Welcome to the Social Spotlight, where we dive deep into what we love about a brand’s approach to a specific social campaign. From strategy through execution and results, we’ll examine what makes the best brands on social tick — and leave you with some key takeaways to consider for your own brand’s social strategy.
Considering the brand’s surge in sales and popularity during the pandemic, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Peloton these days. But for those who haven’t been keeping pace, let’s start with a brief warm up.
In 2011, inspired by the challenge of fitting studio cycling classes into his own busy schedule, CEO and co-founder John Foley pitched the idea for a technology-driven, at-home solution to his former colleague, Tom Cortese. Together, they dreamt up a stationary bike outfitted with a digital screen that would give users the ability to stream their favorite cycling classes at any time, in any place in their home. By 2012, with funding secured and prototype built, Foley, Cortese and their three fellow co-founders, Graham Stanton, Hisao Kushi and Yony Feng, had successfully turned dreams into reality.
Eight years later, Peloton—named after the French term for a pack of bicycle racers—has over one million connected-fitness subscribers (i.e., people with either a Peloton Bike or a Peloton Treadmill, as well as the digital subscription). And when you factor in members with only the subscription, that number climbs to over two million. The company has also recently expanded its product line with a second bike model and a treadmill.
But Peloton isn’t the only brand of stationary bike, treadmill or digital fitness subscription. Or even the most affordable. This is a great reminder that it’s not always about the product or service a brand offers, but how it makes people feel. That’s the essence of true branding. So what factors contribute to Peloton’s almost cult-like following?
Before we dig in, I should confess that I, myself, have never ridden a Peloton bike. But many of my colleagues have. And after my proposal to expense one for “research purposes” was lovingly (or rather, laughingly) rejected by my manager, I knew I’d need to tap Team Sprout’s avid Peloton fans for some first-hand insights.
Considering the brand’s signature combination of immersive software, beautifully designed equipment, addictive classes and empowering instructors, it’s tough to attribute its success to one single factor. But my teammates’ raving reviews did all share one thing in common:
“For me it’s about the community feel. I love that I can still take classes with people I know and cheer them on during rides. There’s a ton of accountability knowing that you are working out with friends, and that they can see your progress as well and cheer you on.” – Kim Blight, Product Operations Lead, Sprout Social
For many Peloton users, the friendly competition, connection and motivation from fellow riders is a big reason they continue to clip in day after day. Some have shared that their Peloton bike and the relationships they’ve established have helped them quit therapy. Others have said it saved their sanity during the pandemic. But this life-changing virtual community doesn’t just live on the streaming service. In fact, where it truly thrives is on social.
Peloton’s use of social is fascinating to me because so much of that community building is actually happening outside the brand’s owned pages—most notably drawing from the online influence of its instructors, many of whom are celebrities in their own right. These instructor/influencer hybrids have become the brand’s ambassadors and function as the voice of Peloton out in the world. Another big community builder are the users themselves connecting through localized Facebook groups, Reddit threads and what riders often refer to as “tribes” that rally around commonalities like favorite instructors, sports teams, occupations, life stage—you name it.
But don’t sleep on Peloton’s owned channels. There, the brand brings users together through the sharing of its educational blog content, user-generated content (UGC), open-ended community questions, promotional content for new rides, workouts and instructors, and motivational messages. You’ll also find a healthy mix of copy, video, GIFs and static imagery. With a variety of content and formats, these pages feel like a well-spring of knowledge and entertainment designed to quench the thirst of both the curious, and committed.
What you can learn:
1. Lean on your community for product development. While I can’t be sure if those groups and teams all came about organically or if Peloton initiated the trend, it’s clear that the brand observed this behavior (most likely through social listening) and then encouraged it through product integration. In early 2020, the company added a new feature called “Tags” that allows users to connect with—and track their exercise alongside—people in the communities they’ve formed off the bike.
This isn’t the only time Peloton used insights from social to influence research and development. Recently, the brand unveiled a new bike model citing feedback from users as the driver behind the new offering.
"The community spoke, we listened." Learn more about the creation and innovation behind the Peloton Bike+. https://t.co/8OpHHuubwB
— Peloton (@onepeloton) September 9, 2020
2. Feature UGC content frequently. Peloton loves to highlight the humanity and hard work of their users on social. Not only does it offer the priceless reward of simple recognition, but it encourages folks to keep sharing on their own social channels, effectively increasing the reach of their word-of-mouth messages over time.
Getting started: According to our expert guide to user-generated content, start by choosing the social networks most effective to your campaign. Then determine your goals for UGC and create a plan for how you’ll request and feature it. The open-ended community questions that Peloton uses is a great way to get the type of content you’re hoping to share.
What's a Peloton instructor mantra that you've taken to heart?
— Peloton (@onepeloton) September 16, 2020
3. Empower your employees to become vocal brand advocates. Peloton knows the secret sauce to their service is its instructors. That’s why they’re so heavily featured in the brand’s social content, and why it goes as far as to assist in managing their online presence by helping them create content. In addition to employees, consider any “power users” of your product or service, or really anyone of your customers with a significant following (and therefore, potential reach). The reality is, people will trust the opinions and recommendations of real people before they’ll trust a brand.
💥BOSS 💥 Roll call… add your name below 👇🏽
— ALLY LOVE (@AllymissLove) August 5, 2020
Getting started: Give your employees a simple way to share curated content across their social networks and amplify your brand’s reach with an employee advocacy tool like Bambu. You might also benefit from identifying some potential influencers among your social followers. Features like Sprout’s Influencer Recognition may come in handy for this task.
4. Finally, speak from the heart on social. This may sound cheesy, but it’s obviously working for Peloton. The topic of fitness generates a lot of emotions: inspiration, motivation, the desire for self-improvement, but also self-criticism and anxiety. Peloton leans heavily into the more positive, aspirational emotions rather than the fear-based ones. They also place a lot of value on connection (we approve). Whether it’s a motivational message, personal stories of fitness achievement or an encouraging word from your favorite instructor, meaningful content builds community and creates a relationship between a brand and its audience.
This also includes being vocal about the issues and values important to your brand. We talk a lot at Sprout about the importance of speaking up on social and standing up for the things you care about in an effort to better connect with your audience. It might seem scary to potentially offend those who disagree, but the loyalty it encourages in those who do is worth the risk.
“We protect ourselves from knowing the pain of others because it’s painful, and it’s uncomfortable.” Tunde, your passionate words remind us that we have so much further to go, but that we will go together. Experience Tunde’s Speak Up ride on demand now. #onepeloton pic.twitter.com/M7HxIkYQPG
— Peloton (@onepeloton) June 12, 2020