now has more than 500 million users (and growing). Twitter has 105 million users who have collectively sent about 15 billion “tweets,” according to a recent study by Harris Interactive. Almost 85 percent of businesses are now using social media to build brands, drive traffic to their Web sites, increase their customer base and advertise products and services. The rules of business and marketing are rapidly being rewritten, and the fitness industry—including group fitness instructors—is no exception.
As instructors, you can use social media to build a following, create a sense of community, educate your class participants, become known as an expert, and promote classes, products and services. But where should you begin? And can you make money with social media?
Let’s take a look at some of the different social media venues, as well as the features and benefits of taking your expertise to this ever-growing world.
In the social media space, Facebook is the leader of the pack. It is the number-two tracked Web site in the world, behind Google—but people spend more time on Facebook than Google. Michael Stelzner, founder of socialmediaexaminer.com, says the average American spends seven hours on Facebook monthly. And if you think Facebook is mostly for young people socializing, you’re wrong: More than half of users are older than 35, Stelzner says.
If you want to communicate with your group fitness participants, or increase your visibility as an exercise professional in your community, you need to be on Facebook. Facebook gives your class participants and future clients an opportunity to get to know you. Marketing professionals will tell you to determine where your customers are and then find the best way to reach them there. I have found that the majority of my clients and class participants are on Facebook almost daily, and it seems to be the best way to reach them in a non-invasive way. They receive my updates when they check their Facebook newsfeeds on their own time.
“I use Facebook as a way to post daily class schedules and update clients on subs and cancellations at the studio,” says Joy Karley, a group fitness instructor and owner of Gotham City Pilates in New York.
Rebecca Kincaid Titus, a group fitness instructor and owner of Bodies by Becca in Hobbs, N.M., also uses Facebook for updates. “I use Facebook to keep my clients and potential clients informed of my schedule and classes to keep them motivated. I also run Facebook specials.”
Not only can you update your class attendees, you also can post quick reminders about classes or encouragements to participate, such as, “Who is coming to Boot Camp tomorrow morning? We will be kicking some butt.”
View Facebook as a place to showcase your work experience and talents, and educate your participants. As you get to know people in your group fitness classes, invite them to connect with you via Facebook, and watch your following grow. You also can build your credibility by including testimonials and offering educational postings, photos and videos. You also can tag specific people to ensure they will see your postings.
“It’s an easy way to post pictures and videos so potential clients can see me teaching classes and see how nice my studio is,” says Karley. “The events function allows me to promote workshops and special classes, and it’s a great way to share motivational thoughts.”
Another option with Facebook is to build a business page, otherwise known as a “like” page. It is also more appropriate to sell products or services on a business page. Having a successful “like” page means creating an experience for your fans, being consistent in posting fresh content, always focusing on your brand (that’s you) and refraining from any posts that aren’t appropriate.
I use my business page (www.facebook.com/chrisfreytagpage) to discuss breaking news, fitness ideas or answer questions from my fans. I keep it updated with my latest workouts and products. I reserve my personal profile to communicate with family and friends on a more private level.
You also can use Facebook to post your blog. And if you don’t have a blog yet, you might want to consider creating one.
Benefits of Blogging
Blogging used to be about keeping an online journal that you share with the public, but it has become one of the best marketing tools on the Web. Blogs foster personal connections with clients and customers, and increase visibility and credibility. View blogging as an opportunity to educate and help people you care about. Not only will you be providing your participants with valuable information, you are likely to gain a loyal following and customer base for other products and services you may offer.
For blogs to be effective, they need to consistently feature new content. You can’t just write one blog and then disappear for a few months. Blogs that follow a regular schedule can be used to periodically tout other products and services you provide, drive people to your Web site (if you have one), and increase your Facebook following. You also can "tweet" your blog link (more on Twitter in a moment). There are numerous sites, such as WordPress.org, which is a favorite with first-time bloggers, that make it easy to get started blogging.
“The important thing is not just to collect followers, but to get them active. I think you do this by provoking discussions on message boards and by having a constant upload of fresh material,” says Jackie Thai, a Nia teacher in Seattle.
Thai says her best social media strategy is to create a community specifically for a fitness practice through a blog. “People love to see pictures and videos. Posting video or photographs of some of your classes, workshops or a personal session with a student on your blog,” Thai says, “is a great way to get people involved in your services and to your Web site.” Of course, always obtain permission from individuals before posting pictures of them.
If you do blog, make sure you research search engine optimization (SEO) so your blog ranks higher in Internet searches. Also, be sure you use a message board, because encouraging your participants to comment is the number-one way to build community on a blog. But you also need to comment back and be a part of the dialogue.
Twitter or “tweeting” is also called micro-blogging. You can educate your customer base, provide short updates—140 characters to be exact—and share class changes and informative links to stories on the Internet. Just like blogging, you need to be consistent to build a following. If you have a Web site, it’s a great, quick way to encourage your followers to check it out.
Group fitness instructor Beth Swanson of Chicago uses Twitter to link to her Facebook page. She tweets encouragements such as, “The sun is out today, head out for a 30-minute interval jog/walk/run today! Let me know how it goes!” and includes a link to her site.
Go Viral with Video
The possibilities for using YouTube are almost endless. Teach. Educate. Demonstrate a new move or the right technique to avoid injury. Create videos to include on your blog and Facebook. Talk about your classes, share fitness philosophies or show a clip of one of your classes and use it as a promotional tool. You can also create videos as tutorials, learning tools or to build your community through personal connection.
Link up with LinkedIn
LinkedIn is more interactive than people think. More than just an online portfolio about you, it’s also a place where you can pose questions, offer polls and communicate with your clientele and peers. You can share best practices, showcase your experience in the fitness realm and be both mentor and student. Link to professional networks and fitness professionals who you admire and want to emulate. LinkedIn also can be used to crowd source—use your network to pose questions and get instant feedback from the crowd—your customers. The more you know about your clientele, the better you can help meet their fitness goals and objectives.
Can You Make Money with Social Media?
The big question, of course—and one that many people are searching for the answer to—is whether or not you can make money using social media. Sure, you can reach more people than ever before (with time being your sole expense), but how do you turn that into profit? The best answer is that without social media, you are missing out on some real tangibles that lead to generating income—like increasing your client base, promoting your classes and your expertise. If you are not using social media, it’s like walking away from free exposure and advertising. While you may wonder if it’s really worth your time, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of paying to print and place ads/flyers versus taking the time to use these free tools. If you offer services such as individual fitness training, or sell fitness-related products, social media is the least-expensive marketing venue to boost your income.
Thai (the NIA teacher from Seattle) sums up social media for group fitness instructors like this: “I think people want to be supported and inspired.” Whether your purpose is to make money or motivate people, social media may be the best way to accomplish both.
CHRIS FREYTAG is the author of the new book, Two Week Total Body Turnaround, and is the fitness expert and a contributing editor for Prevention magazine. She is ACE certified and a member of the ACE Board of Directors, a master trainer for SPRI Products and the creator of numerous fitness DVDs including Prevention Fitness Systems.