Barry Klein is the co-owner of Elevations Health Club, operating three facilities in northeast Pennsylvania. He is a frequent speaker at industry events, including Club Industry, Club Industry East and Athletic Business. Barry manages all online activities for Elevations. Please see www.elevationshealthclub.com, and www.facebook.com/elevationshealthclub. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/elevationshc. E-mail him at barry@elevationshealthclub.com or call 570-856-1424.

There is no hotter topic today in any business than social networking. In fact, just having a Web site seems very last millennium, and if you're not Facebooking, Tweeting, blogging and MySpace-ing, you must be missing out on something huge, right?

So, should you—or, more importantly, should your fitness facility—be involved with social networking? Absolutely. But why? And how?

Before you start, you need to understand what social networking is. You already "social network" and don't even know it. You have various groups of people with whom you have relationships—high school friends, college friends, colleagues, your club's members, family and many more. When you take these relationships online, the communication explodes. Facebook friends and Twitter followers are sharing their deepest thoughts, their most mundane observations, their most ridiculous photos and their thoughts on every business, product and experience they have.

So, what does this have to do with your gym? Like it our not, your members, prospects and staff are on these social networking sites. They are on Twitter, hanging on every word from Ashton Kutcher, CNN Headline News, and hundreds or thousands of people they will never meet. They are also tweeting about their thoughts on everything. ("Really sore after a great workout with my trainer! I love my gym!") And their readers are commenting back. ("I used to train with that trainer and never liked her. Can't believe you are still with her!")

So, not only do you need to be on these social networking sites to see and hear what is going on, but you need to participate by sharing appropriately as an individual, as well as informing the world about what is going on at your gym. Are you doing a charity event? Congratulating your running club? Doing a membership drive or having a personal training sale? This is all appropriate information to share on social networking sites, as long as it's done well.

The most important part of social networking is to be social. Nobody likes someone who shows up at a cocktail party or business card exchange and starts dominating the conversation and hogging the spotlight. Just as in real-life social situations, you need to "work the room," building trust and credibility with your community.

On your own individual page, comment on other users' posts, share some details about your life, etc. Then, introduce business-specific information—things that your friends or followers will appreciate. Inform, don't sell.

Then, expand your identity to include your business. Create a page on Facebook, and your posts will appear as if they are from the business, versus being from an individual.

On Twitter, everyone knows there's a person behind every name, so even if you are "my-gym-name" on Twitter, you need to keep things social and informative, and maybe even fun.

There is a fine line between being an individual and being your gym's representative. It is a line that can be walked, but do so carefully. Many people maintain various user accounts on these social networking sites to help distinguish between their personal thoughts and those of their business.

So why do this when you already have a Web site? Because your Web site is an island. You need to maximize your Web site investment by driving traffic to it. When you post to a social networking site, include topics that link back to your Web site. Naturally, this implies that your Web site has fresh, interesting and informative content, so if it doesn't, consider that to be your next job.

Similarly, your e-mail blasts (you are using e-mail for your members, aren't you?) need to promote your presence on social networking sites while driving traffic to your Web site, where you also mention your presence on social networking sites. And round and round we go.

Synergy is important. You need a robust and interesting Web site, e-mail distribution system, social networking presence, and you need all of them to cross-reference each other. Social networking is the piece that needs to be worked every day or two.

Unbelievably, today's most popular social networking sites are free for business use, but they do have a cost. Because their value is directly tied to your active participation, you must invest the time to be part of these online communities. It might be just a few minutes per day, but it can add up.

However, those costs are OK because the benefits are tangible. Do social networking the right way, and you will spend less to communicate with more members, prospects and partners while driving more business to your facility.