Thought Leadership
  • Content marketing

'Fitness Influencers' are on the rise - nano, micro and mega

Emma Potter
15th April 2020

10 years ago, the phrase ‘fitness influencer’ didn’t exist in the context it does today. How times have changed. Introducing the nano, micro and mega influencer.

  • Fitness influencers, or 'fitfluencers', are showing social media users the upside of sport and active living: looking and feeling good

  • The grind to get there isn't sexy, but the results are. So have fitfluencers changed the active lifestyle market forever?

A man flexes his muscles in the gym. Scroll up. A girl smiles at the camera as she shows off a delicious-looking cake. Like ❤️, scroll up. A trail runner bounds effortlessly up a mountain path on a glorious day. Like ❤️, comment 💬 with 😃👏, scroll up. A young tattooed woman in gym kit poses for a selfie in the mirror whilst showing off her Kardashian rear end. Scroll up. Another woman, dressed in hiking kit, stares wistfully towards the mountains, seemingly oblivious to the person taking a photo of her. Scroll up... Like it or not, this is the social media world of the fitness influencer.  

However, at this present time, with many brands navigating uncharted waters, and gyms and other sporting facilities closing all over the world, the #homeworkout and #homegym have come into their own. So, with this in mind, has the content that brands and fitfluencers produce pivoted and changed direction in line with customer needs? 

On the 23rd of March, we saw ‘The Body Coach’, Joe Wicks, taking the world by storm and delivering live PE lessons to families of all ages, all over the world, pulling in 15 million viewers in one week. Moreover, there’s a focus for fitfluencers to create and share content that’s positive, personal and more meaningful, to boost community spirit and morale. Even though people are not able to physically train together, a positive drive to keep connected and promote at-home challenges remains. With people staying at home, there’s an opportunity for brands to build brand advocacy, participate authentically in the conversation, and to communicate human to human ‒ to come together, to provide virtual events, to collaborate and create content that delivers an memorable, seamless digital experience. 

When we started Mediablaze over 10 years ago, the phrase ‘fitness influencer’ didn’t exist in the context it does today. Heck, Instagram and Pinterest weren’t even around. Even YouTube was still relatively new. The social media age was just beginning.

Instead, we listened to the opinions of thought-leaders, ‘celebrities’, scientists, authors and experts. How times have changed. Nowadays, anyone with a voice and a social media account can get our attention. These people have even got names, from your nano and micro influencers, right up to your mega influencer. The new currency is not what you know but, dismayingly, the number of followers you have. You could argue that popularity now has more sway than knowledge and expertise. 

But it’s a currency many brands are happy to deal in and certainly a contributing factor to the estimated $450 billion that the world sports market is currently valued at. And with more and more sports brands launching fashion lines, wearable tech or nutrition products, fitfluencers are increasingly working with these brands to motivate us to get fit and healthy, especially in a virtual world in the coming months. 

Why Work with a Fitness Influencer?

So why work with a fitness influencer? Besides the fact that more and more internet users are using Adblock software, we have undeniably entered an era of peer recommendations. Of course, you’ll be aware that word of mouth is the number one tool we use to make a buying decision. But social media adds another element and has allowed us to develop ‘virtual relationships’ with fitness influencers ‒ who, in turn, recommend us products. It all boils down to an influencer’s apparent ‘relatability’, prompting us to think: ‘If they can do it, so can we.’ Or can we?

When Sport England launched its ‘This Girl Can’ campaign in 2015 (one that we at Mediablaze helped work on) it went on to achieve amazing results, inspiring over four million women aged 14-40 to exercise more. But five years on, a recent survey of almost 2,000 women has revealed that less than a fifth of them find fitness influencers ‘relatable’. This, in turn, has prompted Sport England to relaunch its campaign with a television advert showing ‘real’ women exercising. 

At the time of this article being written, there have been 202,010 uses of the hashtag #fitnessinfluencer on Instagram. A little more research will tell you that the hashtag #gym has been used 183 million times and that there have been 383 million uses of the hashtag #fitness. There are communities of people looking for inspiration who follow these hashtags religiously. And this growing number of sweaty individuals is desperate for both recognition and endorsement (the hashtag #gymselfie has been used over 3 million times!!). The hashtags that are now rising high are #stayhome and #homeworkout, with 8 million and 2.9 million posts respectively.

