5 Tips to Claim Your Identity in the Sharing Economy

Anonymity is your enemy in the world of collaborative consumption. Your ability to share personal spaces and valuable possessions with strangers hinges on your ability to trust one another. Trust, however, doesn’t grow on trees: it’s earned. You earn it based on personal observations or independent proof. Anonymity hurts your ability to gather these data points and thus hurts your ability to participate in peer-to-peer markets. Toss anonymity aside in favor of identity. You, your history and attributes, are a powerful asset in the trust-based sharing economy.

Since moving to San Francisco, for example, I've participated in peer-to-peer markets like Craigslist to buy and sell items. When listing a popular item, like a used computer, how do I choose buyers from among the flood of inquiries I receive? I choose based on trust. I need to trust that the individual will not steal my property or harm me and I also need to trust that they will show up to our appointment and not flake out. How do I make these trust decisions? Based on their identity attributes! If you are like me, you probably hope you get a real name and then go straight to Google. If they have a robust LinkedIn profile that shows they work at a reputable company, I am more likely to trust them. If they have a public Twitter account with questionable content, then I am less likely to trust them. In many ways, you are your data. Having cleaner, more trusted data helps me, as a buyer, make a better decision.

Identity used to only matter in formal settings like banking and job applications. Today, however, thanks to the growth of the sharing economy and peer-to-peer markets, your identity has newfound implications for your ability to transact with other people. Identity is not a silver bullet for trust issues in collaborative consumption marketplaces, but it’s much, much better than the alternative: anonymity. Online platforms with identity mechanisms in place can blacklist delinquent users from their services. On more anonymous platforms, however, bad actors can continue to abuse the system without corrective action or accountability.

To participate in the sharing economy you need to trust strangers and they need to trust you. Use these tips to maximize the value of your identity in these peer-to-peer transactions and build trust quickly and sustainably:

1. Presentation is key

Put your best foot forward. It starts with your profile photo – do you look friendly? Is your face clearly visible? What are you doing in the photo? People sharing their personal space or valued possession with strangers only want to transact with well-behaved and responsible individuals. Your photo, and the various bits of data tied to your identity should convey that trustworthy image. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself: would I, based on the available data, trust me in this situation?

2. Aim for consistency

Your various online accounts – from your Twitter account to a personal blog – all speak to your identity online. If these accounts present widely different identities, that may raise a red flag with the people with whom you want to transact. Try to use the same profile photo across various accounts and maintain consistency in the information you present.

3. Manage your Google footprint

Some of the data points people will use to assess you may not reside in your personal accounts. This data might sit on third party pages indexed by major search engines and it’s important to understand what this data looks like in case someone decides to Google you. If there is vexing information about you out there that you can’t remove or alter, then be prepared to address this up front in your transactions.

4. You’re accountable now so act accordingly

Many collaborative consumption platforms have user review systems. You also become part of their community. If you behave badly when participating in sharing economies your actions could well come back to haunt you in the form of negative reviews, so always be on your best behavior. The collaborative consumption movement has brought user accountability to services that were previously unable to hold bad actors accountable. You’re no longer anonymous and your identity can be controlled in part by the people you interact with and their public judgments of you, so make sure to leave a good impression always.

5. Verify your identity where possible

People don’t have to take the data you present about yourself at face value, and some may in fact question it. Proving your identity online can be a tricky challenge. One way you can help is by linking your common accounts together – if you have a personal website, for example, you can list its URL in all of your various accounts (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.), proving that you are the real account holder. You can also verify your identity via independent third parties like Virtrue.

Remember – you are your data. Who you are online has real ramifications for what you can do in the real world. Transact and trust accordingly.

Adam Spector is CEO of Virtrue

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