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When does a fitness app become a social network?

When does a fitness app become a social network?

When does a fitness app become a social network? When the CEO says so, it seems.


James Quarles, the CEO of Strava - the fitness app with a big following amongst runners and cyclist - recently announced that the company will be changing aspects of the platform to make it feel more like a traditional social network.

Strava wants to influence more areas of its users’ lives and is aiming to do so at a time when the market is booming. The use of health and fitness apps has grown by over 330% in the last three years, so you can see why the company wants to leverage this as far as it can.

However, the fact that an app becomes popular doesn’t suddenly mean it must morph into something bigger. User engagement and customer growth are the manifestations of a well executed customer experience, which has been designed around their needs. Any changes to it must result in continued relevance for customers.

Of course, Strava argues that this is exactly what it intends and we’ll just have to wait and see how successful the changes are.


Social contagion

Whatever happens though, it’s undoubtedly true that social elements play a major part in fitness and exercise lifestyles. Research shows that exercise is socially contagious — successful apps use this dynamic to fuel competition and enable people to motivate one another.

Nike+ Running was one of the first and most famous fitness apps to do this, introducing ‘Challenges’ back in 2013 that included leaderboards for fellow runners to compete with one another. Since then, they’ve continually built upon social as a key part of their development, most recently launching weekly Challenges.

Virtually all apps that followed incorporated this element into their own experiences, including Runkeeper with its ‘virtual running groups’ for users to join and MYZONE, which uses ‘Challenges’ to help health professionals tailor activities for their clients.

These features make complete sense within the overarching rationale of fitness apps. What Strava (as well as other competitors) needs to be wary of is that they don’t jeopardise the brand they’ve built up over time. Brand loyalty might provide fantastic opportunities for businesses to increase engagement or sales to existing customers, but it must not be done at the expense of a clear and consistent service experience.

1Rebel has taken a bolder step than most by linking up with Social Concierge to offer a dating experience it has called “a workout to remember” for city singles. This could be an innovative way of appealing to its time-poor, city-based clientele and we are keen to see if it resonates with their customers.

Customer-first strategy

At Maido, we always believe that getting close to customers is the key to designing great experiences. By defining a clear strategy that is built around insight, we can then guide fitness brands through the process of testing and learning with customers so that everything they deliver is on point.

If they want to embrace or enhance the social aspects of their service, fitness apps need to make sure it’s an appropriate extension of what already exists. Is it useful and relevant to the user and does it really have your core brand values at its heart?

If it sticks to these simple rules, Strava’s evolution will be a success. We’ll certainly be tracking its progress.

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