What Fitness/Wellness Apps Can Teach Us About Community Engagement

  |  July 17, 2014   |  Comments

The growth of fitness and wellness apps, along with the growth of wearable technology, shows how greatly social communities can contribute to the success of an industry.

Like many of you, I probably haven't paid enough attention to staying fit. Kids, travel, and work often got in the way, but over the last three months I've really made a concerted effort to change that by joining a gym for the first time, buying a Fitbit to track my progress, and adding a few fitness communities and friends to my support system. While making more time has certainly been a key factor in enabling me to hit the gym an average of six times a week, my wearable and my fitness apps and their respective communities have kept me motivated and pushed me do more.

In fact, fitness and wellness apps have revolutionized the industry and the growth of them is staggering. According to ABI research, more than 90 million wearable computing devices will be shipped this year and medical, wellness, and sport/activity devices and the apps connected to them will provide the bulk of that number. But it won't stop there - with the anticipated launch of Apple's iWatch and continued integration of fitness apps into existing wearables, acceptance and adoption of these devices and their associated communities will undoubtedly become mainstream.

But what factors are really contributing to this eye-catching growth of both the devices and their associated communities? Here are the most important community factors contributing to their success and the important reminders they provide us when building any social community.

1. Create a Conversation Around a Shared Passion

Pick a topic - sports, entertainment, movies, music, fitness, you name it. The success and rapid growth of fitness communities remind us that the best and strongest communities share a passion (running, cycling, soccer, etc.) and facilitate engaging conversations around that passion. Understanding your brand and its connection to an interest - be it through the product itself or a sponsorship (i.e. a NFL or MLS sponsorship) - can be a solid foundation from which to build a community and engagement.

2. Create Goals and Challenges and Provide Tools to Help Monitor Progress

One of the best things that fitness apps and communities do is that they allow you to set goals - be it 10,000 steps a day, a calorie count, or weight or distance/speed goals. They also provide users the ability to track and monitor their progress against those goals and others. In fact, some go so far as to create interactive leaderboards to motivate and encourage a bit of competition among members. Creating a bit of competition in any community with a shared passion will most certainly lift engagement and encourage growth/learning for both individual members and community overall.

Think about creating and tracking contests that test knowledge and reward experts. Build events that encourage participation and strive to rally the community toward a common goal, be it to raise money or volunteer hours for a worthy cause. Provide flexibility in these tools to allow members to create groups where they can track their individual progress as well as the group and communities progress overall.

3. Sharing and Motivation

Communities are support systems. Fitness communities allow you to connect with friends and family that help motivate you to reach your goals. The ability to taunt, cheer, or share tips helps to inspire and motivate members. Badges and personal best times and serve to recognize individuals who reach and shatter goals and allow the community to share in that success. Incorporate tools in your own community that facilitate sharing among members and recognize key accomplishments.

4. Localization/Sub-Segments

We live in an increasingly hyper-targeted/personalized world. The rapid growth and success of fitness apps like Strava - which allows any road, trail, or segment to be marked and stamped with a time - remind us of the importance of personalization. For runners or cyclists, Strava's ability to mark and track times on a member's trail of choice has been critical to its continued growth and success. For marketing, building a community around a shared passion that also recognizes local needs and sub-segments within the community is growing in importance. Provide the flexibility within the community to allow members to engage at a micro level by creating/following groups, segments, or friend connections where they can share and engage at a more personal level.

5. Mobile and Device Integration

There will undoubtedly be some consolidation of devices - between my smart watch, Fitbit, iPhone, etc. I'm already feeling the burden to charge and remember each individual device before hitting the gym or trails. The best apps and communities will provide mobile integration into popular devices allowing users better convenience and access. As you look to build out your own communities, remember the mobile experience and, if applicable, how that community and communication can be integrated into popular smart device/wearable.

As I embark on my 13th week of fitness and wellness, I want to thank my extended communities for the dozens of taunts, cheers, and words of encouragement. Your support has pushed me to run further and faster and to lift and lose more each and every week. In addition, this experience has reminded me of the critical attributes essential to building and sustaining a thriving community including rallying around a shared passion, adding a bit of competitive spirit, incorporating sharing and motivation tools and efforts to encourage engagement, and to create a community that is both hyper-personalized and integrated into our increasingly mobile and smart device-rich lives.

Until next time.

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Michael Della Penna

Michael Della Penna is an digital marketing veteran, entrepreneur, and visionary currently serving as CEO of Invisible Media, a next-generation mobile data, decisioning, and marketing automation platform. Prior to joining Invisible Media, Michael was the senior vice president of emerging channels at Responsys. His responsibilities included spearheading the overall strategic direction, M&A efforts (including the acquisition of PushIO), partnerships, and solution offering across key digital channels including social, mobile, and display. Before joining Responsys, Michael founded Conversa Marketing, a full-service email and social CRM agency that helped brands ignite conversations and cultivate relationships with customers across the social Web. Conversa Marketing, was acquired by StrongView in 2010. Before branching out on his own, Michael served as CMO for Epsilon. At Epsilon, Michael helped grow and transform the company from a database provider to a multi-channel marketing services powerhouse in just three years. Michael's other key leadership roles include CMO at Bigfoot Interactive, vice president of strategic development at CNET Networks, Inc., and vice president of marketing at ZDNet. Michael has been named to BtoB Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in Business-to-Business Marketing five times and received a BBA and an MBA from Hofstra University.

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