Can Content Marketing Save Us From the Sharing Economy?

Wendy Kelly
Jan 08, 2016

The sharing economy is changing the face of the travel industry. Here's how to respond:

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The sharing economy is shaking up the travel industry. Hoteliers are especially vulnerable and should wake up to the inevitable change that is happening right now. 

Sharing Economy

You know that saying, "The only constant is change."? 

You should memorize it. Especially if you are in the travel business. Of course you don't like to change - no one does. But in the face of adversity, you can either adapt, leave or change the situation.

One of my favourite thinkers says it even better:

"Intelligent behaviour involves adapting to your environment, changing your environment, or selecting a better environment." - Robert Sternberg

The sharing economy is changing the face of the travel industry. If you are a hotel owner or in the transportation industry, you may have heard of feisty start ups like Air BnB or Uber. 

While there is good reason to advocate for some change in the environment - for example, Amsterdam's new addition of a "private rental" category allowing for proper oversight and taxation for people involved in Air BnB rentals - the writing on the wall says that travel firms have a huge opportunity to learn what works from these new upstarts and use it to their advantage.

Why Do People Like Air BnB?

Aside from the legal grey area that Air BnB, Uber, and others function in, travel industry professionals should take note of the solidly good reasons people like to use these services.

Of course the lower prices are attractive, and there truly isn't much a traditional hotel owner could do to take this on. But there are other things that are quite likeable and have nothing to do with price:

  • Better Accessibility
  • Flexibility
  • Ease of Use
  • Transparency
  • Interactive Communications

All of these can be tackled to some extent through content marketing in conjunction with enhanced user experience.

Take What They Do Best & Learn

If you are a client of Custom Fit Online, you are most likely ahead of the game. One thing those rascally start up do really well is social media.

According to the ITB World Travel Trends Report for 2014/15, Albert Brenner, managing director of the Düsseldorf-based Digital Transformation Group, told forum participants,

"Start-ups own the Social Media space. Travel brands would have been in the perfect position but they did not do it."

By simply revealing your awesome personality on social media (and through your blog) you can give visitors insight into who you are and why someone would want to stay with you. Don't forget, there's a trust issue when someone stays in your hotel. The more they feel like they are staying with someone they trust, the better.

Use channels to monitor activity and listen to what people are saying about you and your competitors. Answer any concerns as they come up, trying for transparency as often as possible.

I recommend actually studying how Air BnB and Uber use their social space and learn from how they operate. As I write this article, for example, Air BnB is experiencing downtime. The communication is helpful, direct, and friendly. Interestingly, the tweet letting users know that they are down has 39 "likes" - Now that is effective content marketing!

Ease of Use...

Ease of use. Comprehensive user testing can get pretty pricey. But honestly, you can do informal testing and get a sense for how people interact with your site. There's an oft-cited study from 2000 saying that 5 users is enough to diagnose 85% of problems in usability. Lots of people have some really good reasons for saying that 5 is not enough; many also defend the number.

If you're a small or medium sized business, though, I would say "Who cares?" to the exact number, though, and zero in on 5 people you can ask to use your site while you watch them use it. Okay, you won't be able to publish your results in an academic journal :) but you'll get some good information and it will only take you around an hour and a half to complete.

Okay - you'll have to ask people, potentially beg a friend or two and maybe throw in a coffee or lunch to seal the deal in some cases, but it won't be too hard. And you'll have lots of information.

You might want to compare how people interact with your site with how they interact with Air BnB or a similar site. Are there things you can learn? Are there areas that seem to confuse you users on your site that might be easy fixes? 

Staying neutral might be difficult but is super important. What can you learn from watching people use your site?

Fast is Better

I recently wrote about how speed affects usability. You should definitely make sure your site is running as fast as possible.  The speed at which a website loads greatly affects visitor perception of the brand. At best, people are annoyed and think less of you. At worst, they simply click away hurting both your reputation and your search engine rankings. And of course, that lost sale.

Specifically, there is a huge drop off after 4 seconds. When you design a website, make sure that whoever you hire understands that design is deeply embedded in performance. For a funny and well written explanation of this, please read the 2013 blog post by Brad Frost.

Accessibility & Flexibility

Now these last two I'd say you can't completely conquer with content marketing. But you can make some headway and work toward moving to a place where your visitor feels like you are bending over backward to accommodate them.

Going back to social listening: When someone @ mentions your brand, immediately reply and make note of the mention. The fact that someone is reaching out to you is huge, and you should encourage this as much as possible. The best way to positively reinforce this behaviour is to let that person know they were heard. And then strategically act on whatever needs acting on. I added the word strategically in there for those of you who would take me completely literally and begin jumping from here to Kingdom Come or Timbuktu (located in Mali, far away) to do whatever your visitor wanted from you in that moment. Don't be an idiot.

But you can show off how flexible you are and reinforce how accessible you are through your content. If something simple can be tightened up in the user experience on your site, do that. But beyond simple fixes, address the things you do right as far as accessibility goes and make sure your visitors know that you are willing and able to be flexible. Use your content to show what you are doing right and also to show that you are addressing things that need to be addressed.

I hope I've convinced you that there is lots of opportunity in this latest shake up in the travel industry. I'd love to hear from you about your experience with the new sharing economy. What works? What doesn't?

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