In the early to mid 2000s, nearly every service industry tried to translate what they had to offer to the internet. Many failed. Some not only succeeded, they transformed entire industries and set the standard for those who would come after them. Amazon changed the way people bought and read books, and then pretty much everything else. Lyft and Uber created “ride sharing,” and Airbnb transformed the way millions of people traveled.
In a time when many traditional hotel chains were still figuring out how to market themselves online, Airbnb exploded into the marketplace, offering customers custom travel accommodations, pretty much anywhere they wanted to go, with much greater freedom and variety than the big chain hotels. There’s a story that, when they launched, the creators could barely afford to pay their own rent. Today, though, their company has more than 100 million users searching more than two million listings for the perfect place to stay.
How did this essentially entirely online company achieve this monumental success in such a short time? They leveraged digital PR successfully.
In the beginning, Airbnb faced two challenges they needed to solve simultaneously, or the entire business would collapse: they needed both customers and hosts, and they needed people from both of these groups to create content that would attract more of each.
That’s a tall order, but Airbnb was successful, because they made it super easy for users – both customers and hosts – to share and talk about their listings or stays across all social media platforms. The company created how-to videos and other interactive, engaging content to not only encourage people to continue creating the content that would become their digital marketing, but also how to do it in a way that compelled tire kickers to act and convinced skeptics to set aside their worries and give it a try.
The company also developed travel guides, ‘top spot’ lists, and other tools for both users to have for planning and hosts to use for marketing. They made promotions and connections simple, interactive, and connective… and they kept this cycling so it continued to grow, in depth and scope.
On the technical side, Airbnb listened to customers, nurturing an ongoing conversation with both customers and hosts so they could respond to consumer feedback, improving their process in every phase. There were some bumps in the road, but the brand kept the focus on connecting people and delivering service, dealing with the PR challenges without getting off track.
On the web, they invested in personalization, so their products were more relevant for each user; and they invested in both paid search and email marketing to create positive initial interactions and customer touches to keep the brand in the front of peoples’ minds.
Airbnb also invested in targeted content marketing, both on their own website, as well as across the spectrum of their various social media accounts. There was no rubber stamp process; each platform was approached with a dedicated strategy that worked for that platform and that audience.
Finally, Airbnb excelled at encouraging digital referral marketing, incentivizing happy customers to spread the word about the brand and their positive experience. None of these operations were one-and-done scenarios. These campaigns are ongoing, building an engine that continues to drive new customers to Airbnb.