At the Social Shake-Up in Atlanta last month, Cory Edwards, Head of Adobe’s Social Media Center of Excellence, held a fireside chat with Andrew Watts, a 20-year old University of Texas at Austin student. A year earlier, Watts had written a couple of blog posts about how teenagers use social that went viral.
At the conference, the two men discussed which networks teens prefer – SnapChat, Yik Yak, and You Tube ranked high – and how teens feel about being marketed to by brands on social networks.
While Watts’ views were insightful and entertaining, they were clearly his own opinions – “Facebook is dead to teens, he said,” – so I wanted to dig a little deeper into some of Edwards’ stats on Millennials.
Last February, Adobe conducted a poll of 1,029 U.S. marketers between the ages 18-69 to get an overarching view on their profession, including the opportunities, challenges, and changes. The survey, conducted in advance of Adobe’s Summit, was also intended to understand how generational dynamics impact the opinions and attitudes of these marketers.
A subset of data was generated by 356 millennial marketers between the ages of 18 to 34 who responded to the survey.
“There’s an awful lot of discussion focused on how do you market the Millenials, but we wanted to look at Millennials as marketers, and the opportunities and challenges they face,” says Edwards.
Some of the key findings from the survey:
Fifty-three percent of millennial marketers are concerned that their companies can’t keep up with the changes in the world of marketing
Millennials are concerned about companies keeping up with the Internet of Things and mobile and wearable technology
Millennials also reported that marketing has changed more drastically in the past year than in the previous five
“From a personal standpoint, the responses are not surprising,” says Edwards. “We are facing them ourselves.”
“However,” he continues, “even if there is concern about companies keeping up, nine out of ten millennial marketers view this as an opportunity rather than a threat.”
Edwards says that this group of young marketers want to help solve some of the challenges their companies are facing, and given their love of technology, think that they can help out by providing greater direction.
“Unlike many of us who use the same platforms and are afraid to experiment with new ones, they get bored with the tried and true, and they love to try new technology,” he explains. “After all, this is a group that grew up experiencing regular change.”
What really stood out for Edwards was the fact that 82% of the millennial respondents say that they need to reinvent themselves. He attributes this reaction to the fact that the marketers felt that their roles have changed in the last five years, and particularly during the past year.
So what’s the driving force behind these beliefs? “Social is a big part of this,” says Edward. “Marketing is moving from a very creative endeavor to a very math-driven endeavor,” he contends. “Data, and the insights from the data we gather, is driving what we do as marketers.”
In other words, he explains, “marketing is math.”
And despite the chill that statement might elicit amongst most marketers who chose the field for its creative outlet, the Millennials, nonetheless, feel optimistic about their jobs and what the future has in store for them: 2 out of 3 feel that this is the Golden Age of marketing.
“The notion that Airbnb is part of the problem, it is completely false. It is just a conjured up argument that the opposition to Airbnb and people who don’t understand the sharing economy have come up with.”
So said Ron Conway, on Monday May 4th, at TechCrunch Disrupt NY, in response to Kim-Mai Cutler’s question “how do you reconcile that with Airbnb? It seems really hard.” Conway had just explained his support for Mayor Ed Lee’s pledges to increase the stock of affordable housing in San Francisco.
This past week, as Conway (disclosure: A Pando investor) shared his views on civic engagement in New York and Ed Lee took tea with Hilary Clinton in Chinatown, there was reason to believe the ranks of that uncomprehending opposition were growing, the conjurers busy with their spells.
The loudest yell came from the Office of the City Attorney, which announced a $ 276,000 settlement Wednesday in a case against a couple who had evicted tenants from their Pacific Heights home and then listed the unit on the vacation-rental site VRBO. A similar case involving Airbnb was settled in January, to the tune of $ 115,000.
While he may not understand the sharing economy, City Attorney Dennis Herrera is at least trying to stay abreast of the microblogosphere, tweeting Wednesday:
“A settlement like this sends a strong message that there’s a steep price to pay for flouting laws that restrict short term rentals in San Francisco.”
Herrera added to that quote in a circulated statement:
Illegal conversions that push long-term tenants out of their homes diminish the availability of residential rental units for San Franciscans, and they’re a significant contributor to our housing affordability crisis.
Some people just don’t get it.
I caught similar notes of confusion when I spoke with Dennis Richards, one of San Francisco’s seven Board of Supervisors-appointed planning commissioners.
A couple weeks back, during a hearing of the Planning Commission to address proposed changes to short-term rental regulations, Richards made no secret of his consternation with the process.
Airbnb representative David Owens had testified that his company would be unduly punished if the City passed an ordinance requiring the platform to only list units which clear a City registration process. Owens argued that complying with this measure was not only technically taxing, but would put Airbnb at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis less scrupulous platforms. “I feel like I’m having an out of body experience listening to this,” Richards said at the hearing.