Influencer Brand Fit

But the million-dollar question is: how do you determine if an influencer is actually a good fit for your brand? It’s a common problem faced by many brands ‒ and one that was highlighted in a 2019 study by Mediakix, which found 61% of marketers struggle to find the ‘right influencers for a campaign’. The problem of the ‘right fit’ is further compounded when you factor in another study by the University of Glasgow, which tells us that eight out of nine UK fitness influencers who advise on weight-loss management are giving incorrect advice. 

Measuring Influencer Engagement

It’s easy to be swayed by blue ticks and a dizzying amount of followers. But the key metric that we use to determine the actual reach of an influencer is by looking at the combination of their followers divided by the number of likes and comments. Generally speaking, the higher the number of followers, the lower the engagement percentage.

Take, for example, the Australian ‘mega influencer’ and personal trainer, Kayla Itsines (@kayla_itsines) who, with 12.2 million followers on Instagram, is one of the most ‘influential’ fitfluencers in the world. She and her husband have best-selling books, several apps and, according to Forbes, a combined net worth of $486 million. Pretty impressive. However, with many of her posts getting around 25k ‘likes’ and a couple of hundred comments, her engagement rate is a paltry 0.2% ‒ well under what’s considered to be an acceptable 3-6%. Her videos, however, have a much better engagement.

By contrast, a ‘macro influencer’ (500k to 1m followers), such as British adventurer and bodybuilder Ross Edgley (@RossEdgley), has a similar number of likes per post as Kayla. But with 579k followers on Instagram, his engagement is closer to the 5% mark. Interestingly, he’s also an ambassador for Gymshark, a fitness apparel company which has exclusively used influencers to market its products. 

Which is why sometimes the ‘micro influencers’ ‒ those with as few as 1,000 followers and up to as many as 100k followers ‒ can not only be a better fit for your marketing campaign, but also give you a higher level of engagement. They’re more ‘relatable’ as they often have real jobs and aren’t constantly trying to sell something. And they’ll cost you less to acquire. 

It’s worth noting that whilst the majority of fitfluencers are in their twenties and thirties, there is a growing number of older fitness influencers (aged 35 or over) who are filling a market that has hitherto been ignored. 

Take Joan MacDonald (@trainwithjoan) for example. This month, the American fitness influencer turns 74 years old and has amassed an impressive 429k followers on Instagram. And although this baby boomer doesn’t pretend to be an expert on social media (she’s still working out how to use her iPhone), she’s become an ambassador for Women’s Best (another company that exclusively leverages influencers) as well as a personal trainer. And to think she only started on her fitness journey three years ago, and her social media one a year later, after her daughter persuaded her to create an Instagram account in 2018.

Fad or Trend?

Although there are a number of sceptics out there who still wonder how anyone can call being an influencer an actual career, there is some evidence to suggest that influencer marketing might not be the fad that many predicted. The aforementioned Mediakix found that 80% of those marketers who have used influencer marketing have found it to be effective, which explains why 61% were going to increase their influencer marketing spend in 2019. So, with confidence high and a potential 6-11x Return on Investment, like it or not, influencers are here to stay.

Potters Pedals - Join me every Tuesday at 07:05am

Love cycling in the real world? Then come join me in the virtual world – it's a great way to kick-start your morning, meet new people, chat and set your day up for success. Do feel free to join me and a host of other globe trotters every Tuesday for 'Potters Pedals', a weekly social meet-up on Zwift. The meet-up starts at 07:05am so make sure you're ready by the roadside to set off about 10 minutes before. Last week we had participants from the UK and Australia – it would be good to expand our international group. All fitness levels welcome as the group is set to 'ride together'.


Interested? Please send me your name on Zwift as I can only invite you if you're following me. I've used my LinkedIn profile pic so it's easy to find me. Also download the Zwift companion app on your phone so you can find friends and then message during the meet-up. I also share a Zoom link during the ride and for a virtual coffee/cake chat after. Look forward to meeting you all!

Talk to the Digital Marketing Specialists

If you’re in the active lifestyle and fitness space, let’s talk. Mediablaze has vast experience in helping brands navigate the fast-moving and super-competitive fitness landscape. Get in touch with Emma Potter, our Marketing Manager, to kick-start the conversation.

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