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Selling Yourself (Without Selling Out)

Social media marketing is extremely popular among trainers. Some fitness pros have cultlike followings on Facebook. Others offer workout routines to subscribers through YouTube. Many pros blog about health and fitness topics and tweet inspirational messages to keep clients on track.

New York City trainer Amie Hoff, CPT, NASM, admits that she initially resisted using social media because she worried it would waste her time. She marketed her business through fliers and seminars before making the leap into cyberspace. “You have to be out there for people to find you,” she says, so “I had to get over the idea of promoting myself online.” Her efforts are paying off now. Hoff has 3,500 followers on Twitter™ and an active Facebook fan page. She’s also tied in to a larger professional network.

NSCA-certified trainer Amy Cotta of Franklin, Tennessee, has also harnessed the power of social media to expand her business beyond the gym. After 20 years as a trainer, she says, “I love training, but it’s not my goal to be doing it forever.” In addition to attracting clients, Cotta’s online presence helped her land a book deal. Her book, Six Weeks to Skinny Jeans, was first published by Rodale in 2011 and has just been released in paperback. “I use social media to build my business and to build my voice,” Cotta says. “It’s just like anything else: The more I work it, the more I get out of it.”

Promoting yourself online can be frightening. You may be concerned that you’ll become a brand instead of a person. Authenticity is critical, because it boosts your confidence and builds people’s trust. “If you hide behind a façade, people see through it,” Hoff says. Take these steps to use social media to your best advantage.

Discover Your Selling Proposition

Any marketing strategy is doomed to fail if you don’t know what you’re selling. It’s helpful if you can describe what you offer in a succinct and specific way. Your training and experience are part of the package. Products like workout plans, diet programs and DVDs may be for sale as well. But these things don’t capture the whole picture.

Fundamentally, what you are selling is a personal training relationship. The unique dynamic that you create with clients is what distinguishes you from all the other trainers online. Come up with a list of words that describe that energy, based on client feedback and personal reflection. You might describe your dynamic as inspiring, high-intensity coaching. Or maybe you’d say that fun, sociable and edgy are better descriptors of your relational style. Identify terms that capture the special something that sets you apart.

Knowing these characteristics allows you to express yourself with a genuine, consistent voice on social media. You wouldn’t want to send out tweets that sound academic or aggressive if your vibe is casual and fun. Strive to create an online presence that reflects your real-life personality. Authentic communications attract followers—and they feel good.

People are drawn to fitness trainers they can believe in. Let your personality and passions shine through. Cotta, who is a U.S. Marine Corps mom as well as a fitness trainer, uses social media to encourage other military moms to run races in combat boots in order to fund the fight against posttraumatic stress disorder and suicide. “I’m big on getting out and moving for a cause,” she says. These charitable works have helped Cotta bring together a tribe of people who want to hear her message. And she’s making a difference in the world because of it.

Get to Know Your Audience

Social media channels aren’t just for sending out messages. They’re also a great way to listen to your customers, says Dave Kerpen, New York Times bestselling author of Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business. You can tune in to what people are saying in online communities and use that intel to identify needs and opportunities.

And don’t be a fly on the virtual wall. Participate in the conversation in a friendly, helpful way. Share ideas, and direct people to resources. A potential client may discover you through a conversation on another site and then surf over to yours to learn more. “Social media is give and take,” says Hoff. Be generous. The most powerful way to demonstrate your value is through your actions. Focus on relationship-building rather than sales results.

As you reach out online, beware of the pressure you may feel to be all things to all people. You are not an expert at everything, and everyone is not your ideal client. Stay focused on your niche. Social media messages are ineffective if they’re broadcast to the wrong audience.

Tailor your social media strategy to local prospects if you’re trying to win new clients, Cotta says. A broader approach might be warranted if you want to create buzz around your DVD series or smartphone app. Directing your message to the appropriate audience makes it more likely you’ll be perceived as relevant and helpful instead of annoying and intrusive.

When it comes to building an audience, excellence is paramount. “If you’re sharing really good information, you start to develop relationships with people” who appreciate the high-quality content you offer, says Hoff. Make it a point to pass along their good work in turn, and you’ll create a virtuous cycle. You’ll also decrease the pressure you may feel to constantly produce new content.

Sustain Engagement

Although you may see a client just once a week for training, you can keep in touch online. Kerpen recommends using social media to check in with clients when you won’t be seeing them in person. “This fortifies the relationship and communicates a trainer’s devotion and commitment to the client’s success,” he says. Decide how often you should send emails or post updates—based on your work tempo and your clients’ preferences. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for social media use.

As you create social media posts, aim to write conversation-starters, not advertisements. Questions are highly effective at increasing online engagement, Kerpen says. “Ask relevant questions regarding exercise or health habits, such as ‘When is your favorite time of day to exercise?’ or ‘What is your favorite healthy recipe?’” Followers who are involved in an ongoing conversation feel appreciated.

Multimedia content, such as pictures and video, encourages followers to share your information with their friends and to offer feedback. Your online community may give you the same kind of information you used to collect through client surveys or focus groups, Kerpen says. Only now the feedback is much more immediate and it’s initiated by the customer.

Responsiveness is critical. “It is extremely unlikeable to ignore follower comments, questions or concerns,” Kerpen says. Neglecting to respond on social media is equivalent to ignoring a customer in person, but with the whole world watching. Quick, professional replies to your followers’ concerns make a favorable impression on those people and also on their friends.

The surest way to undermine engagement is to make frequent, pushy appeals. “Avoid typical sales pitches like those seen on television or billboards,” says Kerpen. Think of social media as a platform for building your long-term professional reputation, not as a short-term sales strategy. Provide useful content in a generous way. When members of your online audience want to buy what you have to sell, they’ll reach out to you.

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