“I was a little pissed-off by that point,” he told me be phone Wednesday.
Fortunately for Airbnb, the balance of the Planning Commission was eventually made to understand the sharing economy, and the proposed mandatory registration was scratched from the package. “When [Commissioner Christine Johnson] changed her vote, I threw my hands up in the air and said to myself, this is going to the voters, it’s obvious,” Richards told me.
“And you know what? The ballot initiative will pass. Because the voters aren’t stupid. Even we know this is not going to work. The underlying issue here is that this administration is out of touch with the city. There is so much going on, the development, the shuttle busses, wrap it all up with a big red bow, it’s a big box of anxiety for people who live here. I don’t think the Ron Conways understand that. Ron is in a bubble.”
When will these people learn?
Richards worked for nine years at Salesforce, but apparently that immersion in the B2B software world didn’t prepare him to comprehend the sharing economy. Alas, he even refuses to call it by its proper name. “It’s not sharing, really,” he said. “Sharing is free.”
“This is a case where you have people’s private interests versus the public interest. I’m for short term renting, but you are balancing different public policy goals. Based on the data that we’ve seen, nine out of ten Airbnb hosts are operating totally acceptably. But that still leaves hundreds who aren’t. I tried to make that distinction in the hearing, and Airbnb threw its legitimate hosts under the bus. We want to go after the bad actors, and our way is to have a valid registration number in order to list on any short-term rental platform. It’s not difficult, and its not intrusive. It’s like having a license plate on your car. If someone robs a bank, it’s a lot easier to find them if you have a license plate number.”
* * * *
A glimpse of how the City’s current regulatory regime works, or rather doesn’t work, in practice:
An Airbnb listing for an apartment at 888 7th Street, a 224 unit building on the industrial fringe of the SoMa district, completed in 2008 and offering 170 below-market-rate (bmr) units and 54 at market rate. (Surprise: The BMR units went like hot-cakes, the market rate ones not so much.)
Rental of a designated below-market-rate unit on a short-term platform like Airbnb is explicitly illegal under the existing law. (Of course, all short-term rentals were technically illegal until the new law came into effect in February, which didn’t stop Airbnb from expanding rapaciously in the first place). The one-bedroom unit in question was purchased by the current owner in 2013 for $ 305,000. By law, it can be rented out at no more than $ 1,798 per month. In the Airbnb listing, it is being offered at $ 5,000/month. Renting on short-term platforms is also a violation of the rules set by 888 7th Street’s Home Owner’s Association.
All monitoring of the BMR program is done by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, who has yet to respond to my questions. A certain percentage of any new development in San Francisco must be offered at an affordable rate determined by the Mayor’s office. Mayor Lee has vowed that over half of the 30,000 new units to be built by 2020 will be offered below-market rate, a plan that Conway praised from the TechCrunch stage.
Airbnb has known about this situation since at least December, and yet the unit remains listed on the site. The latest review was posted this month.
In late December, Jennifer Fieber of the San Francisco Tenants Union got a tip about a BMR unit in the building. Fieber first contacted Airbnb’s Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy Chip Conley with this information, writing that she hoped Airbnb would simply delist the unit, in order that the host could avoid penalties or legal action. Her note was passed on to David Owen who on Jan. 16 responded:
Date: January 16, 2015 at 2:14:09 PM PST
Dear Ms. Fieber,
Thank you for reaching out to Airbnb to share your concerns about a listing in San Francisco. I apologize for the delay in getting back to you.
While Airbnb can’t mediate disputes between third parties, we take any feedback we receive seriously. When we receive inquiries or comments from members of the community about a listing, we pass them on directly to the appropriate hosts and we’ve done so in the case you have identified. We’ve heard from countless San Franciscans who depend on Airbnb to pay their bills and stay in their homes and share your commitment to making this city an even better place to call home.Thank you for reaching out and please don’t hesitate to contact me again in the future if you’d like to discuss this or any other matter.Best, David
A copy of the deed obtained by Pando verifies that the man listing the apartment on Airbnb — a “morning time currency trader, day time auditor for Healthcare Company, and night-time restaurant owner” according to his profile — bought the unit through the Mayor’s BMR program.
When I asked Airbnb if they were aware of this situation, and whether they had a compliance policy for dealing with these types of violation, I got only this nugget:
“We ask all hosts to follow their local laws and regulations.”
My follow up question to Airbnb — “What if they don’t?” — went unanswered.
In other words, it’s not Airbnb’s problem. And under the current rules, which Airbnb helped to write, that’s probably true. All liability for violations falls on the shoulders of hosts, and all enforcement duty lies with the City, which has said it lacks adequate tools to enforce the law. In the meantime, Airbnb continues to take their cut of the rental fees from a unit they know is being rented illegally and to lobby heavily in City Hall against providing the City a way to identify and prosecute such violations.
