Strava: Striving in the time of Corona?
Strava is a fitness tracking application for “dedicated” cyclists and runners. The origin of Strava is from the Swedish word for striving: strava. Founded in 2009 by Mark Gainey and Richard Shaw , Strava has grown into one of the most respected fitness tracking apps for aspiring athletes: 42 million accounts and growing at 1 million per month as of July 2019 . In that year’s Tour de France, 120 of the 176 riders regularly log rides in Strava .
User engagement growth from 2009 to 2019: strong growth continues as Strava pushes past the 2 billion activity mark (graphic from a Strava blog post).
The reporting and social media features are what makes users so loyal to the application though. One study  shows activities posted on Strava are 8 times more likely to receive some social feedback than a post on Twitter. While another study  shows that 44 percent of respondents say using Strava improves their social lives through positive encouragement of other user’s activities.
Strava activity dashboard: users can toggle between a timeline of their friend’s activities or their activities.
How has Strava faired with Covid-19?
Covid-19 has generally benefitted Strava. Although the company does not release user numbers, this user can count a doubling of friends using the application since the start of the crisis. As gyms and studios are closed during the lockdown, people are heading outdoors to get their exercise, and discovering the social benefits of Strava over other fitness tracking applications.
Strava Clubs: Application view of a Strava Club showing user activities, a leader board, post function and other features.
New users are discovering the strong network effects of Strava’s social features: with more users comes more activities, more encouragement, more activities and more engagement. Social clubs, where users can compare and compete with activities within a smaller group of members, generates stronger network effects and pulls users onto Strava who want to be part of the club.
NHS Active Challenge Badge: as seen from the Strava application.
Strava’s fitness Challenges have also driven user engagement and free publicity for Strava. In the UK, Strava’s NHS Active Challenge asked users to donate £5 to the National Health Service NHS and get active for 12 days in a row. Users who completed the challenge would receive a unique NHS digital finisher’s badge in their personal trophy case. The challenge raised over £80,000 before it opened! Challenges like these have traditional driven user engagement and commitment to the application. The introduction of new and unique challenges since the start of Covid 19 has driven further engagement and publicity for Strava.
Has there been any downside with Coid-19?
The open sharing of user’s activities on the application has led to the unintended consequences of users being shamed, and even threatened, for appearing to break quarantine rules. In the UK, people are permitted to leave the house once per day for exercise. Reports have emerged of Strava users receiving abuse for posting activities that contravene these restrictions.
News reports from France suggest that the French Police are using Strava’s data to investigate and prosecute individuals for contravening Covid-19 restrictions. Strava users benefit from the open sharing of their activities with the community. If users feel threatened by sharing their activities, other fitness tracking applications could tempt users away from Strava. In trying to defend its users privacy, Strava could damage its reputation with those concerned about athletes contravening the ban, and attract attention from concerned government agencies.
This is not the first controversy around Strava’s data sharing. In 2017 a student an Australian university posted images showing the location of sensitive US and Western Allies Forward Operating Bases FOBs using geolocation data from Strava activities .
Strava job posting: Senior Product Manager for Trust and Safety.
A job posting for a Senior Product Manager for Trust and Safety on Strava’s website  (one of only three jobs posted at the time of the article) implies that safety and security is again at the top of mind for Strava. In the case of Covid-19 restrictions, Strava is caught between respecting user’s liberties on the application, and its responsibility to society. Recent calls for Police Forces to prosecute users who contravene Covid-19 restrictions highlights the moral dilemma facing Strava.
What should Strava do?
Strava should continue to strengthen its community of athletes and capitalize on the increased interest in exercising outdoors. With the Northern Hemisphere summer starting, Strava should see a further boost as athletes are drawn out by warmer weather. More users and activities will drive same side network effects and virtuous positive social reinforcement cycle.
Clubs and challenges (like the NHS Active Challenge) are opportunities to further promote engagement amongst users and draw people onto the platform. Added functionality, like competitions between clubs and more Covid 19 related challenges will leverage the existing community further.
Another growth avenue would be expanding Strava to better cover activities other than running and cycling. The application can already capture other workout data (including rowing and swimming), but the functionality for other activities like circuit training is limited compared to other fitness applications. Expanding the functionality into these areas would further leverage and strengthen positive social engagement in exercising. However, this could detract from Strava’s core brand of aspiring running and cycling athletes.
 Crunchbase.com; https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/strava.
 The Outside: Why Strava is getting more social than ever; Joe Lindsey; https://www.outsideonline.com/2395489/strava-james-quarles.
 Inc article on Strava; Jeff Haden; https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/10-years-in-strava-now-adds-1-million-users-a-month-but-can-it-become-next-great-sports-brand.html.
 Computer-Mediated Social Support for Physical Activity: A Content Analysis; Health Education & Behavior 45(1); Stragier, Merchant, De Marez, Cardon.
 Status of Mind: Social media and young people’s mental health; RSPH.
 Tech Crunch: US military reviewing tech use after Strava privacy snafu; https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/29/us-military-reviewing-tech-use-after-strava-privacy-snafu/.
 Strava Careers; accessed 1/5/20; https://boards.greenhouse.io/strava/jobs/2090187.
Student comments on Strava: Striving in the time of Corona?
I am surprised to hear that Strava is doing well during this pandemic with shelter-in-place orders. I am wondering if this will make them consider using their network to expand into workouts to do at home and not just utilizing GPS and location features, similar to what you mentioned in your closing.