Employ simple strategies to market your “profile” using online social networking.
To be successful in business, who you know is often more advantageous than what you know. For fitness professionals, a strong personal and professional network is helpful in building clientele. In an industry where word of mouth and referrals are crucial to business longevity, staying connected within the right communities is essential. In today’s digital age, making connections online has simply become the easy, convenient option.
Facebook is one of the more popular social networking websites that have modernized the way we connect with others. When it comes to promoting your services and maintaining a professional presence, let’s discover what advantages and limitations you can expect to “face” online and how to make the most of your Facebook profile.
What Is Online Social Networking?
Social networks are created through our common associations—in the workplace, at school, in the gym, through family and friends and through hobby or interest groups. The Internet has played a significant role in expanding these social networks online. We have the capacity to reach broader markets and connect with people beyond our geographic boundaries.
Over the years, health and fitness professionals have belonged to various online social networks, ranging from groups where instructors shared choreography to forums where personal trainers exchanged tips to listservs that helped managers locate certified professionals. Although earlier forms of online networking served a functional need, they were often limited and tedious to maintain. The systems depended on moderators to organize the groups and regularly update the e-mail contacts. (How many times have you had to send a “please take me off this list” e-mail?)
Today, online social networking websites have taken a lot of the onus off the moderators and placed the responsibility on users to stay relevant. Mega-networking platforms, like Facebook and MySpace, allow members to freely search and choose the connections and groups they wish to pursue.
At the same time, niche networking sites exist for those who would like to connect with like-minded health professionals and fitness enthusiasts. One such site is eXerciseFriends.com. Think of it as a free health and fitness version of Match.com (without the dating part!). The goal is to use the exercise network to find workout partners or training groups online and then—you guessed it—work out with them “offline”. Members sometimes visit the site to seek out fitness professionals who can help them achieve challenging goals. Fitness professionals can quickly establish an online presence and also determine what activities are popular in their local communities.
Online social networking may be the Net generation’s answer to finding workout buddies, but it has other advantages in the health and fitness industry. Gyminee.com and Traineo.com depend on their communities to support members in achieving fitness goals. These sites offer additional features for tracking activities, diet, health behaviors and weight. “By using your real-life friends and family members as ‘motivators,’ you are held accountable to your weight loss and fitness goals,” states Jennifer Lee, vice president of marketing for Traineo. Fitness professionals can get involved in these online communities and provide expertise and encouragement to members in local areas. (Who knows? One day these members may turn into clients.)
Unless they offer additional online training programs or nutrition counseling, social networking sites are usually free to join. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to have accounts across two or three networks.
Putting a Face to a Name
Out of all the online networking sources, why is Facebook so popular? As you know, having access to a large network of people can help you extend your professional reach. Facebook is one of the fastest-growing social networking sites online. As of January it claimed to have more than 59 million users and was listed by comScore as the sixth top destination on the Web.
Already, fitness professionals and organizations are using Facebook to promote their professional brand and expand their social network. Jason Davis, Internet marketing manager for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, brought the company’s presence to Facebook in July 2007. “We created the Facebook group to reach our existing members who might be using this platform—as well as to reach new members—to connect, share and inspire in a virtual community setting,” he says.
The Business of Facebook
Creating an account on Facebook is easy, and designing your profile is also straightforward. But if you want to use Facebook as a business tool, you have to put energy into building your network—and that can take time. Your profile activities are publicized across your network via a news feed on your Facebook home page. So, if you add Jane to your network, join a Facebook health group or update information in your profile, everyone in your network will know about it. It will be listed on their daily news feeds. This knowledge is one of the reasons Facebook is such a powerful networking tool. The news feed feature can help you discover new groups, identify new connections and follow the ongoing interests of your immediate community. Every time your profile shows up on a news feed, your professional exposure increases. Now, when you join a new fitness group, maybe Jane will, too.
Here are five simple ways you can take advantage of the Facebook features and increase your news feed visibility:
Join a Group and/or Create Your Own. The easiest way to meet friends in Facebook is by becoming part of various professional organizations and interest groups. With thousands of health- and fitness-related groups available, you’re bound to find some you like. If not, it’s easy to generate your own. Create a group for your exercise classes or fitness facility.
Add to Discussion Boards. Groups often have discussion topics posted on their main pages. Contribute your thoughts to relevant issues and participate in regular conversations.
Cross-Promote to and From Facebook. Link your Facebook profile to your professional website or blog (and vice versa). Let others in your social communities know of your presence across various networks. (The Flog Blog application allows you to integrate your existing blog into your profile quickly and easily.)
Update Your Profile Status Often. Tell people what you’re currently doing and feeling. Update your status once a day or every hour. Use your profile to convey instant health messages and reinforce fitness tips. A simple “off to the gym” or “working on today’s step routine” allows your contacts to keep tabs on you (in a good way). You can also link status updates to mobile phones.
Add Facebook Applications. Enhance the functionality and personality of your profile by adding extra features. See “Give Your Profile a Face-Lift!” on page 85 for more on health and fitness applications.
Connections for Modern Times
Online networking sites have become more user-driven, user-centered and user-friendly, making expanding your social circle almost effortless. Although most of these networks are free, your time isn’t. Different online networking sites cater to select demographics, so be sure to choose the social community that best aligns with your business strategy.
SIDEBAR: Give Your Profile a Face-Lift!
Facebook applications serve many functions—from providing daily bulletins to logging personal activities. You can add them to your Facebook home page, also known as your “profile” page. Applications are very easy to upload and use (mostly because they perform only one function). Some apps require you to provide information, while others are simply news feeds that pull information onto your main page. Here are the popular health and fitness apps you can add to your profile.
Runlicious. Great for logging your runs. You can chart your running pace, archive weekly runs and illustrate your progress on a graph. This app even tracks your shoes and their mileage. Other running apps include RunLogger and RunTime.
WiredBerries. With this app, you get your daily health advice embedded in your profile—everything from food and nutrition tips to fitness information and natural beauty guides. Also check out Health Fitness and Health Tip of the Day.
My Cycling Log. Just like the running logs, this app journals your cycling rides. Also, see Motionbased for another application.
Racebib. If you participate in triathlons, marathons and other races, use this app to display the race bibs from your events. Include your finish times and other race statistics for bragging rights!
FitnessQuizzard. Up for a fun cognitive challenge? Take fitness quizzes or make your own. Then share them with friends to see who is the most mentally fit.
Biray Alsac, MS, is the owner and director of FITTmaxx Institute. She is an ACE-certified fitness presenter and an adjunct faculty member in the exercise science department of Mesa Community College, Phoenix. Read her fitness and technology blog at www.befitwithbiray.com (or “poke” her on Facebook!).