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The Group Advantage

by Biray Alsac, MS on May 02, 2011

Digital advertising in online groups and social networks.

Given the sheer number of people using sites like Facebook and services like Groupon, fitness professionals are investing their advertising dollars in spaces where they can influence local groups and social networks. With better research into consumer insight (thanks to profile pages), personal trainers can identify their audiences and target their digital ad campaigns more effectively.

For personal trainers who are already social media–savvy, a digital ad campaign can be one of many components in their current marketing efforts. Since an advertisement is a form of communication designed to persuade an audience to buy or act on a product, service or idea, this often translates to “ad clicks” in the online space.

Read on to learn more about how to target audiences within these groups and networks, tailor ad messages in these spaces and evaluate the success of your digital advertising campaigns.

Select Your Audience

One of the first things marketers stress prior to starting any ad campaign is to know your audience. Social networks combine (real) friends, professional contacts, clients, colleagues and family, so it’s essential to determine which audiences you wish to target directly and customize a message for them.

“Women who are trying to lose their baby weight need a different message than men who are trying to bulk up,” says Shanna Kurpe, chief marketing officer of Proponent Software and Marketing in Tampa, Florida. Although many people may benefit from your services, it is unlikely that one ad will appeal to all of them. “Pick the market you believe will deliver the highest return on investment, and then speak directly to them.”

Generally, ads can be targeted based on basic demographic criteria (age, location, gender). But certain values are specific to each network. For instance, Facebook allows filtering by “likes” and interests, relationship status and specific groups and connections. LinkedIn ads can be targeted by industry, company size, seniority or job function. The audience reach varies based on the criteria selected. The challenge is in finding how to appear exclusive and still have the widest reach.

‘Ad’ a Friend

In social networks, interactions can sometimes be limited by your connections (e.g., cannot direct-message a Twitter user unless the user follows you; cannot post on a profile wall unless you are friends). With paid ads, fitness professionals can extend their message beyond their network, leveraging connections outside of first-degree friends or connectors—such as friends of friends or people not already fans of a page.

“When it comes to sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and other social sites, the point is not to sell,” Kurpe says. “People are there to socialize. They are not there to buy [your products or services].” Although social networking can be an effective part of a marketing strategy, she encourages personal trainers to take a softer approach in their advertising in these spaces.

One method might be to create ads that promote your current efforts within the platform, such as your groups, pages, events or applications. For instance, give your audience a reason to “like” your page, or sponsor an ad that encourages more RSVPs to your events. When the ad appears, audiences will see which friends have interacted with the ad and may be more likely to check out your offer when they know friends have also “liked” it, joined your group or RSVP’d to your event.

Unfortunately, the return on investment in social network advertising is fairly low. You may find that your current social media efforts (status updates, tweets, blog posts and discussion threads) may be just as effective in building your brand and promoting your agenda.

See the Strength in Numbers

It is becoming increasingly popular to advertise with “daily-deal” organizations like Living Social ( or Crowd Savings ( You offer a significant discount on goods and services (e.g. coupon for $20 for $40 worth of merchandise); they promote your deal to their list of subscribers. Sites like Groupon ( are reaching about 18.8% of the U.S. Internet population (Marshall 2011).

Although e-mail marketing has been around for years, these sites are unique in how they leverage the collective purchasing power of groups. The deal is not “official” until a minimum number of coupons have been bought. “Users give permission to receive your advertisement [by subscribing to these services], which means they want to see your ad and are in buying mode,” Kurpe says. “So, sell like there is no tomorrow!”

Fitness professionals who advertise in these spaces may find it increases their brand awareness in the local community (more website hits, Facebook “fans,” etc.), but it may not guarantee repeat business or glean new clients. Furthermore, personal trainers should exercise great caution when using these sites. There may be no up-front advertising costs, but the revenue generated from the ad is split (usually 50–50) between the fitness business and the organization. Do the math, then decide if it makes sense. Avoid proposing discounts that take value away from your regular, paying customers. You may find that your unbeatable personal training coupon leaves top staff unavailable to book regular client sessions.

Make Clicks Count

When your screen real estate is limited to small dimensions, as may be the case with social networking sites and mobile platforms, personal trainers must choose their images and words wisely. It is not enough to identify and target your audience. The ad must grab their attention and appeal to their emotions. Otherwise, the opportunity may be lost.

A “call to action” is the part of an advertisement that tells the audience what to do and offers an incentive to do it (e.g., “Sign up now for a newsletter and get the first personal training session free”). “Most people are apprehensive about taking action online; therefore, the incentive must have an equivalent value to the cost of taking the action,” Kurpe says. “A simple click ‘costs’ less to your audience when compared to completing a form and surrendering personal information.”

Paying attention to key metrics can also help trainers better assess the return on their ad dollars. Click-through rates measure how many times the ad has been clicked. If this number is high, the ad is gaining some traction. Conversion rates measure how many times action has been taken after the click (i.e., did people actually sign-up for the newsletter?) “If you have low conversion rates, you may have to make adjustments to your campaign,” Kurpe advises. “Maybe your incentive isn’t valuable, or maybe the ad doesn’t accurately represent your landing page.”

Advertising in social networks and online groups provides an opportunity to expand your marketing toolbox. The costs of advertising online can fit any budget (ads can start as low as $0.50). Fitness professionals who create an ad, test it, analyze the numbers and actively revise may find more success. But ultimately, it is not about how many ads you post in Facebook or the deals you offer through Groupon. It is about effectively engaging your audience through advertisements and other online efforts so when they are ready to buy, they think of you.


Marshall, J. 2011. Coupon sites reached 19% [of] North American users in December.; retrieved Mar. 16, 2011.

Zickuhr, K. 2010. Generations 2010. Pew Internet & American Life Project.; retrieved Mar. 16, 2011.

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About the Author

Biray Alsac, MS

Biray Alsac, MS IDEA Author/Presenter

Biray is a fitness author and international wellness presenter with a professional focus in web-based fitness education and exercise programs. She received her master's degree in Exercise & Wellnes...