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Going Beyond Likes and Followers, How Fitness Clubs Can Leverage Social Media

Clark, Chris

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000059
COLUMNS: Business Edge

Chris Clark has developed and executed leading-edge digital marketing and communications strategies for Fortune 500 companies, major trade organizations, and a variety of businesses and individuals for well more than a decade. He is a graduate of Southeast Missouri State University with a B.A. in Mass Communications/Public Relations and a minor in Marketing. Chris currently is the chief operating officer for Decantery and a MediFit Digital Partner.

Disclosure: The author declares no conflicts of interest and does not have any financial disclosures.

Social media is one of the most popular and probably most misunderstood aspects of today’s digital marketing and communications mix. It’s easy to get lost in obtaining page likes and followers, yet is your target audience seeing your messages on social media channels? Unfortunately, probably not. Approximately 84% of Facebook newsfeed stories are not seen whereas roughly 71% of tweets are ignored. And the issue doesn’t only affect smaller brands and companies. On average, top musicians only received ONE retweet for every 30,000 followers. Even Justin Timberlake is having issues bringing social back.

The following tips will help you effectively and appropriately leverage social media to new potential members/clients, existing members/clients, and major search engines.

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Do you have a favorite restaurant that you frequent? In addition to great food, you get amazing service and, across time, have built a relationship with the staff, owner, or chef. Most likely, they have let you know about upcoming menu items or events. This interaction creates an enjoyable SOCIAL experience for you and the restaurant. The same principle applies with your club members. Spend a few moments each day talking with your members, getting to know them, and, as appropriate, asking them what promotions or incentives they would like to see and what social spaces they are using. This direct feedback is pure gold.

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Are you looking to drive new members, fill a group exercise class, or simply communicate with your existing members? Take the time to understand what you want out of your social media and gauge that against your available time and budget. Social media can be very time intensive, so if you’re spending 10 hours a week talking to members, is that fulfilling your primary goal of new memberships?

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Key word research is typically a must for search engine optimization, but it also can help you communicate with your members more effectively. For example, you might be using the term “health club” when describing yourself online. A quick look at national online search indicates that almost four times as many people search for gym-related key words. You inadvertently might be missing a large portion of your target market simply because you’re using key words that are right for you, but not for new potential customers. Your competitors are another great online resource that you should consider. Take a peek and see what they’re doing because it may give you insights into what’s working in your local market.

TOOL TIP: Do a search in Google for gym, then go to the bottom of the page and look at the related searches; this is a good way to do a quick basic key word research.

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Most social spaces now offer some form of analytics (e.g., Facebook Insights) that provide great insight into engagement, but they fall short in determining whether engagement actually is driving your desired goals. If you’re not using Google Analytics on your Web site, start. It’s free and has great social reporting features. You also can set up goal tracking for key pages of your Web site — like a sign-up form or contact page — to help you understand what visitors from different traffic sources are doing. Analytics also is a must for any type of paid social advertising because it will allow you to calculate specific cost per lead figures based on traffic and conversions.

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With roughly 300 million monthly active users and its impact on Google search results for your brand, particularly in mobile, creating your Google Plus Business Page is critical. Claim your listing and then do quick local searches using gym-, club-, personal training-, and fitness center-related key words to see how Google is listing you and adjust your selected business categories accordingly.

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There are a number of social spaces to consider. If you have informational or promotional videos, leverage YouTube. More people conduct searches on YouTube than Google search, and it can be a significant traffic source, especially if your video shows up in Google search. Take pictures and use sites like Flickr and Pinterest to create themed albums or boards to help sell your club. I’ve given up on trying to classify Yelp, but it’s impacting almost every fitness client I’ve worked with, particularly with those social reviews, so pay attention to your listing and make sure you’ve selected the right categories for your page. If Yelp is on the first page of Google search results for gyms in your area, it’s going to send you traffic. Several clubs also have used Foursquare pages successfully to attract new members and create incentives for current members.

ANALYTICS TIP: Use your Google Analytics to see if these spaces are sending you worthwhile traffic.

