At this point, every business under the sun seems to have harnessed peer power in some shape or form. By taking advantage of the skills and knowledge of its consumers, a business need only provide users with a vehicle of growth. Peer-2-peer (P2P) commerce is a proverbial win-win. Income floods in without a lot of investment — whilst consumers are effectively free to buy, sell and engage with one another in any way they see fit.
That being said, the model has generated plenty of criticism in recent years. P2P unicorns like Uber have come under heavy fire for their lack of accountability in relying on freelancers. Workers argue the model strips them of their rights, whilst consumers have no way of knowing the reliability of a service they’re about to purchase.
In response to these valid criticisms, businesses are already leveraging the collective power of their users in order to create a far more dynamic and democratic beast: the peer army.
Peer armies are essentially an external network of superfans that are willing to contribute their own skills or resources in order to supercharge the offerings of a brand. Yet unlike your typical, run-of-the-mill P2P model, companies that rely upon a peer army have got to focus on maintaining a reciprocal relationship with consumers. Users want to receive tangible and meaningful benefits for volunteering their time and effort.
It seems companies are finally starting to realize that.
How are Peer Armies Being Used?
The P2P revolution enabled users to become active participants rather than passive consumers. Yet a vast number of peer-driven companies have gone on to disappoint those active participants by maintaining a skewed relationship.
Users want to see a new type of positive consumerism they can actually feel good about — and that starts with the construction of a genuinely symbiotic relationship between brand and consumer. In many cases, brands are utilizing these relationships on specific campaigns or initiatives. Companies that may not necessarily be well-known for engaging loyal customers are leveraging the knowledge or skills of their superfans in order to generate innovative new services or programs.
Peers are then rewarded through the provision of money, an opportunity to do good or a simple platform with which to show off their skills. The rewards on offer will inherently differ based upon industry or circumstance. All that matters is that each individual foot soldier is treated with equal importance, and can rest assured knowing they are receiving adequate benefits or rewards for devoting time and resources to a company.
Who is Using Them?
One of the biggest peer army success stories to date has got to be P2P master Airbnb. In October 2015, the startup giant launched a program called Journeys designed to offer bespoke trips around San Francisco. As part of the deal, customers were able to snag accommodation and a range of excursions around the city. There was just one catch: the entire concept relied upon Airbnb users signing up as volunteer tour guides.
Thanks to a stellar response from the company’s well-established peer army, everybody won. The move generated sales, customers unlocked an authentic local experience and users were offered the chance to show off their knowledge of a city they adore.
The peer army model isn’t only used by trendy, new-age startups, though. In February 2016, Dutch airline giant KLM launched a similar initiative attempting to transform itself into a hospitality company by harnessing the collective power of brand superfans. Dubbed Layover with a Local, the project seeks to match travelers who are experiencing a layover in Amsterdam with city locals via a special app. KLM connects the potential friends, pays for public transport into the city and the first round of drinks. Everybody wins.
Finally, nobody knows how to leverage peer power like Amazon. Last year, the world’s top online retailer decided to drastically expand a special delivery service that relies exclusively on brand superfans. Amazon Flex allows individuals to become independent delivery drivers — even if they’ve got no connection to the company they’re delivering for. Amazon provides a platform with which users can sign up, manage and schedule deliveries. In turn, customers receive faster deliveries, whilst peers receive cash for taking on spare work.
It’s the proverbial triple-win.
How can a Small Business Create a Peer Army or Tap into an Existing One?
From the outside looking in, it may seem nigh impossible for a small business to create the same sort of peer armies that companies like Amazon or Airbnb enjoy. The truth is, this model can be applied to any company operating in any industry. It just takes some time, patience and creative thinking.
The first question any small business should bear in mind when attempting to marshal a peer army is simple: who should be included? Even before you’ve dreamed up a potential peer-powered business model or side project, you’ve got to have a firm idea of who it is you’re targeting. After taking some time to identify your company’s superfans, you may be shocked to find you’ve already got the makings of a peer army in place. You simply aren’t utilizing it properly.
To change that, you’ve got to brainstorm how your superfans can start to engage with your brand in a more meaningful way. Think about what those individuals can offer your company. In turn, what can you offer them as a reward? It could be as simple as providing a platform to help users show off their skills, regular financial compensation or discounts on existing products.
But don’t get ahead of yourself. Before encouraging superfans to enlist in your new peer army, you’ve got to ensure there are adequate resources in place so that this army can be effectively mobilized. Platforms central to engagement must be properly developed before instigating a call to action, and must be constantly maintained and monitored. Support services must be in place to address queries or discrepancies, too. That could mean hiring new community staff, developing an app or producing a dynamic landing page that will serve to marshal and manage your new peer army.
Once you’ve got all your bases covered, it’s time to join the peer army revolution.
Yet it’s worth pointing out that peer armies may not be for everyone. Although the model can certainly be adapted to any business or industry, it takes a lot of time, leadership and dedication in order to get a peer army up and running. An effective peer army is guided by authenticity and innovation that some brands simply aren’t ready to embrace. Yet in the long run, tapping into this new form of consumerism will drastically improve the long-term sustainability of your brand.
Army Photo via Shutterstock