Part two of Rachel Botsman's blog on building successful Collaborative Consumption platforms. The first blog, Critical mass and scale, can be read here.
Design and user experience are absolutely critical in building a successful and distinctive Collaborative Consumption platform and strong community of early-ambassadors, yet it is often overlooked in favour of optimum functionality or speed-to-market.
Here are my key takeaways (and insights shared by Jonathan Simmons from www.publiczone.co.uk on the topic) in figuring out what users want, and designing the right experience around it:
- Figure out what users really want: What role will it play in their lives? How do you want them to talk about it? What is the value and values you deliver? People will often say one thing but want something else. So...
- Listen, watch, adapt: Simply watch people using your product and service in their normal environments (i.e. outside of your office). Continue to get feedback formally, informally and frequently, but be sure to tell and show your users how you have acted on their suggestions.
- Focus on your 'minimum viable product' to test basic ideas - determine the least you could do to have a working model but not spend time working on unnecessary features. Check out 'The Lean Startup' for more on this process.
- Do one thing really well when you are testing your initial product. Even something as simple as creating an easy sign-up process or delivering something unexpected like a personalized note to users will get people talking.
- "100 people that love you are more powerful than 1000 who like you." believes Joe Gebbia a co-founder of Airbnb. I could not agree more. If you want evangelists that love you, don't make decisions or assume you know what they want. Ask and involve them in the process!
- Use your own idea! Sounds so basic but the number of teams that stop using their own idea is frightening. It's one of the best feedback loops available on what is and is not working.
Case study: Airbnb founders, Brian, Nate and Joe, spent a lot of time in the early days staying with hosts to understand what they liked and disliked about the service. One of the key insights they uncovered was that people wanted their spaces to look really good on the site but that taking photos was often not their forte. The insight led to the company introducing free professional photography which immediately improved booking rates. The quality of images has also become integral to their user experience - their site feels like flicking through a beautiful travel magazine.
Without a doubt, the number one question I am asked is,"what is the most important ingredient in making Collaborative Consumption work? It all comes down to trust. There are actually three levels of trust organizations need to build.
1. Trust in the idea itself: Many Collaborative Consumption ideas are new to people and often require a change in behaviour. Figuring out how to lower the perceived 'risk' and transparently dealing with people's fears is critical.
2. Trust in the organization. Peer-to-peer marketplaces typically enable exchanges directly between parties but the trust of the middleman still matters. Users need a clear understanding of the service you offer and what you will do if things go wrong. As an organisation, be upfront and transparent about the all the "what happens if?" scenarios and deal with incidents proactively.
3. Trust between users: One of the key reasons why Collaborative Consumption is taking off now is because social, mobile and location based technologies create the social glue for exchanges to take place between relative strangers. Here are a few things to consider when addressing peer-trust:
- Unforgivable behavior: Identify the single most important good behavior (your 'golden rule') that the safety and quality of your community depends on.
- Signal: If you are designing a reputation system, people need to be crystal clear on what they are rating. Identify the main behavior you want users to be able to share, e.g. like/dislike; satisfied/dissatisfied; trust/distrust; reliable/unreliable, etc.
- Mirror reality: The ultimate goal of your system is to virtually replicate the trust we form face to face. Mirror the questions and dynamics we use in physical reality (Check out the way Couchsurfing asks their profile questions.)
- People like me: We like to know, and tend to value, what our friends and people like us think of other people. Integrate "inner-circle" vouching mechanisms into your reputation system.
- Tap into social networks: Related to the above, integrate existing social networks - Facebook Connect, Linked In, Twitter - so that people can easily find users they already have a connection with.
- Reputation history: Ensure it is worthwhile for users to build their reputation over time. Make their most recent actions at the forefront of their profile and inject healthy competition in terms of how they fare against their peers.
Case study: Whipcar
In 2008, when neighbour-to-neighbour car sharing leader Whipcar first came up with the idea for their venture, the initial reaction was similar to something I hear often "that's a crazy idea!" What happens if someone crashes my car? What happens if they steal it? After extensive user research founders Vinay and Tom realized that the most important piece of reputation information for users was "would drivers would rent from this owner again?" and the flipside "would owners rent their car to this borrower again?" so they designed their rating system around this golden rule. To increase trust in the idea and Whipcar the company, they also created of a custom insurance policy for members with Lloyds TSB, an established brand that lent them credibility.