OPTIMIZATION TIP: When adding content to these spaces, carefully craft your titles to use key words people are searching for. It will help your content be found in Google and Bing while sending the appropriate linking signals to the major search engines, which in turn helps with your search engine optimization.

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Many of these social spaces have a full suite of options that you should consider. Facebook tabs and events are often underused, whereas Foursquare will allow you to create custom badges for members. The best way to leverage fully any social space is do a quick Google search on how to set up a (insert social space name here) business page and read a few blog posts or setup articles — there’s a wealth of information out there — all you have to do is search for it.

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I’m often surprised at how frequently I hear about people simply making daily updates as their time allows during the day, usually scrambling to find something good to post about. Once you’ve established your social goals, sketch out your social spaces and how often you’d like to post on them. Two to three times a week is more than appropriate for most clubs, whereas spaces like Pinterest are fine every other week. Create a spreadsheet with dates to help space out the posts and note specifically what you’re going to post about, what the action should be (e.g., link), and if there will be any attachments like photos or videos. Be sure to include calls to action where appropriate! Once you’ve created your content schedule, consider a tool like HootSuite so you can schedule posts in advance to save time.

EXCEL TIP: Twitter only takes 140 characters, so it can be tough counting all those posts manually. Excel has a cell count feature that makes “likes” much easier. In the cell next to your content, simply type “=LEN(” — then select the cell that contains your content — and finish with “)”. The result will look something like “=LEN(B4)” — this cell will now show you how many characters are in the cell you selected.

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Mix up your content. New member calls to action, posts about your classes and facilities, fun notes about your members, current events, and content designed to display your expertise are all great. Watch for traffic and interaction on the posts to understand how each space is interacting with your content and adjust accordingly.

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Another commonly overlooked aspect of posting involves day and time. Are more people viewing and engaging with your posts before work, during lunch, early afternoon, or after work? Are Tuesdays better than Saturdays, or is it flipped? Adjust your post times and use your analytics to determine the best times to post; it can make a big difference in your post actually being seen.

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Be sure to set up email alerts so you know when you receive a direct message on Twitter or a comment on your Facebook page. It’s important to know when you get a new member question, a great comment, or a spammer posting unwanted content so you can respond to posts in a timely manner. You also should check your spaces manually a few times a week to make sure everything is working correctly. This will give you an opportunity to interact directly whether it includes following, liking, retweeting, or sharing something. Don’t forget, social media is social, so be social and have fun with it.

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Almost 79% of consumers trust online reviews, so how do you get them? It seems that most people who get upset about something will post a poor review readily without blinking an eye, whereas really good reviews seem few and far between. In most cases, it’s not because members won’t, they’re just not thinking about it. Mix in subtle reminders at the front desk, in your monthly newsletter, and on your Web site. Feature a social space that you’d like to see more reviews on and playfully ask for it. Remember that first tip? If you have good relationships with your members, ask them for reviews. Talk to the staff and instructors regarding who can they ask. If you’ve developed a bond with your customers, most people will be happy to help.

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Facebook Advertising is a great way to connect with new members who are not aware of your club. You can target specific locations and get very detailed in terms of your target audience. Start with a $10/day spend and set a manual cost per click — Facebook will recommend a range — usually in the $0.50 to $0.70 range.

Having analytics tracking in place is a must for any advertising. Also, “tag” your Facebook paid traffic so you can separate it from your organic Facebook traffic to see if it’s working and develop cost per lead data.

ADVERTISING TIP: Google offers a tool to help you “tag” advertising URLs so you can track them in Google Analytics. The Google URL Builder can be found at and is simple to use. Add your Web site URL, name the campaign source (Facebook), name the campaign medium (Pay Per Click), and name the campaign (Facebook Membership); then hit submit. When you’re creating your Facebook campaign, simply use the URL that the Google tool gives you and it will allow you to see that traffic in your Google Analytics.

Social media can be a powerful tool for communicating with current members and attracting new ones, but you must take the time to understand why you’re using it and appropriately measure its effectiveness to see how it should be integrated into your overall communications and marketing mix. Once you understand how social media can perform for your club, you’ll be better able to leverage it toward your desired goals.

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine.