It's the new year, and people are starting fresh with new goals. One of the most common New Year resolutions is the desire to finally get in shape. Gym memberships skyrocket this time of year, as do the throngs of people trying to get to any available elliptical machine.
But Facebook "talking about" and "were here" data reveal that people do a lot more talking about going to the gym than... actually going to the gym.
That is, while your gym may seem more crowded this time of year, it turns out that "were here" data for America's top gym chains doesn't really change all that much this time of year. What does change, however, is how much people talk about going to the gym on Facebook.
Measuring "talking about"
Facebook measures how much people "talk about" a brand or business. It measures how many times users have posted something about a user or brand, as long as that user or brand has an account or page on Facebook. It's a good measure of a company's presence over time on Facebook and how many people are engaging with the brand. In our case here, it could include people saying "I just joined Planet Fitness" or "heading to LA Fitness to get swole".
Measuring "were here"
Facebook "were here" measures the cumulative score of check-ins, selfies, and status updates from business locations. It's a way to measure relative foot traffic. By looking at overall "were here" count and then solving for the change in "were here" counts per day, we can reveal which days saw the highest spikes day over day to see if any time of the year is more active than others. In our case, it measures how many people actually showed up at the business location in question. It measures action, not just words.
LA Fitness ($PRIVATE:LAFITNESS) has more than 700 clubs across the United States and Canada. It acquired 171 clubs from Bally Total Fitness in 2011, 33 from Lifestyle Family Fitness of Florida, and several small chains on the east coast.
24 Hour Fitness
24 Hour Fitness ($PRIVATE:24HOURFITNESS), also headquartered in California, is the world's largest fitness chain in terms of membership numbers with 4 million members. It operates 420 clubs in 13 U.S. states.
Planet Fitness ($PLNT) operates a massive 1,600 clubs throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Mexico. It's the largest growing fitness chain in America with its low prices, ubiquitous locations, and newbie-friendly "Judgment Free Zone" attitude.
All talk, no action
One thing is clear in the data: people talk about gyms a lot in the new year. In all three cases, "talking about" counts for the three chains spike in the new year. But what doesn't seem to change is the number of people showing up at those gyms. Both day-over-day change and cumulative "were here" counts for the three gym changes show no inflections in the new year.
So what can we conclude? A few things.
First, people do a lot more talking about going to the gym than actually going. That's not terribly surprising, and it fits with major gyms' business models: get people to sign up, but never show up. If, for instance, all 4 million people showed up to 24 Hour Fitness' 420 locations, there would be lines out the doors just to get near workout equipment.
Second, this data does little to explain the crowded gyms that gym veterans seem to experience this time of year. It's true: gyms are chaotic, crowded messes in the new year as resolutioners show up for their first workouts, fitness evaluations, and training sessions. But those crowds don't appear to be represented in the "were here" data above. This could be due to the fact that gym first-timers navigate the gym differently, creating crowds. It could also be that their first-time appearances don't result in any Facebook activity. Instead, they're busy trying not to get hurt as they learn to use gym equipment. Finally, it could also be due to the fact that gym regulars avoid their gyms this time of year as they get swarmed by first-timers.
Finally, gym regulars should be placated by the "talking about" data above. In all cases, people talking about going to the gym settles down by late winter and early spring. In other words, have patience as the newbies either drop off or become regulars just like you.