by Lisa Peyton

The lights are dimming as Nike’s VP of Digital Sport, Stefan Olander, takes the stage to introduce the 10 companies chosen for the Nike+ Accelerator Program. The large auditorium on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Ore., is packed to the brim with avid techies, bloggers and social-media buffs eager to get the first look at what might be the next big thing. The Accelerator Program was developed to help fund start-ups willing to work with the Nike+ Fuel API. Nike is hoping that its activity metric, dubbed “Nike Fuel points” will someday be the predominant way we measure movement. The 10 start-ups chosen for the program have crafted concepts around using Nike Fuel for applications outside of the straightforward Fuelband. Stefan Olander explains, “The more we can open up Nike+, the better. The only reason to close it out is because you actually don’t believe that you have a strong enough product for others to want to take it and do good things with it” (Piskorski, M.K. & Johnson, R. 2013).

After closing the event with a standing ovation from the tech-savvy crowd, it was hard to not feel that Nike just gets it. The culture on campus is palpable, evidence of a movement rather than a corporation. They have successfully woven this theme throughout their products, communities and social networks.

  A Movement

According to social-movement theory, there are four key factors to inciting action: sharing the movement’s beliefs, being targeted by mobilization efforts, becoming motivated to take action, and overcoming barriers of participation (Kavada, A. 2012). Nike has utilized social media and new technology to build an online fitness-inspired movement of epic proportion.

The Nike+ community has been built around social from the beginning. Working with Apple to develop a way for runners to track their runs and have the resulting data delivered to their iPods provided value to the running community and helped to facilitate sharing online. Further enhancements now allow runners to map and store routes on their smartphones, spawning the world’s largest database of running routes. Nike enabled runners to share their passion with the world and the results have been stunning.

The rise of the Nike+ Fuelband fans hopes of expanding this community beyond running, motivating athletes of all types by synching physical output with digital technology. Nike CEO Mark Parker elaborates: “The NIKE+ FuelBand is a way for Nike to further evolve the exciting possibilities of merging the physical and digital worlds. Nike has always been about inspiring athletes, and the NIKE+ FuelBand will help motivate them in a simple, fun and intuitive way.”


Communal Feedback


Nike’s “social” culture not only benefits athletes and consumers, but it has ultimately helped Nike grow to be one of the most recognizable brands in the world. By building online communities of likeminded fitness enthusiasts, Nike has enabled an entire generation of brand advocates who are happy to help mobilize their friends to join the movement. Consumers like to network with people who have interests similar to their own and are more likely to share their views when engaged with a product, service or idea (Mangold, W.G., & Faulds, D.J. 2009).


Nike also has the advantage of promoting an image that is in line with current cultural trends. Fit, toned and athletic bodies are seen as being desirable and are actively promoted across all forms of media. Consumers are more likely to talk about products when those products support their desired self-image, or the way they want others to see them (Mangold, W.G., & Faulds, D.J. 2009, p.8).


Interactivity and reciprocity are also important factors for building interpersonal bonds and the development of a collective identity (Kavada, A. 2012). Nike, via social media, has successfully enabled community members to send messages and post feedback that reach many people simultaneously. This “communal feedback” loop is a core component for “mutual persuasion,” social influence and recognition and can ultimately lead to changed attitudes and behaviors (Kavada, A. 2012).


 Social Media Strategy


Nike’s early vision of creating a community of runners has successfully grown into a global social-media phenomenon. They have grasped one of the core tenets of successful social campaigns: People really want to connect with other people, not with a company (Piskorski, M.J. 2011). The #Makeitcount campaign has recruited high-profile athletes along with everyday Nike fans to tweet about the activity they are tracking with their Nike+ Fuelband. Nike has also expanded this conversation by recently launching the @Nike Twitter account, which now has almost 2 million followers.


Nike has invested in communities, and these communities have returned the favor. Some suggest that the 55% growth in Nike+ memberships played a significant role in the 30% growth of Nike’s running division in 2011 (Piskorski, M.K. & Johnson, R. 2013). By addressing the unmet social needs of their customers, Nike was able to profit and meet the company’s overall business objectives. They have successfully paired product with experience to drive value and connect with consumers. Parker sums it up this way, “Connecting used to be, ‘Here’s some product, and here’s some advertising. We hope you like it.’ Connecting today is a dialogue” (Piskorski, M.K. & Johnson, R. 2013).




Kavada, A. (2012). Engagement, Bonding, and Identity across Multiple Platforms: Avaaz on Facebook, YouTube and MySpace. MediaKultur, 52, 28-48.


Piskorski, M. J. (2011). Social strategies that work. Harvard Business Review, 89(11), 116-122.


Piskorski, Mikolaj, Ryan Johnson. “Social Strategy at Nike,” Harvard Business School case 712 (2013) (Revised from orig. 2012 version)


Mangold, W. G., & Faulds, D. J. (2009). Social media: The new hybrid element of the promotion mix. Business horizons, 52(4), 357-365.