Keeping It Classy (On Social Media)

Social media and its various tools—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest—provide a wonderful opportunity for gyms to interact online, but the very nature of the beast can sometimes put a gym’s reputation at risk. One derogatory remark on Twitter, and 1,000 re-tweets later, your popularity could hit rock bottom.

The best solution for keeping your social media reputation in check? Implementing a social media policy. Cheryl Pasinato, owner of Tewskbury, MA-based East Celebrity Elite, says that having such a policy in place has been a key factor in managing her gym’s social media activity. “It’s a golden opportunity to represent your gym in a positive manner,” says Pasinato. “Social media is a superb way to market your activities and generate revenue, but a policy helps regulate your online presence.”

Lizzy Stice, a hip-hop coach at Springfield, OR-based Emerald All Star Cheer, agrees. “It’s important for gyms to have a policy for their teachers, students and parents because people can easily throw stuff out there in social media and provide a false reality of the gym—good or bad!” cautions Stice.

If you’re considering introducing a social media policy for the 2013-2014 season, here are some tips to Tweet by:

Keep it short and sweet. A social media policy doesn’t have to be too long or elaborate. For example, the social media policy at East Celebrity Elite is all of 450 words long. It lays out the importance of social media tools in establishing the gym’s image, as well as some do’s and don’ts for all stakeholders—owners, coaches, athletes and parents. Even at a succinct 176 words, the social media policy of Dover-NH based Prime Time All Stars gets across the same message. Most gym owners will put the policy in their handbook, and some may even post it on their website. The key? Making sure all the members of your gym are aware of it through any channels necessary.

Make it meaningful to your gym. What you put in the policy will largely depend on your gym’s experiences and social media requirements. Both Prime Time All Stars and East Celebrity Elite emphasize the importance of putting out a positive image of the gym and not posting anything negative. For example, one pointer in East Celebrity Elite’s policy reads: There will be no negative comments on any forms of social media regarding any athletes, coaches, staff or other programs allowed. Please only post positive comments.

Other pointers include using appropriate language and not posting inappropriate pictures. Alison Reynolds, head coach at Tri-State Cheer All Stars (Havertown, PA), says they have an uncomplicated theory behind their policy. “It’s pretty simple—if you wouldn’t say it to or share it with a child, don’t post it,” says Reynolds. “Our gym owner always says, ‘It’s all about perception.'”

Spell it out using examples. While crafting your social media policy and laying out rules, it might be a good idea to explain every rule with an example. This makes the rules crystal clear to the readers. For instance, here’s the pointer about inappropriate pictures in the East Celebrity Elite policy: No inappropriate pictures posted. If you are engaging in something illegal or inappropriate, please do not share with everyone in social media. For e.g., pictures of underage athletes drinking at a party even though not in ECE clothing.

Personal page protocol: Sometimes members of a gym might be tempted to share a personal tidbit on the team page, but Stice cautions that “too many things can be taken the wrong way over social media, so unless it’s something really positive—like the birth of a baby—they shouldn’t really post it.” This concern can even translate to employees’ personal pages, according to Pasinato. “How a staff member represents themselves on their personal page ultimately has a bearing on the gym’s reputation, so we encourage them to post appropriate content on their personal profiles and pages, too,” she says.

Put emphasis on professionalism. Pasinato says she is very particular about keeping online interactions between members of her gym strictly professional. “We don’t encourage coaches to ‘friend’ athletes on their personal profiles,” she says. “Moreover, some of the coaches are really young and would not be comfortable sharing details about their personal life with the kids.” For ECE, all interaction between coaches and athletes is restricted to the team Facebook page; in fact, even parents aren’t allowed on the team page. “We have a separate page for parents, which we update with team news from time to time,” she adds.

Know the ramifications of pushing the limits. Despite publicizing your social media policy, sometimes there will be cases of misconduct. At Emerald All Star Cheer, the consequences can be serious. “Our policy is that if anything is seen as inappropriate or negative towards the gym, there will be a sit-down conversation with the gym owners and the defaulters,” says Stice. “There is always potential they can be let go.” At ECE, in case of an inappropriate comment on an athlete’s or parent’s part, they generally ask them to take down the post and have a conversation about the incident. “If it happens again, we ask them to leave,” adds Pasinato.

Stay vigilant. While social media is great for your gym’s publicity, you’ve got to be vigilant about what’s happening on your gym’s collective presence—which Stice says can be a pretty intensive endeavor. “I am constantly checking in on our team’s Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, team website and YouTube videos,” she confides. “This can be exhausting, but pays off in the long run because I make sure that everything we do is cohesive and is how we want to be represented.”

-Dinsa Sachan