In 2010, I was interning at Latitude, a research consulting firm specializing in media and technology. This company, extremely curious and knowledge driven, created and published its own studies focused on innovation. When I arrived at the company, it had just completed a study on the sharing economy, then a fairly new idea. I was absolutely fascinated by this study which stated the following:
• Social media and sharing online builds trust, encouraging offline sharing.
• The internet is now being used to connect people to items.
• People are focusing on access over ownership.
• The internet is giving people a new way to exercise sharing behavior.
Latitude gave the examples of Zipcar, Netflix, and Craigslist as companies that were bringing this sharing economy to life. The study predicted that the sharing economy would become a booming industry within the next five years. (Latitude’s The New Sharing Economy Study – http://latdsurvey.net/pdf/Sharing.pdf)
In a matter of four short years, the sharing economy has grown significantly. In 2010, with the exception of Craigslist, people using sharing sites were relying heavily on the company. Netflix and Zipcar provided and maintained the assets shared. Trust in the company was still at the forefront of consumers’ minds.
We are now seeing companies like Airbnb and TaskRabbit. Instead of providing products and services, the facilitation of sharing is the new company goal. These companies work to connect people and create value for both lenders and borrowers. This creates a huge shift in how the companies must operate. Trust, relationships, and good experiences strongly influence the customers’ perceptions of the brand and these key factors are no longer solely in the hands of the company. They are in the hands of the lenders and borrowers who perform, experience, review, and report on the actual interactions.
As Latitude discovered, social media is integral in this shift. Social media was responsible for establishing sharing as a viable industry. It got people comfortable with interacting with and trusting others online. Once this trust was established, social media users were more willing to share offline. This paved the way for an entirely new industry.
Now the role of social media has changed. Social media in the form of lender and borrower pages, online interactions, and reviews is now a key business function that increases interactions, propels business, and raises many new challenges. For example, how do you ensure they are offering quality up to the company standards?
So what does this mean? Customers are no longer just customers. They are company assets. They provide products and services, act as salespeople, and build relationships. Companies need to manage these assets as they would any other. Providing social media platforms will allow the company’s assets to share, connect, and brand build while offering the products and services that the company boasts. It will also allow companies to engage and track the people that are providing its products and services ensuring quality and consistency.