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To get more women participating in sport, we need an exercise in real influencer marketing

Research shows that more men play more sport than women at almost every age. Yet, when asked, many women say they would like to participate more in sport and physical activity.

With Wimbledon now underway and with our very own Johanna Konta in contention for the women’s singles, are we doing enough to turn this interest into action and get more women more active?

A report by the UK Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation found that just over one in 10 girls at age 14 currently meet the official guidelines for physical activity; half the number of boys at the same age. And the report goes on to determine that the absence of role models is seen by girls and teachers to be a key barrier to participation.

We need to harness the power of the role models or influencers to get more women more active.

The key with influencer marketing is to choose the right individual or organisation to intermediate a message, consequently adding power and weight to communication outcomes.

Bring a Ball, the recent campaign from Vitality, relies heavily on sporting celebrities who act as ambassadors for ball sports and healthy lifestyles; for example, England Cricket captain Joe Root, Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill and England Rugby’s Maro Itoje. Although using sporting heroes is valuable, maybe they’re missing a trick in not tracking this influencer approach to the grassroots.

Influencers don’t necessarily have to be celebrities from the world of sport and social media personalities with millions of fans. Each of us is influenced by a range of people, high profile celebrities certainly play a role, but we are all interested in more than just the famous. Some of the most powerful influencers can simply be regular people in the local community: the inspirational teacher, the volunteer coach or the supportive boss for example can provide both the inspiration and the support to get going.

The brilliant, award-winning This Girl Can TV ad is back on air and will undoubtedly continue to be effective in changing women’s attitudes towards activity. However, I wonder if the real opportunity is to focus on the trusted voices that can take the core concept and deliver it at a one-to-few level with the women we most need to reach.

For instance, by working with people in education, colleges and universities, maybe we can influence both the young women making the transition and the organisations in which they work to create an activity culture. Similarly, as women progress into employment, and, as our work with Public Health England shows, in-work, peer-to-peer influence can also be hugely powerful and effective in getting women active. Starting a family is a good time to influence positive behaviour change, yet research states that 75% of new mothers prioritise spending time with their families over being active.

An influencer strategy working with mums and family vloggers could show women that that it need not be a trade-off between family and sports.  It is so important than these women can see that fitness can easily be incorporated into family life.  Celebrity examples aren’t going to cut it here, but ordinary women and families can have a powerful voice in this situation.

It is time to redefine influencer marketing. We need to look beyond the celebrity influencers and build relationships with real influencers: the individuals and organisations that not only have a strong social footprint but are most importantly can talk credibly about the subject and are well connected within communities.

While the Wimbledon fortnight will ignite a short-term interest in tennis, it is only by harnessing these trusted voices will we tackle the real issue of getting more women, more active.

Jane Asscher is the chief executive and founding partner at 23red

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