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The reputation economy and associations

Shelly Alcorn invited me and Kiki L’Italien to talk on a Google Hangout for Association Forecast about this video of a TED talk by Rachel Botsman. I had technical difficulties and unfortunately couldn’t be in the conversation, but I at least wanted to post the two videos and see what your thoughts are on the reputation economy. [MORE in this great Forbes article.]


The basic jist is that in the new digital sharing economy, where hundreds of sites are cropping up that allow people to barter for different products and services by “matching wants with haves”, the more you can use these sites the more trust you build which then could translate to other sites, not just the one you started out with. Botsman says, related to the example of stackoverflow, a site for programmers to share expertise, that “reputation accumulated in one place has value elsewhere than just in that place.” The power of technology “builds trust between strangers” across the web. Some examples of such sites:

Airbnb (places to stay)
Buzzcar (cars)
Etsy (wares)
landshare (land)
lending club (money)
Skillshare (classes)
dogvacay (dogs)
spinlister (bikes)
taskrabbit (skills)

Here’s Shelly and Kiki discussing the video.

I have to say, the most interesting piece of this conversation to me is Kiki’s joke about meeting planners freaking out when we all start going to AirBnB to find rooms so we can get out of the scam that is the room block during conferences.  I actually see this economy as extremely liberating for us, away from those institutions (like associations) who try and corral us into paying (in time, money, or energy) for things that are much better done without them.  This reputation economy is fundamentally decentralizing.  Smart associations are those that are not trying to control the engagement activities of their members.  I love the idea of the association as marketplace where members barter for learning new skills.  Does that happen already? Sure, but not necessarily purposefully with support by the organization’s systems.

So that’s the “sharing” part. As for the reputation and trust part?  I think we trust each other (as members) far more than we’ll ever trust the association.  Am I being a Debbie Downer? maybe – but all of these exciting things are happening and I just see the old traditional association model being left in the dust.  Shelly says “members want to feel trusted and respected, want to be cared about, and if we gave them the opportunity to engage online directly… to do something that someone can comment on.” That feels very centralized to me.  I don’t think any members are waiting around for the association to do anything. They’re just getting on with building their own digital reputations, and the association’s role is just a tiny piece of that, if it’s a piece of that at all.

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(photo credit)

{ 5 comments }

Eric Lanke February 7, 2013 at 8:29 am

Here’s one association exec who’s ready to abandon the tyranny of the room block! Unfortunately, it’s hard to get a hotel’s attention if you don’t promise to pay them a lot of money.

Maddie Grant February 7, 2013 at 9:40 am

I do hear you on that one :) – the whole conference/tradeshow system is one that is designed to make everyone (organizers, exhibitors, planners, speakers and ultimately, members) locked into paying for everything. I wonder how the economy would change if everyone started to say no.

Shelly Alcorn, CAE February 7, 2013 at 11:16 am

Maddie -

Thanks for the post and I’m so sorry you couldn’t join us. One of the reasons I mentioned the idea of association conferences moving to partner with folks like Airbnb is because I believe it could potentially provide a superior experience. Getting away from a room block would be nice. It might open up first tier cities for participants with third tier budgets. Of course there are transportation concerns, how members can access activities in a timely manner, yada, yada, but hotels need to really take a look at the “room block” which may be going the way of the dinosaur. (And no, I don’t believe meetings will ever go away completely. I believe people will always want to see each other in a room although the ways in which we do that may change dramatically with hyper-local interaction augmented by virtual tools but that’s an argument for another post).

I have to push back though on the idea that associations can play no role in creating trust or in facilitating decentralized systems. Airbnb and all of those other services are centralized agents that are platforms for decentralized interaction. You don’t participate in the Airbnb system, without going to Airbnb. Trust is built with feedback from both renters (they trashed my room) and guests (the room was trashed before I got there).

Up until now, associations have relied upon what I feel is a myth which is “our members are the good guys, and nonmembers aren’t as good.” That was really ingrained in the past and in many instances still is. However, we have technological opportunities now to maybe participate in building trust around the skills our members are supposed to have. Angie’s List is a centralized system allowing for decentralized interaction. What if we gave stakeholders in our industries (not members/nonmembers but everyone) a democratic way to complete tasks, demonstrate skills, (al la TaskRabbit) and have an open and transparent way of evaluating those things in real time? Why can’t an association technology company build that into their platforms?

I don’t know if I believe in dues. I’m sure I don’t believe in the member/nonmember construct anymore even though I still slip up on occasion because it’s second nature to think in those terms. And yes, there are other centralized platforms allowing members to create online reputations in various and sundry ways. But associations shouldn’t be discouraged from seeking ways to provide centralized access to decentralized services as a way to encourage interaction, promote trust and provide fellow participants, clients, customers, consumers and/or business partners to be able to clearly see a person’s unique skill set that they use in their careers.

So, yeah…..

Systems will never go away. Associations are systems that can adapt and some of them are. I’m not writing them off yet and I never will.

Maddie Grant February 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I totally agree with you, Shelly, on the concept of centralized platforms providing space for decentralized interactions. That would be ideal – I just think that that is happening in spite of association systems, not because of them. We’ve started our Private COmmunity Management Program this week and the hot topic for week 1 was how to think about the purpose of the community as being based on member needs (“a place to find trusted experts”) and not association needs (“we need to get more members engaged”). It is very, very hard for associations to not think in terms of what THEY hypothetically provide. We keep saying all the time – it’s not about you (the association) any more.

Dave Lutz February 15, 2013 at 9:17 am

Maddie, very interesting post and discussion! I understand the room block issue better than most from my days running Experient. No question that without decent block utilization, the meeting room rental expense would be hard to swallow for many organizers. The reality is, some folks will pay a premium to be close to the action and part of the community or they’ll fend for themselves and find the best accommodations for their pocket book.

I say, help those folks!

Instead of only providing official room block options, give them links to sites like airbnb so they can do their online shopping and comparison. Couple this with communicating the advantages of staying inside the official block and what it means to the success of the event and their personal goals of participation.

Some associations take a business approach to this. 1) Encourage attendees to stay wherever they believe is best for them 2) charge a discounted registration fee (or other benefit) for those that are staying in the block and are helping contribute to discounted or free space used by everyone attending.

A strategy of incentives, good communication and a willingness to help (or point them to help) is a good combo.

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