How PR & Communications is Different for Sharing Economy Businesses
As the sharing economy grows and breaks new ground in different corners of the world, service providers that specially cater to the sharing economy have also started emerging. RUDE Communications is the first UK based communications agency that specializes in the sharing economy or businesses with a P2P idea. Headquartered in Edinburgh, the agency was founded by Eve Laird and Elle Tucker in 2016.
Both Eve and Elle had built their careers in health-related fields: Eve was a communications and PR consultant for major pharmaceutical companies, while Elle was a journalist who covered lifestyle and health. RUDE Communications’ services cover engagement, social media, PR, and communications strategy.
Elle Tucker (left) and Eve Laird (right). Photo credit: RUDE Communications.
In this exclusive interview with Arcadier, Eve, who previously held the position of Director of Communications at www.medicines.org.uk, describes how public relations for the sharing economy is different and how to tackle obstacles commonly faced by marketplace startups.
Arcadier: RUDE’s initial focus was health tech companies. What sparked your interest in the sharing economy?
Eve: What originally sparked our interest in the sharing economy was crowdfunding. Both start-ups and product incubators within established businesses are leveraging access to a ‘crowd’ of potential backers through crowdfunding to both validate their ideas and to create a community of early adopters and product champions. And it was our outreach and engagement work within the context of this peer-to-peer finance, on platforms such as Kickstarter, that piqued our interest in the peer-to-peer transactions of the broader sharing economy.
And the rest, as they say, is history. At RUDE HQ we just love and embrace the sharing economy. At a concept level, people of course have ‘shared’ for millennia, but the scalable opportunities for people to connect and share via online platforms is an exciting, vibrant and dynamic new modus operandi, and one that we feel proud to be part of. It’s a sector we find stimulating and unrivalled in its vision of a future.
Every day we are lucky enough to work with entrepreneurs, the platform creators connecting groups of people with shared interests — from horses, tutoring expertise, homes, boats and bags, you name it. If you own it, you can ‘share’ it. And it’s not just the platforms, there’s the innovators building the services and infrastructure to support the sharing economy, from trustech and insuretech to the companies who will manage your Airbnb booking for you.
We simply love our work, because we love the work of our sharing economy clients.
Arcadier: In what ways are communications and PR for the sharing economy different from other types of e-commerce? What do Arcadier’s marketplace operators need to pay special attention to?
Eve: Fundamentally we communicate to share, to inform, to influence, to persuade. And these communication goals can be applied across many business types.
What is different for sharing economy businesses, particularly the platform providers, is that the ‘business’ takes place directly between the service provider and service user. Airbnb doesn’t own any of the properties on its platform. Uber doesn’t own any cars. BoatAffair doesn’t own any boats. And Share Our Style doesn’t own any bags. The platform is simply the facilitator of the transaction between individuals. And whilst technology may have created the opportunity for scalable sharing, people only get involved and participate if there is TRUST. TRUST between the buyer and the seller, that the experience will be a good one.
At RUDE HQ, we believe that engendering trust amongst stakeholders is a strategic imperative for platforms. From customers, clients, service providers and service users to a platform’s influencers — the journalists, bloggers, industry groups and investors — trust is an important message. We recommend that platforms consider trust as a key communication objective when developing their communication strategies.
Arcadier: What are some of the common obstacles faced by sharing economy businesses in getting their PR message out there?
Eve: Sharing economy businesses are working in often uncharted territory. It’s a brave new world. And there is so much to think about for the boot-strapped start-up. The design and build of the platform, the value proposition and customer journey, complying with new laws and regulations as governments respond to the new challenges of the sharing economy, sourcing service providers and users, engaging the community… and so much more.
Lack of resource and lack of knowledge about the media are often obstacles for sharing economy businesses in getting their message out there. Because… similarly to a platform’s community of users, working with the media to get your message out there is about building relationships too. Why would a journalist or blogger inundated with press releases every day take the time out of their busy schedule to write about a company they don’t know, don’t understand or have never met? And just because you as a platform creator think that the vision you are delivering is … game-changing, disruptive, democratizing, innovative… shared with the wrong people at the wrong time without understanding the ‘problem’ that you are solving for the readerships of the media influencers you are targeting – will see you struggle to get your message out there.
At RUDE HQ we would always recommend a highly targeted approach to a platform’s media relations. Target those media influencers (the journalists, bloggers and other commentators) who have readerships most aligned and receptive to the value proposition of your platform offering, and engage with them long before you would like them to feature a story on you.
Arcadier: For P2P marketplaces, operators have to attract two groups of users: the provider (supply) and the buyer (demand). What strategy would you implement for this?
Eve: When building a marketplace, we believe that the best place for a platform to start is with a clear understanding of the likely service user. Because knowing your potential service user – their personality, demographic, how and what media they consume, and most importantly the problem the service providers on your platform can solve for them – will enable you to identify the most relevant service providers who can fulfil that unmet need.
If a service provider is truly meeting the needs of your service user then their interests will likely be aligned. And from a brand messaging-perspective, the good news is that there will be lots of key messages that they have in common. At RUDE HQ, we recommend creating a key message document, with messages sets out by target audience – messages for service provider and messages for service users. When creating your messages, think about the benefits your platform provides for each of these groups.
The strategy for engagement – how you reach these different groups will often be quite different – simply because they will have different influencers. For example, let’s say you have a platform where you are connecting those who own horses with those who want to rent a horse or equestrian experience. To target the owners of horses (the service providers) you may consider professional organisations that perhaps hold annual conferences, shows, exhibitions and have a magazine; equestrian trade media – magazines and journals; as well as equestrian journalists and bloggers with B2B readerships, forums on social media. To target the service users you may consider a strategy to engage national pony clubs, the travel and tourism sector, as well as equestrian enthusiast groups on social media
At RUDE HQ we recommend research, research, research… research where your likely service providers and service users ‘hang out’; research the channels they are most likely to engage on (both online and offline); and research influencers whose opinions they most respect and listen to.