Airbnb.com is one of the most successful peer-to-peer digital communities acting as an intermediary between people who want to rent out their space and travelers looking for short-term accommodation. Founded in 2008, today it has over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries. Let’s explore how this company managed to monetize a simple idea and turn it into a $2.5 billion enterprise by effectively applying digital marketing techniques.

Taking Off: Digital Strategy

The founders have recognized that in order to take off, Airbnb needed two components: hosts and travelers. As a result, a clever customer acquisition strategy was implemented involving two digital marketing giants: Craigslist and Google.

Craigslist Integration

After performing market analysis, Airbnb found that Craigslist was already being used as a platform for people to offer and look for short-term housing. They recognized this was an opportunity to attract qualified leads to Airbnb.com and reverse engineered Craigslist form to make the two platforms compatible. Now every time somebody listed accommodations Airbnb, they had an option to automatically create a posting on Craigslist as an additional way to promote the listing. This created additional inbound links for the user and drove more traffic to the Airbnb website.

Google Display Network Partnership

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The Airbnb marketing team then realized that in order to attract customers their offer had to be visually appealing. By collaborating with Google and investing in Google Search Ads, the company was able to increase the number of their listings from less than 10,000 to 80,000. This banner ad campaign featuring images of real apartments and rooms helped Airbnb gain a new international audience of people that wouldn’t have found out about the network otherwise.

Current Events: Building Relationships

Today, Airbnb continues to successfully use digital marketing tools to expand and engage their customer base. They value current housing hosts and their expertise about local scenes around the globe. By collaborating with them, the company creates content that is unique and relevant.

Social Media Engagement

Summer 2013 marked the first time a 4.5-minute movie was made using only short video clips from Vine, a mobile video app. Airbnb became the first company to write, produce, and direct crowdsourced content from 42 Twitter followers who were given specific directions and a timeframe to submit their work. One might argue that this is too much effort for an outcome with unpredictable viral effects, but for Airbnb it was a success; they got large social media coverage, increased their following, and clearly communicated their brand message.

Content Management

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Airbnb Neighborhoods are dedicated city guides that break down the most visited cities by neighborhoods and provide travelers with relevant and timely information about them.By publishing those guides, Airbnb increases user engagement, as people continuously return for information. It also encourages travelers to book accommodation by displaying available housing options in each neighborhood.

Power of Images

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Airbnb cares about the quality of content that is posted on their site. That is why they have a network of over 3000 freelance photographers in six continents. Anybody listing their space can request a free photographer to come in and take pictures of the housing. This service increases the attractiveness of the space and the probability that it will be rented out. It also serves another purpose: pictures taken by photographers have a “Verified Photo” icon that ensures that travelers are paying exactly what they agreed to.

Video Contest

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Airbnb paired with the lead programmer for the Sundance Shorts program to launch a contest where current accommodation hosts create a 15-second video about their favorite local spots and post it on Instagram. This is great for few reasons: first, it encourages host engagement; they feel like valuable members of Airbnb community and want to participate in community events. As a result, Airbnb gets lots of original user-generated content to review. Secondly, it can be easily promoted via various social media channels using hashtags. The brand gets visibility and increases awareness, communicates with contestants and followers directly, and spreads out the company’s overall philosophy.

A Warm Bonus

When Toronto was hit with the ice storm in December 2013 and many people were left with no power, Airbnb launched a disaster response tool that allowed current hosts and local residents with extra space to host those in need. Moreover, all bookings in affected areas during the time of the storm were free. This is another great example of how Airbnb helps local communities using digital tools.

Looking into the Future

As we can see, digital marketing methods have been working very well for Airbnb, and we cannot help but wonder about what they are planning next. The company is really transforming the travelling industry and redefining how people interact with one another when travelling. It is planning to create an even better travel experience for its customers by connecting them with local chefs and other merchants using their online network. Looking at how effectively Airbnb has been using digital marketing to grow their business in the past, it would be interesting to see what other ideas, projects and services they introduce next.

Tagged with: Airbnb, Craigslist, Digital Marketing, Digital Strategy, Toronto

About Katya Bovykina

Katya Bovykina is an SEO and Inbound Marketing Consultant at Powered by Search. She likes exploring new and creative ideas and has a passion for digital marketing. Connect with Katya on LinkedIn and Google+.