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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
‘Gig Economy’ and ‘Sharing Economy’ are two catchphrases that have recently been in the press a lot – the first because of negative connotations and the later for more positive reasons.
Neither are new concepts, but they are increasingly being felt as forces of change. There’s a third popular term, the ‘Collaborative Economy’ which sits at the intersect.
And then you have the ‘Traditional’ setup of fixed, 9-5 employment.
Confusing right? Yes. Especially when there is change afoot. This post will hopefully shed some light on these.
The most memorable outrage against the market changing I’ve come across was at a panel discussion in 2009 at London’s Frontline Club: A set of professional photographers practically mauled the BBC’s editor of user-generated content for threatening their profession: accepting photos for news stories from the public – taken by amateurs on non-pro cameras.
Then, from the edge of the packed room, a seated lady of some considerable age and experience weighed in – bringing about complete silence: she shared her story of how she started out as a writer, reminding the assembled group that fance tools don’t equate to talent, professionalism and craftsmanship. Anybody can after all pick up a pen and start writing… It is not the typewriter that makes the professional (or indeed the camera).
A much longer term shift well beyond the semantics has been underway for quite some time – what is happening is it is hitting the mainstream. And it has implications for how communication professionals operate – and advance. In this week’s Venn we’ll look at the intersect – and I’ll be keen to hear your experiences of how you have adapted, as well as any implications you feel it has for associations such as ours.
The latter is highly topical this week as the IABC Executive Committee and our senior staff convene in San Francisco for a summit set to focus and prioritise the work underway as part of the #IABC1417 strategy.
Strategic advice on communications has been around as long as Aristotle but the way it is secured has changed over the years. Think of ten communicators in your network five years ago vs. now and I expect you’ll find that quite a few have increasingly been working ‘gigs’ at least part of the time rather than in ‘traditional’ full time employment.
An informal poll of my own network also shows that those who remain in ‘traditional’ employment increasingly supplement their project teams with ad-hoc assistance, either drawn from their own network, or through intermediaries such as VMA, Harkness Kennett and equivalents. You could call it small-scale outsourcing.
Some also turn to platforms such as guru.com (around since ’01), elance or Upwork – and you may even have visited the Crews Control exhibitor stand at World Conference – they act as an intermediary between corporates and video teams having facilitated an impressive 84,000+ shoots!
The advantage for professionals operating in this space is potentially more freedom, self-determination – and ideally higher pay. The drawback is that each needs entrepreneurial skills, in addition to their communications expertise.
Where the gig economy is about short-term transactions, usually with a financial element to them, the sharing economy is a much broader concept.
What really sets it apart is the ethos.
Whilst your Airbnb booking might not be that cheap, you do expect a less commercial experience than you might in a hotel. In other words, whilst the gig economy is at least old as the Guilds that used to govern the medieval professions, the sharing economy is as old as hitching a ride and on that note, I’ve got a Field Notes companion piece to this one based on my insight from a week working my way from Frankfurt to Florence, via Prague and Vienna – where I’ll talk more about insights from what you might call the bleeding edge of all three economies. The intersect known as the collaborative economy.
Associations sit naturally in the intersect between the ‘gig’, ‘sharing’ and the more ‘traditional’ economy.
Let’s dive into each in a bit more detail:
This is the place where standards, the career roadmap, certification etc. (as set out above) at first feel the most familiar – but they have an important role to play in the…
Through our ethos of collaboration and freely sharing experience and advice, our members advance their careers.
This happens through hundreds of local events; our big conferences (London, San Francisco, Johannesburg, Baltimore, Denver, Calgary etc. this year alone); mentoring programmes – and of course our 42,000 strong LinkedIn group.
What ties it all together and makes it work is that shared objective set of frameworks: the Global Standard, the Career Roadmap etc. and of course for our leaders, the IABC Leadership Competency Framework (you’ll quickly come across the latter if you apply for one of the current opportunities to step up and lead).
It looks like it is here to stay, and railing against it like the photographers in the story from ’09 might consign us to the fate of Kodak (who incidentally is in the news again for suppressing an invention in 1975 which could have put them in pole position for the future).
In fact, I would argue that through the diverse community that is our membership, professionals have been finding and exchanging opportunities for as long as we have been around (45 years and counting!).
We’ve been looking more at how we might best step our support here – and see the P.S. below for one thing on that front you can do right now. Meanwhile…
Please help #createconnection – share your story.
P.S. If you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the market on your onw, here’s a worthwhile workshop by one of IABC’s most highly decorated communicators – who has comprehensive across all three economies.
…and as usual, here’s a ready-made tweet for you:
— IABC (@IABC) August 15, 2015