Is Social Media Catalyzing an Offline Sharing Economy?

Shareable Magazine and Latitude Research's The New Sharing Economy study released today indicates that online sharing does indeed seem to encourage people to share offline resources such as cars and bikes, largely because they are learning to trust each other online. And they're not just sharing to save money - an equal number of people say they share to make the world a better place.

The research was prompted by a recent surge in sharing startups driven by social technology, a generational shift, and new consumption patterns brought on by economic and environmental crisis. Two new books, What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption and The Mesh, argue that this trend is part of a fundamental shift from an ownership to an access economy. They document the rapid growth of the sector and its reach into an increasing number categories of shared use including office space, travel accommodations, textbooks, kids clothes, parking spaces, garden plotsprivate planes, camera lenses, luxury handbags, boats, household items, and more.

These new services offer citizens use of an asset without the burden of ownership. With a sharing economy comes the promise of cost savings, stronger communities, environmental conservation, broader access to resources, and higher quality products made for sharing. Sharing addresses many problems at once - an appropriate solution for an era of interconnected crises. 

Latitude and Shareable's The New Sharing Economy is an early if not the first survey of changing attitudes and behaviors driving this trend. There are a number of helpful findings for sharing entrepreneurs including:

  • Sharing online content is a good predictor that someone is likely to share offline too. 78% of participants felt that experiences they've had interacting with people online have made them more open to the idea of sharing with strangers. In fact, every study participant who shared content online also shared various things offline. Sharing entrepreneurs are already taking advantage of this by seeding their services in contextually relevant online communities. For instance, online kids clothing exchange thredUP build relationships with prominent mommy bloggers to speed their launch.
  • 75% of participants predicted that their offline sharing will increase in the next 5 years. While fast growing, this new sector has lots of unmet demand. More than half of all participants either shared vehicles casually or expressed interest in doing so. Similarly, 62% of participants either share household items casually or expressed interest in doing so. There's also high interest in sharing of physical spaces for travel, storage, and work - even with complete strangers.
  • The most popular perceived benefits of sharing (67% each) were “saving money” and being “good for society,” echoing the “me+we” mentality popular amongst Millennials and offering insight on how to brand sharing services. People increasingly expect that saving money needn’t come at the expense of doing good, so gravitate to solutions like sharing that enable them to do both. In addition, two thirds of participants said they were more likely to share their belongings if they could make money from it. Brands should align with this "doing well by doing good" world view.
  • Car sharers share across significantly more categories than non-car sharers – 11 versus 8 categories. Ironically, the very thing that catalyzed consumer culture may be the vehicle into the sharing economy. Carsharing preceded the recent surge in sharing startups, and apparently car sharers are leading the behavior shift into a sharing economy. The finding suggests that once someone tries a sharing service they're more likely to begin sharing in other areas of their life. With this in mind, sharing enterprises would do well to seek partnerships with carsharing and like services, seek out users of other sharing services as new customers, and begin offering other items to share once established in a category.

These and other findings are covered more fully in the below report. The survey of over 500 web users was designed to uncover actionable insight to help sharing entrepreneurs grow their social enterprises. Latitude and Shareable will be sharing more about the study in three more posts over the next week or so. Stay tuned. 

The New Sharing Economy

This one of four posts on our study:

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