When you own a small business, building strong relationships with your customers is everything. This is especially true in fitness, where nurturing a tight-knit community can take your success to the next level. One of the most important aspects of relationship building is strong communication—both in person and on social media.

Long gone are the days of simply posting updates and hoping for likes and follows. Great social media is about having a two-way conversation with current and potential customers. Doing that well means engaging with followers not just as customers, but as members of a like-minded fitness community. It also means being quick to reply to comments, questions and concerns, especially since more and more customers use social media to air their issues these days.

How do you keep up with it all? We asked studio owners and managers to share their best practices for communicating with members on social media. Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

DO identify the social platform where you get the most engagement and make every effort to be consistent there.

Since it’s hard to find the time to be on top of every social media platform, commit to updating one consistently, knowing that’s where you’ll have the most impactful interactions with customers. In the fitness world, most studios and gyms gravitate to Instagram. Not only is it a go-to for its visual appeal, but a healthy level of engagement means fitness brands can count on members to engage with new people on their behalf. There are tons more reasons why Instagram is the preferred social media platform of countless studios to engage with customers.

“We love being candid while using the Instastory feature, and a little more planned when posting on our profile,” says Tish Watson, founder and CEO of weRow Indoor Rowing in Minneapolis, MN. “Either way, the interaction we receive is beyond any of our other social platforms.” Instagram analytics are helpful in terms of sharing the best times to post and engage with customers. “We’ve also enjoyed the statistics we get from Instagram, especially the breakout of our followers and the prime times to post that will garner the most engagement from our followers,” adds Watson.

DON’T delay in responding to members’ comments and concerns.

It may seem obvious but the reality is that tons of questions and comments go unanswered on social media. No matter how busy things get, make it a priority to respond to comments and questions quickly, even if it’s just a brief ‘Thanks for reaching out. We’ll look into it and get back to you as soon as we can.’

Michelle McGovern, COO of Uforia Studios in Palo Alto and Nob Hill, CA, says her social team always tries to respond quickly. “We aim to reply as soon as possible to customers on social media,” McGovern says. “It’s not always possible, but we feel a prompt response is always best.”

A timely reply is particularly important because not responding at all sends a message that someone’s comment or question isn’t important enough to address. Every interaction deserves attention, even if it’s a brief acknowledgement. Finally, choose to respond at times when you’re most likely to get the most engagement, such as right after an evening class.

DO follow those who follow you.

When you’re running a fitness studio, fostering a sense of community is so important. Building a close-knit following means getting to know members by name and making sure instructors engage with them before and after class.  

Building community on social media is also critical. One of the easiest ways to do that is to follow members who follow your studio or gym. Watson says her studio follows its members on social media. “Keeping up to date with our member’s lives helps us maintain a relationship/friendship that sparks conversation when they are in the studio,” she says.

DON’T complicate things.

When it comes to interacting with brands on social media, most followers and customers look for a mix of simplicity and speed.  One of the easiest and most effective ways to keep customers happy on social media doesn’t involve analytics or research. It’s a lot simpler than you think: Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Has he had a poor experience in class? Or maybe her experience was awesome and she wanted to reach out to share the love with your studio?

Regardless of the feedback, put yourself in a member’s shoes and think abut the simplest and most direct way to respond. “Keep it short, sweet, and light,” says Watson. “Social media is not the place to write a novel. It’s a great place to share some encouragement, positive motivation, and quick bits of education.”

DO post content from instructors and users.

One of the most effective ways to encourage more communication and a closer connection with users is to share their content as well as content from your instructors. “We are always looking for inspiring content from our staff and our clients,” says McGovern. “We firmly believe you don’t need to be a social media expert in order to create great content.  We love re-posting content from others on our company page as it demonstrates our engagement with our clients.”

Posting content that includes your members will make them feel valued which is the key to great customer service. Plus, if members like what you’re sharing, they’ll be more likely to repost, share, comment or tag friends. That kind of organic engagement and two-way communication demonstrates a strong connection with members and shows that you’re listening, another critical piece of great customer service.

DON’T respond with canned responses.

While it’s important to have a strategy for how to respond to a variety of grievances, it’s even more important not to have a canned answer. People can see right through that and will recognize that your response is not genuine or personal. “We don’t have canned pre-written answers,” says Watson. “We strive to make our interactions personal, honest and real.”

McGovern says Uforia Studios customizes its responses to individual clients.  “We do, however, draft off some best practices for responding to client reviews, especially on sites such as Yelp,” she adds. “This helps us create a baseline for a response that can then be customized.”

DO realize that sometimes you need to connect by phone or in person.

Some concerns need to be addressed in a more personal way. Of course there’s no rule about when to reach out to someone outside of social media so trust your instincts. And don’t just think about personal outreach if someone had a terrible experience—although those types of concerns should be prioritized.

If you find an issue is too complicated to discuss on social media or a member has issues that have resulted in a lengthy back and forth thread for everyone to see, take the conversation offline and into a private message. Then decide whether to continue the conversation via email, phone or in person.

“With any issues that arise where we feel the student could have exercised more voice/ownership over their experience, we always reach out by phone when we can and ask if they can elaborate on their experience,” says Corinne Wainer, co-founder of Shaktibarre in Brooklyn, NY with a second studio planned for Harlem. “We always make time to sit with people in person. We encourage any owners to make as many attempts as possible for personal interaction.”

Remember that great customer service on social media starts with stellar customer service in the studio. “We hold many in-studio events for our clients, including holiday theme classes, large fundraising events, and community-building activities,” says McGovern. “This year we held a ‘Body Positivity’ week at our studio that helped clients connect with the mental and spiritual benefits of exercise, not just the physical.” Because at the end of the day, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction.

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