It’s no secret that a crucial component of long-term business success is building a base of loyal customers.

For example, in the late 1990s, building-block set and toy manufacturer LEGO® was facing bankruptcy. One of the primary reasons for this was that the company’s management had fallen out of touch with what consumers wanted. But then they had the bright idea of developing an online community of enthusiasts who would offer insights, suggest product ideas and give feedback on current projects. Instead of making assumptions in-house about what consumers wanted, LEGO created an online group forum to gain insights from customers about what they wanted. The idea was a hit. In 1999, there were 11 known user groups. By 2012, that number had skyrocketed to 150 groups with more than 100,000 devoted and engaged members (Antorini, Muñiz & Askildsen 2012).

And business has never been better: The company reports that in 2015, LEGO sets and toys reached an estimated 100 million children (Kell 2016). While LEGO’s success doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of its online community, there’s no denying that the transition to an open-source format helped.

Fitness facilities can take a page out of LEGO’s playbook. Though the products are different, the goal is the same: increased loyalty and stronger financials.

Why Build an Online Community?

Creating an online platform where clients and members can interact builds a community, but it can also offer a wide range of other benefits that can positively affect your bottom line.

It helps maintain focus. Fitness professionals are well aware that their access to clients is traditionally limited to the 2 or 3 hours those clients spend with them during training sessions. But what happens during the other 165 hours in the week? Even the most stalwart clients can drift from their training goals during off-hours. Keeping connected with clients via a Facebook group (see the sidebar “How to Start a Facebook Group” to learn more), for example, keeps you and your business top of mind.

Ethan Kopsch, owner of Bird Rock Fit in La Jolla, California, encourages his clients to post updates on a regular basis. “I can ensure they’re getting extra cardio sessions by asking them to share postrun selfies,” he says. “I’ll also ask some of them to post pictures of their healthy lunch or dinner. This keeps them focused and also acts as a motivator for others in the group.”

Great out-of-gym adherence leads to a better chance that people will achieve their goals. When clients are successful, they attach more value to your services.

It’s a good way to share information. It can be very difficult to allocate time for questions or extended education during hourlong sessions. We want to impart a few nutrition tips here and there, but there isn’t always enough time for discussion. Facebook groups can circumvent this problem, giving you the chance to share the things you don’t have time for during scheduled sessions. Your clients will appreciate the extra effort you’re making to help them achieve their goals. Also, if the content you provide is worthwhile, chances are good that your clients will want to share it with their own networks, which means your name gets seen by more eyeballs. And that means potential client leads.

Facebook groups also keep your clients in the know about schedule changes, upcoming educational seminars and other general notices. For instance, Tony Cress, owner of Tony Cress Personal Training in Las Vegas, uses the platform to provide details on future events.

“Through Facebook, we also make separate pages for events that the members would like to do as a group,” he says. “We run Spartan® race group pages and invite other members of our facility to that page, in hopes they’ll want to be on the team.”

You build a network of peers. It’s hard to deny the power that a fitness community can offer when you think of a group like CrossFit®. One reason the fitness franchise has experienced such significant growth over the past decade is its emphasis on community. People don’t go to their box only for a workout —they also visit because they’ve developed a network of peers with whom they enjoy spending time. This leads to greater satisfaction and higher levels of retention.

The same type of thing can be achieved online, says Cress. “On our Facebook Business page, we use Facebook Live posts to show people ‘look-ins’ to our workouts,” he says. “What helps people who may not be at the workout [is for them to] see someone they know who is. We’ll get comments such as ‘Go Kerri!’ and ‘That looks crazy.’ This allows people who weren’t there to connect with other members.”

Online communities can be useful for one-on-one clients as well. Creating a “Bob’s Team” page creates an opportunity for clients to share stories and develop connections with people they don’t know, but with whom they share a common bond.

Daniel Bettcher, co-owner of KOR Strength & Conditioning, a kettlebell-based studio in San Diego, often uses his Facebook group as an ice-breaker. “The gym can be intimidating for a lot of people, and many may not feel comfortable starting up a conversation in that setting,” he explains. “This gives them an option to participate without feeling overwhelmed.”

People talk! Word-of-mouth marketing is considered the gold standard in business development, because people are more likely to purchase a product or service based on the recommendation of a friend or loved one. And with a click of a button, sharing their insights about your services with their Contacts list is easy.

A soft way to get clients to share their experiences at your fitness facility is to post pictures, videos and posts that feature them. People are far more likely to share content that they’re directly involved in. “But you want to make sure it’s genuine,” says Kopsch. “People won’t share your stuff if they feel like it’s designed for selfish reasons.”

Invest Wisely

A primary purpose of using social media is to offer greater value to your clients and facility members. You’ll make the most from your efforts when your posts are authentic, transparent, informational and of high quality. When social media is facilitated properly, the payoffs can be significant. Kopsch, Bettcher and Cress have all seen an improvement in community—and business—since starting their groups.

How to Start a Facebook Group

Whether you’re looking to create a place where clients can go to get the latest updates or a place that’s full of education, insights and inspiration, a Facebook group page is a great venue for fostering community and connection with your clients outside your fitness facility.

The process is simple:

  1. Click the downward-facing triangle at the top right of your Facebook page.
  2. Select “Create Page.”
  3. Determine the purpose, and enter the required info. Choose your settings based on whether you’d like your group to be public or private.
  4. Invite participants, and you’re ready to go!


Antorini, Y.M., Mu├▒iz, A.M., & Askildsen, T. 2012. Collaborating with customer communities: Lessons from the Lego Group. MITSloan Management Review. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017.
Kell, J. 2016. Lego says 2015 was its “best year ever,” with huge sales jump. Fortune. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017.

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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