Uber: Driving the Future

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Posted on September 30, 2016, at 3:50 p.m.
by Nicole Morgan.

It’s a busy Thursday night in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Rich Moran is fueling up his Nissan Xterra to start his shift as an Uber driver. Once his tank is full, he taps onto the Uber app to begin his night. He drives users to local bars until around 2 a.m. and in return he earns some cash.

“There have been a few exceptions, but for the most part people are super nice and it’s super easy work,” Moran said. “Everyone has a story to tell, which is something I love about it.”

Rich Moran is a student at the University of Arkansas and is one of thousands of drivers who use Uber as a flexible way to make cash.

The beginning of Uber
In 2008, the idea of Uber came about as entrepreneurs Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick had difficulty flagging down a cab in Paris. The concept came to them: Tap a button, get a ride. The ridesharing service was launched in 2010 and quickly became a popular alternative for riders in major cities like New York and San Francisco. Since then, Uber has restitched the fabric of ridesharing with its public relations techniques. From its outreach tools to its crisis management, Uber has shaken up the startup industry.

Photo from Uber asset library
Photo from Uber asset library

Uber’s outreach
As a startup business, Uber is accessible on virtually every popular social media site. Uber’s top social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. The ride-hailing startup specifically tailors its message to each platform by utilizing the site’s features and provides support through direct contact.

“Uber customer service is fast and very helpful,” Moran said. “Every issue I’ve ever had with them has been addressed and corrected essentially within the hour.”

The key to Uber’s use of social media is its way of flowing seamlessly into followers’ feeds — seeming more like a friend than a business with posts that give tips on what to do in popular cities.

However, at the end of the day, Uber’s greatest tool is one that is, ironically, not often discussed. How does Uber provide 1 million rides per day? Word of mouth. If you’ve ever been in a city and in need of a ride, there is a chance you’ve probably heard of Uber. It begins with riders discussing their experiences and encouraging friends to use the ridesharing service.

Photo from Uber asset library
Photo from Uber asset library

“Their greatest PR tool is their product. They’ve done a great job in making their service ubiquitous and letting word of mouth be their greatest PR agents,” said Kevin Allen, a contributing writer for PR Daily. “A bulk of their customers comes from friends saying ‘Oh, I’m just gonna Uber home’ and having people who haven’t heard of it at that point say ‘What’s Uber?’”

There are two scenarios in which word of mouth happens, a real-life conversation and online through “earned media,” as noted in an article posted on Kaleidico. In the real-life conversation, a user would talk about their experience with Uber and suggest it for a friend. In the “earned media” scenario, Uber creates promotional campaigns to engage consumers.

One of Uber’s most “pawsitive” promotional campaigns was in 2014 when the ridesharing service delivered kittens on National Cat Day in prominent cities: Austin, Chicago, D.C., New York, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle. For $30, users were given 15 minutes to play with a kitten that was delivered to their front door. Most kittens were available for adoption and all of the proceeds from the campaign were donated to participating shelters. The campaign gained traction with articles in Forbes, The Huffington Post and many more publications. Since then, it has become an annual promotion along with other eclectic campaigns. With users sharing positive feedback and experiences, Uber’s brand continues to grow increasingly.

Cropped photo hoto by Aimee Castenell
Cropped photo hoto by Aimee Castenell

Combatting crisis management
Despite Uber’s success, the road for the ridesharing business has not been smooth. Every startup faces growing pains, and Uber is no exception. Since its founding, Uber has been the subject of many safety concerns. A recent incident in February 2016 sparked questions of safety when an Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan, went on a shooting spree that left six dead and two injured.

Uber responded with a statement that the driver had passed his background check and had no previous criminal record.

“Some of the actions that the company took were positive in ensuring its drivers were legit,” Allen commented.

In an article posted on Business Insider, James Lukaszewski — a crisis-management consultant — said that Uber was smart to quickly address the situation. “Uber’s responsibility to its passengers and its own drivers is to clearly explain how they get these drivers and the process that they go through,” Lukaszewski told Business Insider. “They have an obligation to show how they vet these drivers.” Uber has also addressed safety concerns by providing details on its safety measurements on its website.

Disrupting the taxi industry
With the arrival of Uber in cities across the country, taxi cab drivers began protesting the “unregulated” car service. Taxi cab drivers claimed that regulations help protect the industry, while Uber supporters stated that regulation strangles competition in the industry.

A resident of Sarasota, Florida, Allen noticed that the city of Sarasota took a different route for allowing Uber.

“What I think is a positive, but also unintended effect of this company is that instead of regulating the Uber drivers, the city of Sarasota deregulated taxi cab drivers,” Allen said. “So this company is not only disrupting an industry, but it’s also disrupting how municipalities are looking at how it regulates independent contractors, like taxi drivers.”

The city of Sarasota found that what many regulations called for — background checks and insurance requirements — many ride-hailing companies already had in practice. Other locations, such as Austin, Texas, and Orange County, California, have also considered the deregulation of taxi drivers, while major cities, such as New York, have yet to make the shift.

Looking ahead to the future
Uber has seen impressive growth as a startup in its first six years through its outreach and relationship building. With the tech startup industry constantly changing, public relations is forced to mold along with it. No longer is the standard promotion acceptable for consumers, but now businesses are evolving to meet the needs of all consumers. In return, Uber and others push the industry, driving us toward an on-demand future.

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