Fitness Studios Need a Strong Social Presence in California

Every day, exercisers flock to Instagram and Facebook as if these online spaces are their personal fitness journals. They take selfies in the weight-room mirror and post “fit-spirational” quotes on the most popular social media platforms. For the fitness consumer, social media has become an important support system for achieving their goals. But is the same true for the fitness studio business?

One thing is certain: all fitness studios are competing for the consumer’s time and money. This is no truer than in California, the most populous state and one with a large fitness-minded customer base. In fact, to serve its 38.1 million consumers, California offers over 9,000 fitness facilities ( The options range from independent studios to nationally recognized gyms.

The national gyms include LA Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, Curves, Jazzercise, Orangetheory, Barre3, CorePower Yoga and CrossFit, among others. Regardless of the market’s concentration of gyms, independently owned studios have to compete with these name brands. One way they can compete is by using social media.

Social media’s impact on independent fitness studios

In markets where name-brand gyms are widely represented, social media presence is prominent. For instance, in Santa Barbara, there is a healthy mix of fitness options among the national gyms in that area. Niche fitness is covered by CoreFlow Yoga, Barre3, CrossFit, Curves and Jazzercise. However, if the Santa Barbara customer prefers a traditional gym format, they can choose from 24 Hour Fitness or Gold’s Gym. All of these brands utilize four or more social media channels. All of them have Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, as well as their own website from which customers can navigate to their social channels.

Fitness Chart-300dpi

The Santa Barbara market is one example of national brands setting a precedence that social media is an important factor for their success. For independent studios, this may help define how critical it is to create a similar social presence in order to adequately compete.

How fitness studios utilize social media matters

To help gauge a business’s social media efforts, City Twig created a social score scale that ranges from 300-850. The social score represents an analysis of several factors, including the number of social accounts a gym manages as well as the activity of those accounts.

Data suggests that when independent studios have a social presence, they tend to achieve a higher social score than the national gyms in their market.

This is true for areas with a high-concentration of gyms (30 or more) and with a lower concentration. For instance, in the highly concentrated city of Santa Barbara, Curves has a social score of 300 while the Santa Barbara Rock Gym scores an 820. The same can be said in Sherman Oaks (91403), which has 17 total fitness facilities in one zip code. The 24 Hour Fitness in Sherman Oaks scores 300, and Krav Maga Fitness scores 713 on the City Twig scale.

fitness studios comparison

Further analysis reveals national brands utilize social media differently than independent fitness studios. The corporate-run Facebook pages and Instagram feeds of LA Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and CorePower Yoga primarily feature membership promotions, shared blog content and graphics with motivational messages.

Independent studios, on the other hand, focus their social media efforts on their members using and interacting with their facility. The Facebook page for CrossFit Madera in Madera, CA, for example, is a long stream of member-featured content. They utilize Facebook Live for video content, which is the most effective way to demonstrate exercises. With a social score of 575, CrossFit Madera’s social efforts are proving to be successful for them.

National brands can still score high

Some national – and even global – brands have taken a cue from independent studios. Orangetheory Fitness, for one, is a franchise business that treats its social media efforts in the same fashion as independent studios. Each franchise manages its own Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“We will post top performers on social media to encourage and to recognize members,” says Barb Volk, Studio Manager of Orangetheory in Plantation, FL. When asked how important she thinks social media is for her studio, Volk responded, “Social media gets members involved. Involved members tend to attend more, see better results, and tell all their friends!”

Barry’s Bootcamp and Blast Fitness are other examples of national brands using social media independently by location. These brands hold a social score of 820 and 713, respectively. Again, their social efforts are focused on the members and trainers, thereby creating a lifestyle brand.

The takeaway for fitness studios big and small

In markets where national gyms are widely represented, independent studios should ensure their social media efforts are on par with those name brands. At the same time, national brands should take notice of how independent studios leverage social media and consider showcasing more of its member base to achieve more social engagement – and a higher social score.

That being said, utilize social media carefully, because it can deter people from joining your gym. Consider these scenarios:

  1. If you need to ask for consent to share a customer’s image on social media, this could become a barrier to join. Some consumers are leery of consent forms, while others simply prefer privacy. Be mindful and courteous of this when creating your social media strategy.
  1. If your fitness studio is slow to respond or fails to respond to customer questions and complaints via social media, this is considered poor customer service. You risk not only offending a current member but losing a potential buyer. Keep in mind: public conversations should always be positive, and don’t be afraid to take the conversation offline or to private messenger when necessary. You should have dedicated staff to field these questions and concerns.
  1. If your social media accounts are flooded with chiseled bodies, you may intimidate potential buyers. Someone who has never stepped foot in a gym will not likely respond warmly to idealistic images. Make sure your social media posts are in line with your brand identity and the type of fitness consumer you wish to target.


Liz Lotts is a personal-trainer-turned-triathlete who is admittedly addicted to long distances and wants to share her real-life lessons as an endurance athlete. Follow her adventures @lottsomiles