by Gary Schirmacher | July 3, 2017

Gary Schirmacher, CMPIt wasn't too long ago that the sharing economy was simply two neighbors borrowing something from each other that one had and the other needed. Both benefited from the exchange.

Fast forward to the present, where companies like Uber, Airbnb and more have stormed the markets by taking that same concept and monetizing it. Thus, the "sharing economy" was born.

Over the past few years, I have been pushing those in our industry to use this concept that works for so many companies across various industries. I continue to educate people about the emergence of companies that are touching events regarding the sharing economy, to help them understand how each of them are benefiting.

Each time I present on this topic, there is a slide with images of all the companies that represent the shared economy, and each time I do it, I add more and more companies. The first time I did this presentation, there was a fourth of what is in the slide now. This should be a major wake-up call to everyone in our industry.

Meetings and events and the sharing economy
While forming partnerships with sharing economy companies can be beneficial, I firmly believe our greatest opportunities will come from forming partnerships with key players in the meetings and events industry.

Very few companies have used this model so far. How can we find ways to activate the sharing-economy drivers like technology, cost savings and genuine, social interaction?

The reality is that most organizations don't know or understand the assets they possess or how they can be shared. Determining what their event assets are can also be a difficult concept for many organizers to get their heads around. Some examples of what this could look like include:

A hotel in a major city installs a new in-house laundry facility. With this new facility, they have the opportunity to offer it up at a reduced price to other hotels in the area that don't have one. Other hotels now have a less expensive option for laundry services, and the hotel with the facility is bringing in additional revenue.

Caterers can offer multiple events a discount if different organizers at the same venue select the "lunch of the day," rather than having them choose completely different meals. Each event will get a discounted rate on meals, while the caterer saves time and money by only preparing one specific entrée, instead of several at one time.

Events even can share content. For instance, a speaker is signed up for one event at a certain venue, and that event could find another one taking place nearby that could use the same speaker, working out a combined and less expensive rate. Session tracks also could be monetized and shared between event organizers or organizations.

The first part of leveraging the sharing economy is knowing what you have. Once inventory is taken, organizers can seek out opportunities as a "sharer" or how their event could benefit as a "sharee."

Gauging interest
During a presentation at IMEX, I used Slido to capture audience feedback throughout. It's a quick and easy method of adding to the perspectives being presented. Interestingly, even though 80 percent of the audience thought sharing could help them boost event ROI, most of them didn't believe a technology was in place to promote the sharing of events. I would agree with that assessment.

While there may not be many options available currently, there are a few companies that bring this idea to life. Show Slice, for example, is a U.K. company whose system is making great strides to increase the sharing of equipment and labor for A/V and production.

A matter of trust
Here's another piece of audience feedback I found intriguing: Even though a majority of the audience believed the sharing economy would be beneficial within the industry, 40 percent said they wouldn't be willing to share with other event professionals! I think a lot of that comes down to a lack of trust, an element that is critical to the success of sharing-economy companies.

"If the future is a peer-to-peer marketplace, it will require increasingly reliable, innovative ways to identify those peers," Stephen Ufford, founder of Trulioo, a global identification company, wrotes in his article, "The Future of the Sharing Economy Depends on Trust." He continued: "Making sure this emerging economy has high standards and strong values will allow it to continue to expand."

Just like someone who wants a ride needs to trust that their driver has the right intentions, we need to trust that other companies -- even if they might be direct competitors -- can work with us for mutual gain.

No matter what factors cause organizations to hesitate on adopting this concept, we are looking at the future of doing business. The philosophy of the sharing economy is sound, and it works.

In the end, every organization needs to realize one thing: The sharing economy is here to stay.

Gary Schirmacher, CMP, is senior vice president, industry presence & strategic development, at Experient, a Maritz Global Events Company. To hear more of Gary's insights into meetings and the sharing economy, sign up for M&C's webcast, "Airbnb and Beyond, What the Sharing Economy Meanst to Meetings.