July 15 2021

By getting creative with online platforms, you can still give your clients the personal interaction they crave


Due to Covid-19, many gym owners and trainers found themselves seeking online coaching as a tool to keep the business alive and to continue to meet the needs of the clients they coach. Posting videos, using Zoom and social media made workouts and personal training sessions accessible for many people. What many trainers found as a struggle, though, was mimicking the community and social aspect for many clients who attended group classes, previously.

Before inviting people to your online community, create a very strict set of guidelines that each participant will be required to agree to before joining. Having clear-cut boundaries helps people feel safe and saves the trainer a lot of drama in the future. Set boundaries around topics such as establishing who can comment as the authority and coach on topics of discussion, what type of posts will be allowed and not allowed, who the administrators are, and lastly, include the community goals of the group in the description. Provide a strike 1/strike 2 discipline policy before people are removed from the group, and ask them for a signature, saying they understand these rules before the group begins.

Facebook Groups or Messenger Platforms

Finding a platform that best fits the energy, needs and interests of the clients is the first step. Facebook groups or messenger platforms are quick, easy and accessible platforms to host community efforts. Most people have these apps on their phone and check them at least once a day. More people are exposed to the community efforts of the trainer or gym just because they are on Facebook more than other apps. Facebook is a great place to build an online community because it allows the trainer to post live videos, polls, ask questions and engage personally with people, all the time. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
  1. Encourage the clients to set up push notifications to the Facebook group, which alerts them to new posts, live videos or questions the trainer posts.
  2. Show up in real-life ways, daily. Post live videos while out for a walk, or between clients, or while eating lunch, or drinking the morning coffee. Ask questions, encourage every day engagement outside of leading workouts and giving cues. Get to know the clients you train on a personal level and allow them into your personal world as well. Creating an environment or vulnerability and non-judgment starts with you. As you allow yourself to be more real, others will feel comfortable sharing as well.
  3. Provide incentives for clients posting in the group. This works great, especially at first, when trying to increase engagement. Post a point breakdown: if the client completes a workout, they get 1 point. If they post a workout and a sweaty selfie in the group, 2 points. Build on these points each week. And announce winners as friendly competition. Or turn it into group competitions, where groups get a certain amount of points when their team posts in the community. Assign themes each week for people to post about in the community group; for example, this week’s theme is “red.” Ask participants to interpret this however they want and post about how it tied to their workouts in the group chat. This could be wearing red shoes or socks, or a red face after a great cardio session.
  4. Ask questions of the group. Examples include: What workouts do you want to see more of? What are your favorite workouts so far? What music do you want playing during your sessions? What are your favorite running shoes? Allow people to share their opinions and engage in topics they feel they are non-threatening and they can contribute to. Use the questions or poll options in the Facebook posting box.

Chat Groups

Chat Groups (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Voxer, GroupMe) are a better community-building platform for those clients who do not need videos, pictures, visual engagement as much as they just want to talk and receive information. Chat groups are more to the point and are largely audio- or writing-driven. Follow these tips to increase participation:
  • Encourage clients to turn on notifications from the group so they know when new messages are posted. Also asking clients to tag you in the groups allows you to receive notification of your presence and attention to a specific topic, as many clients get lost in all the messages.
  • Set up daily or weekly reminders of chats, group meetings or topics of discussion the clients may want to be alerted to and participate in at the start of each week. Try to keep a consistent schedule of these daily and weekly chats, so people know when to log in and join.
  • Encouraging a Zoom call or visual “get-together” once a week or month is encouraged outside of these types of group platforms as people still need to see each other for interaction and to build community.
  • Games, competitions and goals help keep the community alive in these chat platforms as well. Assign each of the members to find an accountability partner for the week or month and require them to tag each other in the chat group, every day, as a way to earn points or reach their goals faster.
  • Assign 1-2 times a week where clients can brag on themselves or their partners in a post, name it something cool like “ring the bell” or “bang the gong” or whatever pertains to your gym theme and culture—and encourage people to comment underneath it.
  • Create monthly posts where people can introduce themselves and share 1-2 facts others may not know about them. This helps new members feel welcome and keeps older members engaged with new members.
  • Create weekend virtual walks, biking or running events where people can log in and chat via audio while out walking or running to feel like they have a virtual partner/community and will be held accountable to follow through.
For an online community to thrive, people need to feel welcomed and not judged. For many people, posting in front of strangers or to a platform they have never used is very scary. It is the job of the trainer to create a welcoming environment with clear boundaries set as to what is acceptable and what is not so that people can feel supported and held accountable in fun, motivating, and encouraging ways.