The adage of the social media age may as well be “If they can make it social, they will make it social.” You can’t listen to music, take a photo, or jot down a quick thought without a dozen apps prompting you to share with the rest of the world. That principle has been making its way through the fitness world as well, with services like Nike’s FuelBand or Fitocracy pressuring you to share how many calories you’ve burned, how far you ran, or how much iron you pumped.
RunKeeper is the latest service to embrace this social media addiction. Though other applications have shoe-horned RunKeeper into their own ecosystems through API integrations, the service has mainly focused on tracking your runs as well as possible. Now, with the latest version of its iPhone app, the service is ready to become a bit more sociable.
Users are able to find their Facebook friends or people in their phone’s address book and add them directly through RunKeeper’s app, where they can compete against each other in the service’s new leaderboards. They can also “nudge” users that haven’t been active in a while, because apparently the only thing stopping someone from running is the lack of passive-aggressive social media alerts.
As mentioned above, RunKeeper isn’t the first service to introduce social elements. Since writing a few stories about fitness tech I’ve been bombarded with pitches about new services or feature updates, and many of them focus on transforming fitness from a solitary activity to a social one. Unfortunately, this emphasis on social features has morphed working out with a friend from being a differentiator to being a baseline feature that many services have.
It’s a bit like an old saying: “If everybody’s special, does that mean that nobody is?” If every fitness service incorporates social features, does it really make a difference? Probably not.
Services will have to differentiate themselves with tools and features that have nothing to do with social, just as they were before. It isn’t enough to post to Facebook or Twitter or an integrated network. Companies will have to work on their core features and woo customers with awesome fitness-related features, not me-too social sharing.