Currently, the City has little way to determine the extent of any particular host’s short-term renting. In this case that shouldn’t matter, since the BMR prohibition is straight forward and unqualified. Last month, the Planning Department proposed that all tenants and homeowners using short-term rental platforms be required to register their unit with the City. Units like that at 888 7th Street would not pass muster and would not be issued a registration number.
As it stands, the package of amendments to the current law, which will next appear on May 18 before the Land Use Committee of the Board of Supervisors, will not make registration mandatory. Nor will it compel Airbnb and other platforms to share hosts’ addresses and the duration of their rentals with the City. And it retains the current situation wherein all enforcement action must past through the Planning Department and the Office of the City Attorney, which has already proven to be a substantial bottleneck. Even if the amendments pass, Airbnb could continue to profit off of illegal uses of the City’s below-market-rate housing with impunity, in broad daylight, until the City can muster up a case. If that happens, Airbnb can delist the apartment, wash its hands of the whole affair and leave the host responsible for any penalties.
Successful civil actions will only be able to recover attorney’s fees, creating a further difficulty in finding a lawyer to take such a case.
One attorney who has nonetheless pursued such actions is Joe Tobener, who represents the San Francisco Tenants’ Union. On April 22nd Tobener sent a formal “request for notice of violation” at 888 7th Street to the Planning Department. He is not optimistic about the result.
“We have filed 6 notices of violation on behalf of the Tenants Union, and not a single request has been granted. To my knowledge, not a single notice of violation has been issued since the law came into effect.”
The Planning Department responded to my inquiries about the 888 7th Street apartment with the following:
A complaint was filed for “Unlawfully allowing short-term rentals through the website Airbnb in a Below Market Rate Condominium purchased from the Mayor’s Office of Housing” and is currently under investigation.
You might say I’m being overly hostile. So what if the owner of a below-market-rate apartment lets it out here and there to help make the rent, which at $ 1800/month is still not exactly cheap? Should that be against the law? While I can sympathize with that, the fact remains that this is against a law which, as a San Francisco voter, I had little say in the details of, indeed much less say than did Airbnb.
Of course, as a private company with a lot to lose from encumbering legislation, Airbnb is only playing its proper role and pursuing the best possible outcome for its bottom-line. It clearly believes the role of government, at least in this case, is to get out of the way. By a reliable majority, the city’s elected representatives agree.
This could be taken for proof of Conway’s statement that Airbnb is not part of the housing problem. Since Airbnb doesn’t share data about violations, and private parties are barred from bringing civil actions against violators directly to court, only cases vetted by the Planning Department can serve to confirm that violations are taking place. This keeps the numbers artificially low, as a matter of process. Only reported violations receive consideration, and only those that have passed muster with Planning will see their day in court.
I’m still not sure that I understand the sharing economy, or whether Airbnb is contributing to San Francisco’s housing problems. But with approximately 5,000 listings in San Francisco on Airbnb alone, it’s undeniable that “homesharing” plays some part in the city’s fiery hot housing picture, providing a means to actualize, with little oversight, incentives arising from the mix of limited housing supply, soaring market-rate rents and substantial rent-control protections. The desire to know more than that runs abruptly into an epistemological wall. We’ll just have to take the company’s word for it.
Later in Mr. Conway’s appearance at Disrupt NY, he hinted at a possible solution to this tangle of knowing.
And Airbnb has been disclosing….just in the last week they disclosed a whole bunch of new anonymized data about their impact in the market.
I got on the electronic horn last week to find what I could of this data. Press people for Ron Conway and Airbnb both responded first that they didn’t know what data Conway was referring to, then followed up with an April 19th letter from David Owens to San Francisco business owners, detailing the findings of a study commissioned by Airbnb. That letter concludes:
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people stay in Airbnb properties across the city. For these guests, San Francisco becomes a special place for two reasons: the warm hospitality they find in their San Franciscan hosts and the delicious meals, unique experiences, and vital services they discover at your businesses. San Francisco’s small businesses are the backbone of this community. We’re proud Airbnb’s community is helping businesses like yours and making this city a little more affordable for thousands of residents, and countless more visitors – many of whom would not have come without an affordable, local travel option.
The only mention of the housing market is to say that Airbnb helps hosts to afford the city’s high rents (which it surely does, in many cases.) There is no data here concerning the number of evicted units being rented, the number of BMR units on offer, the total rental stock displaced by short-terming, the percentage of units being listed in violation of lease agreements, the number of tenants who have been removed after landlords discover such a breach. Apparently some things aren’t worth sharing.