Facebook-connected fitness apps translate into real life success

Fitness applications are growing in popularity — largely because they work well, especially when a user connects the app to their Facebook account. While it’s difficult to measure Facebook-connected fitness apps’ success in terms of pounds lost, developers are claiming that users who sign into the app through Facebook tend to keep using it.

For instance, on RunKeeper, when users share their fitness activities on Facebook, there is a 40 percent chance that they will continue to use the app. Whether it’s peer pressure or the positive engagement from friends, users of Facebook-connected fitness apps tend to keep going on runs, walks, and bike excursions when they sign in through the social network.

Jackie Chang, a partner manager for fitness apps at Facebook, recently spoke with Inside Facebook about how people use fitness apps such as Endomondo and Nike, as well as what’s ahead for the platform — including improvements in timeline and Graph Search.

In the early days of Nike, one of the most popular fitness apps, Chang noticed that users tended to post screenshots of their running accomplishments. This was before the app had Facebook integration. She figured, why not have some way that users can post this directly from their phone without having to go through the trouble of saving a screenshot, then uploading it to Facebook?

Now fitness apps are embracing Facebook. Through Endomondo, users can share photos along with their open graph story to create something visual and engaging. With Nike, runners can hear cheers through their headphones whenever a friend likes or comments on the story created on the user’s timeline. Via Strava, cyclists and runners can connect to Facebook and track activity with GPS devices.

Chang noted that these apps have taken something that has usually been somewhat private — workout activity and fitness goals — and brought that into the social conversation. Through that, it has helped many people stay on track with their goals. The apps focus on positive reinforcement, and that’s what keeps people coming back, she said:

Fitness itself is an activity that is uniquely private, and also uniquely social. There’s a lot of directions on where you could go. It’s very private in the sense that a lot of your biggest goals, like in terms of pushing yourself to lose some weight, can be pretty private in terms of how you want to develop it and you want to track it.

But it’s also very social in the sense that there are people out there who feel the power of building a community and being able to have friends motivate them or hold them accountable for it. We want to be able to develop and facilitate any of those experiences in a rich way and through all the right channels.

Facebook discussed with Inside Facebook some figures on how connecting to fitness apps through the social network has kept people coming back and sharing with their friends. When a user connects Facebook to RunKeeper, there is a 70 percent increase in the likelihood that they’ll go out for their first run, walk, or bike trip.

Earlier this year, Abvio (which makes Runmeter, 5K Runmeter, Walkmeter and Cyclemeter) CEO Steve Kusmer talked with sister site AllFacebook about how powerful that Facebook connection is. Abvio’s fitness apps have seen roughly one-third greater retention year over year among Facebook-connected users.

Nike saw a 77 percent increase in traffic from Facebook after implementing Open Graph actions.

Endomondo, another Facebook-connected app, recently passed the 100 million workout total — 12 million of which have been shared through Facebook since March. One-in-four Endomondo visits come directly from Facebook.

But what’s next? Facebook has already taken steps toward their next goal of making these Open Graph stories more visual and engaging — as not every run is created equal. While one day someone might just be out for a casual morning stroll, the next day, they might run their first 10K, and both of these events shouldn’t be weighted equally. Endomondo creates highly visual stories, and this is what Chang said Facebook is striving toward. For instance, they want Open Graph-generated stories to say something beyond “Justin went on a 3 mile run.”

Chang said that its likely the fitness section of timeline could get a more personalized tweak, showing runs or events of certain significance across all apps that someone uses:

What we’re moving toward is being able to tell that story. Today it’s just a number in a bar chart, but as we further develop this, we want it to be even more important, not only to your timeline experience, but imagine (what it could do) in Graph Search. … Imagine being able to look at some of the courses that your friends have ran. When you go to New York, you can find a specific route because your friend ran it. We’d love to be able to tell these broader stories with a lot of these new channels that we’re developing out.

At a recent whiteboard event, Facebook director of developer products Doug Purdy explained that the site wants Open Graph stories — whether it’s announcing that a friend just went up a level in Candy Crush Saga or watched an episode of The Office on Hulu — to really describe the event and for timeline to be an accurate representation of someone’s life. Chang described how timeline can do this:

We want them to see a representation of themselves. Ultimately, timeline is a representation of your identity. It’s probably your soundboard to express content to your friends. We want to create a place where you can go to capture this broader view of their activity and all the apps that they care about that are generating these stories. We want to be a place where they can see this in a visual way that conveys what their hard work has driven them to.

As fitness is very much a part of Facebook users’ lives, it’s natural that the company embraces these types of apps which give a richer and clearer picture of who the person actually is.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.