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The Power of Mass Opinion and the New Share Economy

Sabrina Tharani |

A recent trip to Turkey put me in a trying situation: among hundreds of kebab stands and sweet baklava vendors, I had to decide if my craving to eat local outweighed the risk that comes with eating strange street food. Instinctively I walked away, but just 10 feet down, another small Turkish stand held the answer to my problem—a sign for Best of TripAdvisor 2012.

I’m not usually an easily convinced consumer, but the blatant and familiar endorsement by strangers who had faced a similar traveler’s dilemma ultimately earned my trust and my purchase.

Back home, I realized my actions were not just a result of my uncertainty while traveling abroad, but part of a greater emerging trend: the rise of the share economy resulting from the growing power of mass opinion. People have started to share beyond the well-known social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and opened up their living spaces, cars and opinions for mass consumption.

Online, we all know the Facebook personality who shares one too many pictures of her dog, the Instagrammer who seems to eat 10 gourmet meals a day or the Tweeter who has an opinion on all things Obama. Perhaps they share to connect and engage with the people they know—or perhaps it’s because the world listens.  Aggregated Twitter trends and hashtags have become not only a savvy marketing tool, but a read of the market climate. Several companies have even started, whose mission is to track the social noise they hear online and derive trends.

Sharing is not only common in a social context, but has also become a significant factor in consumer’s purchase decisions. A recent Google study found that nearly eight in 10 consumers research a product online before making a purchase, and  MasterCard survey data reveals that 33 percent of consumers will go out of their way to tell other people about products and services they really like. Not unlike my use of the TripAdvisor sign, the blogs you regularly read for news, recipes and financial advice serve as an unofficial endorsement of and trust in other people’s opinions.

In a purchase context, sharing takes an entirely different form—the interconnection of consumers now includes  finding roommates for living spaces, vacation housing, cars and clothes. Innovative companies like Airbnb or Lyft, circumvent traditional models and allow everyone to be both a producer and consumer. This so called “peer marketplace,” valued at $26 billion, has created a culture in which people are programmed to borrow, rent and share, both online and off.

In the share economy it seems signifiers of trust and quality may now include sticker endorsements on a small street vendor’s cart.

By the way – that TripAdvisor sign led me to the best Baklava I’ve ever had.

Topics: Payments Strategy

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