Since I wrote part one and two many of you have reached out, to either thank me for sharing my thoughts and/or to tell me that they have a similar point of view and therefore they agree or somewhat comprehend the extent of the issue in online communities in general and specially in ASICS FrontRunner community. If you haven’t yet read part 1 and 2 i highly recommend you to read them first before you dive into this one so you can get the full context of the case.
In the last two blogs I mentioned topics like social interaction, authenticity, transparency, support, intentions and creativity and how it is directly correlated to my decision about leaving the team. I have made decisions before, both bad ones and good ones, impulsive ones and wise ones, emotional ones and calm ones… No matter what the circumstances are, I always trust my inner instincts, but this time I really pushed against my gut reaction, for many reasons. I really didn’t wanna make a swift decision here but there were some elements that made it unhealthy for me to continue, i mean it really comes down to these factors: Geographical, economical and organizational key factors.
The balance between online interactions and face-to-face interactions.
You cannot maintain a community with only one scheduled meet-up/year. You have a race schedule and a possibility to meet up there, but I will elaborate more on that topic in the economical factor section. So, you only have one team-meeting per year, and beyond that the matter is resting on the initiative that the team members take to set up events and get together meetups. That works great if you have members that live near each other or in a big city, but for the rest living in the outskirts or in rural areas it is really a logistical and geographical problem to try and stay in contact. Is it a generalization? maybe, and I guess some countries do it better than the Nordics does? I was a very active team member and I only got the chance to meet a very little number of the 700 members.
So the sense of community is a little bit misleading. Yes, when we meet it's great and it feels very relevant, but in my opinion it is not enough, because online interactions tend to give a false sense of belonging to something that does not often translate into reality, and does not necessarily provide the support and motivation required to push through the tough times in running or in real life. The community's purpose is to offer a support system to help each other succeed, and this cannot be achieved through social media alone. Take the example of an actual running club, where you get coaching, support, social life, build strong relationships and a sense of camaraderie that may not be possible in an online community. The key difference between an online running community and a running club is the significant accountability towards each other.
So for me personally it became evident that the investment given into the social interactions online didn’t give back the expected outcome of the marketed strong community. The only time I really felt a strong sense of connection is when we meet up or we race together and that happens very occasionally, at least for me. Some people will not agree with me, especially members that are in almost every event, every race, every campaign but for the majority of the team many months or years will pass by before they get the chance to join in on planned events, sometimes they never do! The reasons for this are different and vary from case to another but there is a red thread that I have observed is that you have to be distinct, attract attention and stand out from the crowd. How you gain that attention is a big debate for itself, but I consider some of the attributes are either you have a story, have a big presence on social media, are talented content creators or you are willing to spend a lot of money to take part in those events.
So let's be open minded and admit that if you fit in one of those categories then there is a big probability you will get featured, otherwise you are just a number. So it is not a one way relationship, and you have to offer some kind of value for the community to get the benefits of the community. For a community that is subsidized by a big brand, they also demand value in return. So, therefore it is an economical factor and if it is economical, then let's talk business.
You think economics in an online running community isn't a factor? Think again!
Engaging the ASICS FrontRunner community is important for both the members and the ASICS brand. The community provides valuable feedback on products, helps to build brand loyalty, provides a marketing opportunity through social media, and can lead to increased sales for ASICS. By investing in the ASICS FrontRunner community and engaging its members, ASICS can continue to build a community of runners while also benefiting its bottom line.
So as members we receive products to test and review. The standard is that we get a couple of shoes per year as an own choice and a seasonal running apparel. We are required to write a few blogs a year and review everything on the ASICS website in return. Some members get featured with extra items if they have a special niche, for example trail runners or track athletes, while other members that have a bigger presence on social media get extra kits to promote.
So yet again it's not equal for everybody. Hence I have already addressed the topic of marketing, reach and engagement. I want to show you that all is connected to what type of value you offer rather than getting appreciated for what value you have as an engaging member.
What's the focus? Community or marketing? You judge.
So back to the community part and let's talk about national and international events. There are some different events, ones are hosted by ASICS the brand and others hosted by the FrontRunner community. For ASICS the brand it might be a launching of a new shoes campaign or a race event sponsored by ASICS which they invite pro athletes and sometimes a couple of the more established runners in the FR community. But for the average FrontRunner you sign up for a race calendar and you get a free bib, sometimes the event itself includes other opportunities, but mainly it's only a bib and regarding the logistical stuff of the event you should fix them yourself. For me I don't have the economical substructure to sign up for races abroad that costs a significant amount of money to able to attend, including tickets, accommodation and other logistical costs. There are a few members that have economical advantages that allow them to sign up for many races and therefore reap the true benefit of a meeting and share real physical interactions. Yet again, some of the runners get the opportunity of getting invited to various events, fully covered! Why? I don’t really know (or do i?) So it is not equal here either. I’ve heard that there is some kind of a ASICS caregiver program to help out when the economy is a barrier but I'm yet to know how it works or what are the requirements for the application.
So how can i enjoy the actual physical community without having to stress about economics. I can either hope I get invited to some of these events, or I can choose to work at these events, which I thankfully did to some extent as a content creator or a model and therefore managed to be part of the community in that way.
Still here? That's great, thank you for reading this far.
During my time as a FrontRunner I have observed a lot of structural frailty in the organization and there is a lot to be done regarding trust, transparency and equality of outcome. Didn’t reflect as much in the beginning because everything was new and fun but I always knew the problems existed. A lot of well established members of the organization and frontrunners left the team during my time, but everytime it seems that the issues were not addressed promptly and effectively.
With the recent structural changes in the Nordic countries and with the change of the community manager it became very clear to me that the focus shifted more towards what was expected of us as ambassadors instead of focusing on the inspiring and motivating message of the community and how the future vision is going to build a stronger connections. Taking that into consideration I've come to the conclusion that my time invested in the team is not giving back the right value or appreciation, therefore the thought of putting my effort and creativity in growing my own brand and building authentic interactions outside the realm of the ASICS FrontRunner community felt more appealing and right!
The application phase to be an ASICS FrontRunner is now open for new members to apply and I see on my instagram feed that members are asked to share their memories from the past years. I really think it's a great opportunity to access a supportive fun network of runners, share the running journey and inspire others for movement or to get a discount and access to the latest running technology from ASICS. But if you check one of these options my advice to you is don’t apply:
If you are a well established running expert with a large social media presence and following, you will do great on your own, brands need you! Know your worth!
If you are a creative content creator with expertise in social media! You will do great on your own, brands need you! Know your worth!
If you are an advanced runner who is looking to take the next step of being a professional athlete then you need to collaborate directly with a brand, not through a program! Know your worth!
Part 1, 2 and 3 was all about addressing the elephant in the room, even though I have accepted the idea that at this stage I might be perceived as negative and unappreciative for some, I have tried to reach out to deliver my sincere opinion to the right channels. They weren't taken into consideration.
I've come to the conclusion that the best way to do it is to acknowledge those issues openly.
Part 4 is going to solely be about presenting solutions to the issues, from my point of view of course, you may like it or you don't, remains to be seen!
Plus I will present a couple of suggestions and fun ideas to build an upwards and onwards momentum for all adventure lovers. Stay tuned! BIG NEWS!
As always thank you for reading all the way down here!
My words are intended to give you information and a personal perspective to make you reflect, that's all.
All love // M