By Marshal D. Carper


Junior Achievement is an international non-profit that teaches children about business and financial literacy. They foster entrepreneurism and teach money management. Their programs have been proven to increase scholastic performance and reduce dropout rates, and they do a lot of good for the communities connected to their respective chapters, but with federal funding becoming increasingly sparse, Junior Achievement is relying more and more on fundraising to keep their doors open and their programs alive.


I recently helped the Western Pennsylvania chapter of Junior Achievement use social media to generate awareness for one of its largest annual fundraisers: a raffle for a package of season tickets for a variety of Pittsburgh sports teams. We boosted revenue by 9% over the previous year, and from the point that we launched the social media portion of the campaign to the time that the fundraiser ended, we raised $60,000.


What does a non-profit’s fundraiser have to do with jiu-jitsu?  A lot, actually. Their campaign serves as a case study, a model that other community-driven organizations can learn from.


Social media marketing is more than a new trend; it’s a powerful community building tool. Community building occurs in two stages: strengthening the loyalty of existing members and growing the community by acquiring new members. Your gym is a community, and incorporating social media into your gym culture can make that community stronger and healthier.


Community building as a form of marketing can sound dishonest, like you are using your students to turn a profit, but that’s not the case. By focusing on community, you are focusing on creating an environment that people enjoy being in and a lifestyle that people are proud to champion. A high quality community creates happy people, who gladly share the things that make them happy with their other communities: friends, family, coworkers, Facebook followers, Twitter followers, running buddies, etc.


It’s a win for your students and a win for your business. No advertisement is more powerful than a word of mouth recommendation for your gym.


Creating Advocates


Marketers often talk about engagement and advocates because consumers in this decade are paying less and less attention to traditional advertising. They skip through television commercials. They use ad-blockers when they read news online. And they do not open junk mail. Traditional advertising is like Shoney Carter; it’s just not as relevant as it used to be. Consumers today trust recommendations from friends and from people that they respect more than anything else.


When I analyzed Junior Achievement’s marketing efforts, I found that they were primarily broadcasting. They would send out messages—status updates, Tweets, or newsletters—but they were not engaging their audience. They were not encouraging conversation or motivating their supporters to talk to their friends about Junior Achievement or its fundraisers. They were making a big difference in the lives of children across western Pennsylvania, but they were not facilitating conversations about their work.


Once we established our goals, I immediately changed their approach to social media. We used Twitter and HootSuite to identify people talking about topics important to Junior Achievement, and we entered their conversations as an expert on those topics. We then launched a re-Tweet contest to encourage our current followers to share our updates with their friends. As our existing followers and our new followers saw that our Twitter was more active and more interesting, the re-Tweets steadily increased, picking up more and more speed with each day. On Facebook, we shared articles relevant to Junior Achievement and to the fundraiser, which facilitated thoughtful conversation from our current followers. As more and more people commented on our content, more of their friends saw the activity in their feeds and came to the Facebook page to participate.


Essentially, we made the Junior Achievement Twitter and Facebook pages worth visiting and reading. Announcements are okay sometimes, but if someone clicks to your gym’s Facebook page and all they see is a stream of “no-gi is cancelled Friday” and “don’t miss training today!” they are going to click away faster than a Ken Shamrock fake tap out, which is the same challenge that Junior Achievement faced. On the other hand, if someone visits your Facebook page and sees content like videos, articles, and photos and your students talking about that content, they are more likely to stay and to get to know your community.


For prospects, this demonstrates a lively and attractive community, which could increase their interesting in trying your gym. For current students, an active Facebook presence builds loyalty. Being a part of your gym is a lifestyle. They may only be in class three times a week, but they are participating in the community every day through Facebook. They check the page at work for new content or share their own. They talk with their friends at the gym through comment streams. They get to feel like they are a part of something special even when they are not in the gym, which builds their attachment and their commitment. At the same time, all of your students’ activity on your page is broadcasted to their friends who may not train (yet) via feed updates.


By making gym membership a lifestyle, you help to make your students passionate about training. Passionate people talk about their passions. They invite their friends to participate. They buy t-shirts. They put stickers on their cars. They gladly advocate for the brands that they love. Giving your students a way to grow and foster that passion outside of their gym is good for your community.


Next week we will talk about how to build an awesome online community and how to connect it to your offline community so that they are a continuation of the same community experience.


Marshal D. Carper is the author the Cauliflower Chronicles: A Grappler’s Tale of Self-Discovery and Island Living and the co-author of Marcelo Garcia’s Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques. Visit his website at to read more about social media and jiu-jitsu.