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Theory vs practice: Challenges in collaborative consumption & social media

August 24, 2013

from theory to action. Where to now for collaborative consumption?I began the pondering of social media and collaborative consumption and they influence they have on each other after being invited to speak at Social Media Women.

I’ve charted the first part of the journey with ‘Collaborative consumption, social media and community’ and now continue it by looking at the challenges both face when moving from theory into action.

Theory versus practice

Both collaborative consumption and social media are wonderful ideas that tap into our desire to create the world we want and tell the story that most align with our values. But we still live in the real world.

And we don’t always put our money where our mouth is.

How can we honestly say we are effecting change with a theory when the practice doesn’t support it? How valid is the theory if the theory doesn’t work?

Collaborative consumption in a lot of ways uses social media very, very well to reach out to a lot of people. They are brought together by a common goal and feeling of good.

But like any good social experiment, you can start with the hypothesis that everyone will really like the idea. The reality is having a startup in the collaborative consumption scene means you still need metrics that show usage, uptake and that create money.

At some point, it becomes not just theoretical love but to power the movement and commercial reality forward.

And humans are not always their values, their altruism or their thinking selves. We like the idea of organic, but don’t always buy it. We like the idea of recycling, but it takes time to get us to be good at it. We want the Sydney music scene to survive, but how many of us go to gigs to ensure it does?

This is a common problem found in all kinds of social responsibility and community based ideas. And it is a problem that collaborative consumption is definitely not immune from.

This is exactly the same with social media

Social media is lucky because the idea is to show sharing, social affirmation and likes, tweets, fans and follows- and on. But beyond the social proof we give after 6 minutes of our life is spent reading, watching or studying something, what exactly occurs at the take action level?

It may be wonderful to have 3500 likes on an Instagram post, but unless you are selling your own personality or that photo as a print, what does that actually mean?

You may have 1000 people on your Facebook page regular liking, commenting and sharing your content, but if they don’t go through to your website or book your services; can you keep justifying the work?

Having a position of authority on Twitter is wonderful in some industries, but if it isn’t translating to converting those followers into spreading the word and into actual users of your product, what does it achieve?

How useful is an idea, product or a story if people declare they like it but don’t do anything more?

There’s a fine line between selling knowledge of, and selling the actual business you run.

The same challenges, the same opportunities

Australians are incredibly cynical and really enjoy finding ways to say no to things. They commonly greet the idea of sharing a house, drill or car with concerns about theft and breakage. Sharing experiences, meals and lifts bring out talk of people doing harm to other people. People hired to do a task could do a bad job, someone transporting a box may never deliver it and maybe that exchange of labour or direct swap may not end up the way you want after all.

Because the process is person to person, people are living in fear.

The reality is we’re already putting faith and trust into other people to do the right by us every day. To cook our food, to drive the bus, to deliver the mail- to do pretty much everything we need to do. The only real difference is there are layers called business in between.

And we pay for those layers. We pay for the rent, the marketing, the extra staff who stand around bored waiting for peak time, the extra equipment that lies idle. We pay for people who do the job simply because they needed a job who may not do a good job after all. We pay for the additional transport and space.

These layers also offer us nothing more than a cookie cutter experience

If you rid yourself of the layers, you get back to the kernel of the experience. You get back to the passion and the real reasons to be engaged. If you spend time sharing time with actual people and exchanging ideas as opposed to building something and hoping people turn up to use it, that’s when you get the magic.

You get exposed to someone else’s love of an idea.

And again, that is exactly the same as social media.

Beyond the use short links, include your keywords, ask a question, make sure you write an intro of you send other people’s content, oh wait- don’t do that because you’ll sound like an industry dick, leave 20 characters but make sure you use tags and countless other “rules of social media” we need to live by, what does it matter if no one is getting to the centre of the experience? Do the rules apply if no one gets exposed to the love of your idea and simply get something that follows all the rules?

It’s pretty boring to play inside the lines all the time. After a while, you lose a sense of what’s on offer because the focus shifts to ensuring as many rules are followed.

Never forget, innovation, connection and true magic don’t happen for people who toe the line. So if collaborative consumption and social media are to be successful on a micro or macro scale, you have to be prepared to disrupt a lot of thinking, try a lot of new things, and become very fond of having nervous butterflies in your stomach as you continue to experiment.

Clearly, we’re craving connection and a return to community

You can see this in the popularity of social media, collaborative consumption, the focus on sustainability in our suburbs and towns, and countless other projects and initiatives. We’re attempting to connect with each other online and off, and we’re desperate to share those moments with each other, to leave footprints, to find people that relate to what we say or how we want to share.

I just wonder if we’ll get over our individual issues quick enough to make the most of these shifts of consciousness.

I sure hope so. How about you? 

 

 

 

 

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