Dr. Erin Nitschke by Dr. Erin Nitschke
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Becoming a micro-influencer is a slow and steady process, but worth the intentional development and effort. It’s a new form of social support that has the potential to positively propel your clients’ behavior-change efforts and incite a journey of change for others.

Clients as Micro-influencers

Micro-influencers are individuals who craft content around a certain market, niche or topic. While the number of followers varies between sources, a micro-influencer has anywhere from 1,000 to 50,000 followers. The number of followers is arbitrary and not directly related to success or value. Anyone committed to a goal, journey or message can become a micro-influencer. How do we get our clients to influence each other? And, more importantly, why does it matter? In short, clients as micro-influencers offer a modern method of social support. 

Why Social Support Matters

Bandura’s (1986) social learning theory first suggested that behavior can be explained by examining the interaction and relationships between an individual and his/her environment and social factors. Decades of studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between social support, goal attainment and changed health behaviors.

For example, one study investigated social influences on health behaviors among rural adults. Researchers found that the attitudes of family and friends were key influences on behavior. The findings also reflected that support from, and accountability to, the members of the social-support network facilitated behavior change and maintenance (Sriram et al., 2017). Similar conclusions were made in a systematic review that examined the association between social support and physical activity in older adults. The review suggested that individuals with greater social support were more likely to participate in leisure time physical activity (Smith et al., 2017). Clearly, social support is a strong motivator to help individuals persist toward a goal (Bushman, 2017).

Bottom line—we already know our clients, regardless of the goal, benefit exponentially from the presence of quality social support (Brehm, 2014). We also know that social support can manifest in a variety of diverse and unique formats: friends and family can provide positive encouragement and validation; coworkers can help cover a lunch shift; a workout partner can provide accountability and positive reinforcement; online support groups can help influence motivation and share similar experiences. Social support isn’t limited to one form.

The Social Media Factor

Social media has a distinct way of connecting people locally, regionally and globally. As health and exercise professionals, we use social media to connect with and educate our many followers—we are micro-influencers. But what about our clients? Why not harness the connectivity social media provides and help our clients become micro-influencers as they pursue their lifestyle goals? This could be just the creative avenue today’s clients need to feel empowered and connected to others sharing a similar voyage. It could also be a way to spread a body positive and healthy lifestyle message.

Here are some practical strategies to help clients work toward becoming micro-influencers:

  • Create an online support group to connect clients through a common channel. This will help build familiarity and relationships among current and former clients. Select a social media channel that your clients find popular and use often.
  • Follow your clients on social media and post praise-filled messages. Do the same on your social media channel(s).
  • Promote the individual social media channels of your clients.
  • Post encouraging messages about the value of sharing a fitness journey.
  • Share your own fitness journey and daily habits via live videos and stories.
  • Hold candid conversations with clients about sharing their health and fitness journeys through a social media channel. Offer to help them get it started.
  • If you have clients who possess a talent for writing, encourage them to start a blog and begin sharing things they’ve learned in their sessions and experiences with you.
  • Encourage a “grow the group” effort where clients follow each other on their respective channels or join/create a Facebook group.
  • Create a “wall of fame” at your studio or gym to showcase achievements. Include the clients’ social media channels on the wall (remember to seek permission to do so).
  • Encourage clients to follow other individuals who are considered micro-influencers and interact with their posts.

Several factors contribute to an individual’s desire and motivation to commit to healthy habits, including exercise and physical activity. Among these factors are self-efficacy, enjoyment, accountability, habit integration into the daily routine and social support.

As health and exercise professionals, we have the unique opportunity to influence each of those factors. We are responsible for creating workout programs that align with clients’ goals and needs, which includes integrating activities that they will enjoy. We also develop accountability measures and help clients build the skills to change their behaviors. We assist clients in crafting short-term goals that lead to early wins that, in turn, enhance self-efficacy. Lastly, we not only provide a source of social support, but we aid clients in identifying other means of social support within their individual networks (family, friends, coworkers and community).

Consider what the outcome might be if we take active steps to encourage clients to support each other in a more contemporary and influential way. Your clients can realistically become micro-influencers as they share parallel journeys of change. Such an approach can create client-to-client connections and add to the value of social support.

References

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Brehm, B.A. (2014). Psychology of Health and Fitness. Philadelphia, Pa.: FA Davis.

Bushman, B. (2017). ACSM’s Complete Guide to Fitness and Health. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.

Smith, L. et al. (2017). The association between social support and physical activity in older adults: A systematic review. International Journal of Behavior, Nutrition, and Physical Activity, 14, 1, 56.

Sriram, U. et al. (2017). Support and sabotage: A qualitative study of social influences on health behaviors among rural adults. The Journal of Rural Health, 34, 1, 88-97.

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