There’s been a lot of talk recently about the fitness industry and social media. At last month’s International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), for example, Nicholas Cristakas, the keynote speaker, discussed the potential impact of social networks on the industry. Six separate sessions at the conference were devoted to one aspect of social media or another. A Club Industry conference this fall will feature a session entitled “Social Media and the Fitness Industry.” And if you Google those two phrases together —”fitness industry” plus “social media” — you get a quarter of a million pages spouting a whole range of opinions on the topic, everything from “Top Five Ways the Fitness Industry is Screwing Up Social Media” to “Social Media and Fitness Business — A Perfect Fit?”
So which is it? Are we screwing it up or is it a perfect fit? What exactly is the best way to use it?
Christakis, a social scientist and physician who conducts research on social factors that affect health, health care, and longevity, has studied the effectiveness of both real life and online social networks. He found that almost everything seems to be contagious among friends, including, among other things, obesity, emotions, and drinking habits — but that the same is not true of online friends.
During his speech at IHRSA, Christakis said that Facebook friends have a nearly nonexistent effect on one another — their habits and choices do not seem to affect the habits and choices of the friends in their Facebook network. Nevertheless, he said, Facebook (and presumably other, similar media) is still an effective way to share information. So, even if you probably won’t get a person to join your gym because her Facebook friend announced in a status update that he joined your gym, you’ll still be able to share information that in a pre-social media world would have taken more resources to disseminate. Social media makes it easier than it ever has been to inform members and other interested parties about new promotions, classes, or developments.
Moreover, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms allow you to share information with personality. Gone is the formality of an earlier era. These days, your voice can be as personal as you want it to be — and often the more personal, the better. It all comes down to branding, and though the dream of referral campaigns through social media might never be realized, the impact of solid branding now might be felt for years to come.
So how should you be using social media? Go ahead and post those photos of your family working out on the beach during your last vacation. As long as you can relate them to useful information about your facility, you’re probably doing the right thing. Your clients want to know that there’s a real person behind the business, and social media offers you a chance to prove that there is.