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Online Trends

Published August 28th 2018

Is CrossFit Losing Its Edge?

What social media analytics can tell us about one of America’s newest exercise darlings.

You know your gym isn’t kidding around when its mascot is a vomiting clown.

But no one ever thought CrossFit was kidding around.

For those unfamiliar with CrossFit, the fitness brand is known for its intense exercise regime that focuses on high intensity interval training, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and calisthenics. The fitness brand’s reputation for a cheeky brand voice and a cult following precedes itself.

From tweeting proud blisters to taking on Coke, CrossFit’s love-it-or-hate-it tone has attracted some ire in the past. The culture is glorified in internet memes with CrossFitters shaping a brand persona.

But CrossFit’s popularity may be atrophying. Social conversation around the brand has been declining for several years, and new concerns are bubbling up across social platforms and forums. In this post we analyze the conversation surrounding CrossFit in particular and exercise options more generally to get to answer the question: Is CrossFit losing its edge?

In the last few years, CrossFit’s sentiment on social has almost completely flipped — from around 65% positive and 30% negative in 2010 to 40% positive and 60% negative in 2017.

What’s causing CrossFit’s decline in sentiment? And what impact is it having on the brand’s presence on social. To start answering these questions, let’s first look at the social media conversation surrounding CrossFit and two of its biggest rivals, yoga and Zumba.

As you can see, all three fitness regimens have seen conversation volume declines in the last few years, but CrossFit has consistently trailed the other two since 2010. And it’s important to note that not all of this conversation is positive. In fact, when we look at the most common topics in the conversation, we see some recurring negative posts, especially around soreness, being expensive, and an ‘annoying’ aspect.

Indeed, when we look at the specific social posts about CrossFit, we see that they run the gamut from “CrossFit is making me fit” to “CrossFit will lead to incontinence.”

But if social media insights is about turning consumers into customers, noteworthy are the tweets that express annoyance.

So, all told, what can the mixed conversation, tanking sentiment, and declining conversation volume tell us about CrossFit’s future? Is CrossFit still the darling of the fitness world or is it being supplanted?

Here are three topics, revealed by social media analysis, that can help us understand CrossFit’s evolving place in the minds of US consumers.

Whose face is in the race?

It’s hard to tell if the credit for CrossFit’s popularity on social media goes entirely to its avid followers. Insofar as influencers go in building a brand, Greg Glassman, founder and CEO of the $4 billion business is a strong one. A self-proclaimed “rabid libertarian,” Glassman extends his personal and political view to the brand by taking on brands like Coke, and celebrities and even the government.

Safety third?

The rigorous CrossFit workouts demanding a go-getter attitude veil the risk of injuries. But CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman made no bones about the fact. In an interview with New York Times in 2005, referring to the workouts he said, “It can kill you…I’ve always been completely honest about that.” Social conversations acknowledge this, including a CrossFit box in Canada that tweeted “There is no safety. Only varying degrees of risk.”

This cross does not fit everyone

The appeal of rigorous workouts and its dogged following might not be as universal as other exercise forms like Yoga and Zumba. CrossFit speaks to a niche set of gym goers who turn working out into a competitive sport.

When we compared Yoga’s discussion topics to that of CrossFit, the sentiment and conversations were more moderate and positive.

Steady rise of yoga

Activities like weightlifting, strength training, and HIIT are gaining traction in the recent past but Yoga is has been the go-to exercise activity fairly consistently. Zumba’s popularity spiked between 2011-2012 but yoga reclaimed its most-discussed spot for three years after.

From 20.4 million yoga practitioners in 2012, to 36.7 million in 2016, the country has taken to the exercise form quite enthusiastically. Americans spend $16 billion per year on classes, equipment and gear, which is a sharp rise from $10 billion in 2012.

Brands vie for presence in a consumer’s mind, and if the goal is to create a positive image, it’s imperative to begin by listening to the audience and studying sentiment. This is a part of our series exploring emerging US consumer trends.

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