6 PR Takeaways from the Success of AirBnB
By William Comcowich
The company’s humble beginnings—an air mattress and breakfast for $80 a night—proved to be the box spring upon which the global business was built. Savvy messaging helped, of course.
Airbnb has become a household name mainly through its PR and marketing practices.
Its core service, online reservations for short-term rentals, isn’t unique. Others, such as VBO.com, HomeAway and even Craigslist, post short-term rentals. Instead, Airbnb become top of mind through PR.
Here are six key elements of Airbnb’s success:
1. A foundation story. The story of a company’s foundation provides a key PR message. Struggling to pay their rent, roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia rented out their San Francisco apartment to designers visiting for a business conference. The roommates then created a simple website, airbedandbreakfast.com, and offered airbeds and a homemade breakfast for $80 a night. After their first three guests, they really realized their possibilities. The foundation story of how they turned a mattress into a multibillion-dollar business provides an example other entrepreneurs can use to reach their own target audience.
Lesson: An interesting foundation story woven into PR and promotions accents distinctiveness, builds credibility and sticks in the memory.
2. High-quality photography. Plenty of people recommend visuals, but Airbnb acts on that recommendation. In its early days, the founders realized photos of New York City listings could be better. They rented a camera and took their own photos. Their outstanding photography was instrumental in tripling the number of bookings in the city and doubling revenue. The company created the Airbnb Photography Program, which links hosts with local professional photographers who can put their properties in the best light. Listings with professional photos tend to earn 40% more, get booked 24% more often, and can charge a 26% higher nightly price, according to the company’s research.
Lesson: Superb visuals deliver better results and pay for themselves.
3. User-generated content. Airbnb features host and guest stories on its blog and digital platforms like YouTube and Instagram. It invites guests to submit stories about their travel experiences using the hashtag #Airbnb on Instagram. “If you don’t have the ability to produce the amount of content that such a presence would require, take another page from Airbnb’s marketing book and leverage user-generated content,” advises branding expert Laura Busche.
Lesson: Storytelling improves engagement and memorability.
4. Emphasize brand values. The company stresses its commitment to diversity in marketing and advertising, as was highlighted in its 2017 Super Bowl commercial. “Associating the Airbnb brand with such higher values, and sticking to their commitment to uphold them, has truly helped the team secure a distinguishable position in their customers’ minds,” Busche says.
Lesson: State your brand values, and demonstrate that you live them.
5. Media events. Airbnb excels at finding and promoting attention-grabbing rental listings. Airbnb ran a publicity stunt involving a floating house on the River Thames in London. It invited journalists, bloggers and social media influencers, which led to 340 press pieces in the UK alone, and more than 200 million social media impressions, writes PR and social media consultant Maria Bellissimo-Magrin in CEO Magazine. Brand partnerships generate substantial media exposure for both Airbnb and partners. For instance, the French government listed a night in the Paris Catacombs over Halloween, gaining publicity for the French tourist spot. In its latest PR partnership, it listed Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse through a one-time reservation.
Lesson: Find the uncommon story and capitalize on it.
6. Influencers. Airbnb often underwrites stays of celebrities in return for their social media mentions. The practice began in 2015 when Mariah Carey posted a photo of herself at an Airbnb beachfront listing.
Lesson: Influencer marketing (combined with PR) works for most any product category.