3 Digital marketing lessons you can learn from Airbnb

Posted by Rebecca Appleton on 6 Nov, 2017
View comments Marketing
If you’re looking for some marketing inspiration, Airbnb offers numerous examples of how to make a splash. We’ve picked three and show how you can apply the lessons learned to your own digital activity.


If you’ve planned or booked a trip in the last few years, chances are you’ll have considered Airbnb when looking for a place to stay. In the nine years since it launched, the San Francisco home-share portal has gone from struggling startup to a $30 billion valuation. It’s worth almost $7 billion more than the century-old Hilton Hotel brand (valued at $23.33 billion) and nearly as much as the Hilton and Hyatt ($6.87 billion) combined.

The Airbnb concept is deceptively simple. It allows homeowners to list their extra space and others to discover and book unique accommodation around the world. It’s served over 200,000,000+ guests, its listings cover more than 65,000 cities and it’s present in over 191 countries. You can even book a stay in one of more than 1400 castles. So whether you want a grand country pile for a week, a villa for the month or a room in a city-centre midtown condo for the weekend, Airbnb has you covered.


Source: Airbnb

Powering this growth is some world-class digital marketing. In fact, the homestay provider is a masterclass in marketing lessons. Here are three lessons you can learn from Airbnb.

Lesson 1: Be experiential

airbnb experiences

Source: Airbnb

In 2015, Airbnb carried out a PR stunt in London, floating a house down the River Thames. The stunt was deployed after the Deregulation Act made it legal for Londoners to rent out their homes for up to 90 days a year. This law effectively legitimized Airbnb in the city – in many cities this is a grey area. New York for example has cracked down on Airbnb hosts, hitting some with fines as the city says, the practice contravenes its city and state laws. With the Deregulation Act in London, Airbnb were able to turn what had previously been a negative into a resounding piece of marketing.

To celebrate the Deregulation, it offered a stay in a floating house as a competition prize. The stunt captured the imagination of millions of people, earning priceless media coverage and social media mentions.

Source: Airbnb

The campaign’s initial aim was to deliver an extra 10,000 people to Airbnb.com. It actually drove 73,500 people to the site, 38% of whom were new visitors. 19 million people were reached through social channels and 200 million social impressions generated. There are over one million search results on Google for the term ‘Airbnb floating house’.

What can you learn from the floating house campaign?

The floating house campaign shows the importance of thinking differently when it comes to generating digital media coverage, making a social media splash and driving traffic to your site. It demonstrates that a well-thought out, timely PR stunt can have enormous digital benefits and illustrates that you shouldn’t shy away from an offline campaign when attempting to drive online interest.

Public relations is an increasingly digital discipline. A case in point is the recent announcement by publisher Conde Nast that its flagship women’s magazine, Glamour will go from monthly printed editions to a ‘mobile-first, social first format’, with just two print editions per year. With a readership of 875,000, this move is not insignificant. Competition for digital column inches is fiercer than ever, so it’s vital  to be creative and think outside the box when it comes to PR activity.

Lesson 2: Invest in your content

Source: Airbnb

Airbnb’s neighborhood guides serve as an excellent example of why it’s worth investing in high-quality content. It has published a total of 23 neighborhood guides, focusing on the larger cities within its network, with the latest addition being Melbourne.

Each guide includes a wealth of useful knowledge with public transit tips, things locals love, local complaints, maps, suggestions and beautiful images taken by local photographers.

Source: Airbnb

In addition to the visual appeal, the content is also useful with links to the most popular places to stay, similar neighborhoods to explore and tags from the community to define the area.

What can you learn from the neighborhood guides?

The neighborhood guides are substantial pieces of content but they have a very clear purpose - they’re designed to be useful and are clearly created with the traveler in mind. The content is also reflective of Airbnb’s community feel with the use of local travelers, curated local likes and dislikes and spotlighted top local hosts.

While it may not be practical for your business to invest in such detailed pieces of content, consider how you can take the essence of the guides and their reflection of core Airbnb branding and philosophy, and create your own similarly useful pieces. You may only produce one or two of these detailed pieces of content per year depending on internal resources but, as these guides show, investing that extra time and effort in creating something more meaningful than a standard blog post or churning out quick ebooks can elevate your entire brand.  

Lesson 3: Harness user generated content

Source: Airbnb

In addition to its neighborhood guides, Airbnb also has a number of guidebooks. Each guidebook is a collection of the best places in each city, as selected by Airbnb hosts. Suggestions for favorite local spots cover everything from dining and nightlife to sightseeing and nature, all recommended by Airbnb accommodation providers in that city. Readers can browse either by category (such as food scene) or scroll a list of the best of the best, which adds up recommendations for each listing to present a leaderboard Airbnb calls the ‘Best of the best’.

Within each category, for example bars, there are snippets of information from local hosts who have recommended that particular space.

Source: Airbnb

What can you learn from Airbnb’s guidebooks?

The guidebooks show how useful user generated content can be and how easy it is to repurpose into a format other than blog comments. The recommendations add a personal touch to and add credibility and a sense of community with expert insight from the locals who know the area best – this is central to Airbnb’s entire brand philosophy. What’s more, the user generated content taps into the power of reviews, giving travelers another useful resource to plan their trip.

The guidebooks show how a new approach to user generated content can lead to new pieces of original and useful content that can stand alone as website landing pages or ebooks. If you own a bodega for example, your customers could recommend their favourite wines or wine and food pairings. If you’re a cosmetics company, your customers could share their own makeup tutorials which you could format into step-by-step guides or looks to accompany each product type.

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