I recently ended up with a flight out to Frankfurt – and one back from Florence – without one in between. Before I knew it I had a meeting in Vienna and with that I decided to revisit an earlier form of the sharing economy: the humble hitchhike.
As I travelled, and reliant on the goodwill of fellow Europeans, I thought some of the insights would be useful for the IABC Executive Committee, which is meeting in San Francisco this week. Our focus will be on prioritising the work underway on the #IABC1417 strategy – as well as the #IABCieb business as usual.
And I would like to share here too – often the best insights come from unexpected corners, so I am encouraging you to heckle.
In this week’s Weekly Venn I dig into how the ‘gig’; ‘sharing’ and more ‘traditional’ economies intersect, and in this post I’ll be looking at just one of the circles: the so called #sharingeconomy and what it means (in my view) for IABC.
Why am I focusing in on this one over the others? Because the ethos aligns strongly with our purpose as an organisation.
Context for the trip
When I am not busy doing IABC stuff, giving talks or facilitating purpose-driven groups; one of the things I do is to help organisations with their communications strategy, business models – and getting their governance structure right.
I have for some years been member of a network of physical spaces that go under the name Impact Hub. They’re focused on start-ups with a social change imperative and are located all over the world – including 3 out of 4 of the cities I visited last week. They’re the perfect place to run workshops like this and meet a type of client I particularly enjoy working with.
I also wanted to get a fresh perspective on some of our enduring challenges as an association (technology) and a short term one (the IABC HQ lease runs out at the end of the year and we’re exploring new ways of working as we work towards the move).
What does hitchhiking have to do with comms?
Three #sharingeconomy insights & implications
1. Platforms have expanded beyond all expectation
You might have heard of the phenomenal growth of Airbnb. From niche to mainstream seven short years. Unlike a traditional hotel chain, it owns no rooms, yet claims to bring greater economic benefit to neighbourhoods than traditional operators.
Incidentally, the first website I used to offer up a spare room (or indeed borrow one for the night) is still around now some fourteen years later. Back then I hosted people from Asia, Africa, America, Australia – and of course Europe (and I was in turn hosted across all of those). It was entirely without charge.
Whilst I never had a single negative experience using the completely free approach, it is a lot easier to explain to people the premise of Airbnb. And I have to admit that their website is a lot cooler thanks to the resources they’re able to throw at it.
In similar arena – that of transport – people who would probably never have stuck their thumb out and hoped for the best are trying services like Bla Bla Car to get from A to B as I did last week. It is effectively app-enabled hitchhiking.
Office space, where and how you stay, and the transport you use in-between – have all evolved massively.
2. Social proof is the key differentiator in the sharing economy
People trust Airbnb, Bla Bla Car and a number of the other leading platforms out there because they all integrate an element of social proof. The fact that you share experiences and see how we’re all connected gives an extra level of assurance. These platforms have invested big in this – and for a few of them it is really paying off.
…which leads to a perhaps counterintuitive insight:
3. Don’t underestimate the power of the analogue
Even in our hyperconnected world we should not forget that the analogue often works just as well. A practical example are these two simple boards from one of the coworking places I spent time at on the trip:
They work because of the shared – and sharing – culture.
Three corresponding implications for associations in general – and IABC in particular
A. The sharing economy is not new and the Cluetrain Manifesto from 1999 is still as topical (and provocative to some) as ever. It is time to re-read it and make sure we’re not getting stuck in outmoded ways of operating. I welcome your comments.
Meanwhile, one thing is certain: the demands put on our technology infrastructure at IABC will only increase. We will need to continue to invest aggressively to overcome years of underinvestment.
B. ‘Associating’ is one of the purest forms of social proof – and whilst competition for attention might be stronger than ever and there are more free resources coming online every day, we shouldn’t be timid: we provide an essential glue that helps bind people together thanks to our strong, sharing culture.
But I will always know that if it is an IABC event I will not only have a warm welcome (because IABCers are like that) – it’ll also be useful professionally: network extended; insights shared; skills gained; referrals earned.
C. Whilst we must continue to invest aggressively in the underlying technology that keeps our organisation current and dynamic, we must also remember to temper our desires. It is easy to get distracted or lose focus. Technology is the area that can most easily kill an organisation if it isn’t tied to core purpose, competence and clear direction. IABC went through a near-death experience some 15-or-so years ago due to over-ambition. We have also recently experienced some significant technical discomfort due to underinvestment – at a much more basic level. I reported on this at this year’s AGM.
In conclusion, whilst we continue to uprate our core technology infrastructure, I do wonder what we might learn through the use of a simple paper-and-pen approach at local events as well as our global conferences for part of the drive to connect people.
If you’ve tried it, I’d love to hear from you.
I am also interested in any other ideas you have for IABC to further embrace the sharing economy as a way to build our diverse community, strengthen the global profession – and of course #createconnection like never before. Whether in Frankfurt, Florence or indeed San Francisco or any other number of places where communicators can be found around the world.
P.S. If, incidentally, you wonder where all the hitchhikers have gone, then the good people at Freakonomics have part of the broader answer beyond Bla Bla Car.