Have 'Fitspo' Influencers Saved the Fitness Industry?
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, lockdowns began, and people began staying at home, many of them also fell out of normal workout routines and other physical activities. Virtual fitness quickly expanded to entice displaced gymgoers and bored quarantiners, with influencers leading the charge. This has turned out to be not just a stopgap measure, either. “Fitspo”, short for “fitspiration” — defined by dictionary.com as, “Photos, videos, advertisements etc., intended to inspire a person to get physically fit through rigorous exercise and diet” — has transformed the industry. It gave budding influencers an opportunity to grow, and established brands a way to stay relevant. Fitness influencers not only leveraged social media to make virtual wellness a permanent market, but also carried the entire sector through the pandemic and into a post-COVID era.
Fitness Influencers In the Age of COVID
Influencers, of course, are nothing new, and they’ve attracted their fair share of controversy. A number of those of the celebrity stripe, such as the Kardashians, have made questionable claims about products’ impact on their lives, with at least one effect enduring hesitancy concerning influencer content. This was especially true for the fitness industry, where influencers often peddled diet pills and other weight-loss systems of…varying degrees of efficacy.
There was already a movement toward body-positive, anti-diet wellness before COVID hit, led by a number “fitfluencers”. Once people started seeking at-home workout routines during the pandemic, these figures — often hosting free daily workouts on Instagram Live and other social media platforms — quickly rose in popularity. The hashtag #fitspo in time became a signifier of health and wellbeing, not just looks. Fitness entrepreneurs, such as personal trainers, nutrition coaches and yoga instructors, could suddenly build a stronger virtual presence, with preferred assets being expertise, relatability and personality.
Influencer Marketing in the Fitness Industry
The pandemic forced businesses in most industries to tweak their marketing. Between lockdowns and layoffs, consumers were in less of a mood to spend (unless to stockpile toilet paper and hand sanitizer, seemingly). Brands had to shift focus to providing value and keeping their customers entertained. Despite these changes (and in many cases because of them), influencer marketing has remained lucrative —the better among them offering the kind of organic, digestible content that homebound consumers wanted. Small-scale influencers with an authentic approach and well-defined niche had a new chance to shine. As a corollary, customers expressed increasing disillusionment with the celebrity variant, whose glamorous lifestyles seemed disconnected from the pandemic. So, when companies in the fitness industry (and related sectors, like nutrition) started to partner with these budding influencers, they were able to stay relevant.
How to Make Fitspo Part of Your Brand
Whether you’re a fitness brand or an aspiring influencer (or both), now is the time to embrace the above-mentioned authenticity and cultivate a community around your offering. Brands in related markets, too, such as training equipment and supplements, are looking for small- to medium-level influencers who have highly engaged audiences. It’s no longer lucrative to pay $100,000 per post to celebs who don’t have such audiences or who don’t “walk the talk”. In my experience, today’s consumers can see right through shameless and baseless promos. But a fitness icon who clearly uses the product(s) being recommended…now that’s powerful social currency, one that benefits the brand, the influencer and the buying public.
By the same token, fitness influencers should be cautious of marketing arrangements that don’t support a brand. With so many people now preferring authenticity and accessibility in home-based wellness, any content that doesn’t jibe with that ethos can seem spammy. The emphasis must remain on fitspo rather than pushing products.
There are two main ways for brands and influencers to partner:
1. The partnership can focus on expanding the brand’s reach. Here, the influencer typically has a large following that may not be highly engaged or well defined, but the brand can enjoy exposure to new leads while the influencer gains cross-traffic from the brand.
2. A highly niche influencer can help get a similarly niche product in front of its market. These influencers have passionate, engaged followers, so the brand may get more conversions as long as the product is aligned with the influencer’s brand.
If you’re developing a personal brand and hope to become a “fitfluencer”, think hard about the value you can provide. The body-positive fitness movement and associated fitspo content are about more than looks. People aren’t as interested in looking like some celebrity; they want to be a better version of themselves, want to recover their strength and rejoin the world after a year of isolation and stress. As an influencer, you can tap into this movement and become a trusted guide for others’ fitness journeys. The best are those who create positive, authentic content that contributes to the immense world of virtual health. The goal now is to help people get healthy the way they want, whenever they want; tap into that and you can be part of this industry’s post-COVID renaissance.