Elon’s rocky start at Twitter.
Meta’s reputational crisis.
TikTok’s spying stories.
2022 wasn’t the golden year for social media, to say the least.
Meanwhile, a healthier option consolidates itself in the fitness category.
A rather late unicorn, Strava became a >$1bn business in 2020 in light of the pandemic sports craze. The growth is still solid as the company reports to gain over 1 million users a month, estimating to reach the 100 million mark anytime in 2023 and expanding its current leadership as the world’s largest social fitness app.
All of the success makes sense: while research shows that the more you use Facebook, the worse you feel about yourself, Strava does the exact opposite: research from the Glasgow Caledonian University reported that the app makes people happier.
That’s an amazing outcome in a world where profits are often a priority. Don’t get me wrong, there are many things Strava could do better in terms of design, but with such outcome I thought it was worth it to try and understand what they did well in terms of overall UX and product to achieve that.
1. Core features with an extra spark
At a first glance, Strava looks like any other GPS app: map and location tracker with a recording feature to be activated while you’re working out.
But they go beyond.
Shortly after the app was launched in 2009 they rolled out the leaderboard: Strava identifies common routes at any given map segment and displays information about the route, such as ranking all users’ performance for a given circuit or route.
The feature gamified fitness and gave the app social components, essentially making working out more fun.
More recently, the map was also paired with Points of Interest, a feature that adds “community-powered local hotspots” to make outdoor activities like running, cycling, and hiking more enjoyable. Those include both great points to start activities, but also local cafes, water fountains, restrooms and bike shops.
Another great example is Flyby: For every activity, Strava will determine all other activities that crossed paths (flew by!) with you (in addition to fully matched activities). This, again, also builds up the social aspect in a novel way.
Creative details on top of standard data and common features adds-up to delight users and build an enjoyable experience.
2. Giving a home for our athletic persona.
Trung Phan’s analysis of LinkedIn has a great description about our identities on social media:
“Most people are different personalities at work vs. home vs. happy hour. People wear these different masks to impress or avoid embarrassment with different audiences.
Back to LinkedIn. It’s your online resume and directly tied to your identity.
The setup forces everyone on the site to basically wear the professional “CV mask” of their personality.”
In short, we bring our CV selves to LinkedIn, while our more social or friendly selves lives on our Instagram page, for example.
Strava gives a proper canvas for the athletic version of our personality to be built: “Strava wants to be the home of your active life,” said former CEO James Quarles.
While on other social media people rely on cues such as putting “Founder and CEO” as a title or posting stories on a Michelin star restaurant, Strava gives easy ways to quantify that performance and consistency you’re proud of.
To achieve that, they rely on classic social media features such as a feed and profile that keeps your record visible for you and others to see.
Your profile will also show your achievements on user-generated or Strava-generated challenges and the Clubs you’re part of.
I’d go further and add that just being a user already gives a boots to our athletic identity: it feels good to be part of the same “community” of hardcore professional athletes, where some of them even track cycling olympic gold medal performances on.
3. Fostered sense of community and collaboration
Similarly to Facebook, Strava also allows you to join and engage in Clubs. Clubs are collections of individuals that get together mainly based on interests or location.
If you move to another city and wants to meet like-minded weekend athletes, search for a group around you and you’ll find many options.
Even some of their growth and monetization strategies are aligned with their social driven approach: one of the ways used to grow their B2B relationships was Sponsored Challenges: events that brands can build to drive awareness and loyalty. In their words, challenges allow brands to “motivate their customers in an authentic way by inspiring them to do what they already love — setting a goal and smashing it — with the brand at the center”.
In a true network effect style, Strava’s value as an app is also enhanced by how many people join the platform.
With Strava’s post feature, an additional member not only means a possible workout group partner but also someone that can answer you question about what type of tire works best for an specific cycling route. It also serves as a way for athletes to connect with their audience.
Although mainstream social media has rightfully been under a backlash, there are many points and positive lessons apps in other niches can take.
Strava proves that it is possible to use powerful features and UX elements for the good by incentivizing a positive behavior like exercising and connecting with like-minded people around it.
Thanks for reading it.
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