THE BLOG

Content Marketing Close-Up: Airbnb's Content Strategy

07/03/2013 05:02 pm ET | Updated Sep 02, 2013

Airbnb has single-handedly disrupted the traditional model of short-term vacation rentals. The online service is the web's hottest peer-to-peer rental service, giving users the ability to virtually tour apartments and homes available for rent by actual owners. However, as the site has grown, the Airbnb team has expanded into the realm of content marketing with dedicated city guides, aptly called Airbnb Neighborhoods, and destination-specific tips and information.

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Born from the so-called "gig economy" Airbnb is the Etsy of non-liquid assets. Now serving 192 countries, the service allows verified users to monetize extra space - an empty apartment, a second home, a bedroom, a guesthouse, even a tree house. These vacant properties can be rented out to short-term travelers at a cost deemed appropriate by the owner.

Airbnb's move towards content marketing is a smart one. Not only do the city guides help advise users as they go through the booking process, planning their next vacation based on local attractions, special features, or desired attributes, but the guides also extend Airbnb-consumer interaction as users return to the site for guidance, even after having made a reservation on the site.

Now both an e-commerce, community marketplace and content provider in one, Airbnb has established their brand as a powerhouse of on and off-line ingenuity. But it doesn't stop there; AirbnbTV features a series of original videos that include: a series on "living local," guided tours, host stories and promotional videos. All of which contribute to the site's burgeoning content marketing efforts to increase engagement, assist with sales and draw in users through yet another avenue of inbound marketing- content.

Here's how Airbnb has gone above and beyond when it comes to their content marketing strategy, interlacing customer service, strong thought-leadership and original, user-generated content, and key takeaways you can benefit from when it comes to your own content marketing efforts.

1. Deliver tools for extended engagement: Airbnb Does Neighborhood Guides

A relatively new feature that launched late in 2012, Airbnb's neighborhood guides serve as a great tool for users as they go through the rental process from start to finish. Previously, users were forced to reference external vacation guides like Frommer's, TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet to research destinations before signing on to the site to book a vacation rental. However, with the advent of Airbnb's neighborhood guides, users are equipped with information prior to booking, turning to the guides as a helpful search tool when selecting their next vacation destination.

The neighborhood guides are promoted directly below the fold on the site's homepage, laid out in a grid-like structure for seamless navigation. Each thumbnail has high-quality image that connects visually and culturally with the city in question.

Austin's city guide, for example, starts with a dedicated landing page with a brief description of the city, descriptions of neighborhoods to chose from, including: trendy, artsy, authentic Austin, peace and quiet, and so on. There are also more traditional guide options for dining, shopping and nightlife suggestions. The site has a direct link to over 2,000 available places to stay in Austin, a list of the 20 total neighborhoods within the city to explore and a tool for saving specific neighborhoods of interest.

So, how do these guides augment engagement? First of all, they're a brilliant use of content that fits the specific needs of the audience coming to Airbnb in the first place. Airbnb knows that they're users are coming to their platform to first search and explore, but also to inevitably book and reserve their next vacation, or accommodation for business travel. These neighborhood guides solve several issues for users up front. First, they provide intel and behind-the-scenes, local information for an array of popular cities featured on the site, thereby helping users make an educated and informed indecision on a very granular level- by neighborhood. Secondly, the guides keep users on the site for an extended period of time. The guides ensure return visits as users can reference them multiple times prior to making a final decision, guaranteeing an uptick in engagement.

2. Inform and educate: Airbnb TV

Airbnb TV puts community front and center. The site houses an array of original video from across the brand's many content platforms. Currently, a total of 89 original videos live on the site, ranging from testimonials, guided tours and tutorials. While there is crossover from the site's other platforms such as Airbnb Life and Airbnb Neighborhood Guides, the purpose of Airbnb TV is to promote the community in general and make the service as easily as possible for users.

One video highlights the service's safety and security precautions, addressing how Airbnb works with their community of hosts to ensure visitors and renters alike are protected from fraud and damages. The tutorial section, currently with 30 videos, is really the educational meat of the platform. Here, users can listen to informative videos that range from how to create an eye-catching listing, how to ask for a security deposit and how to set up variable pricing, to how to change a profile photo, edit a listing or verify your phone number on the site.

This type of content is extremely helpful and easy to consume. In turn, users can quickly solve for existing issues or learn how to develop their Airbnb profiles at their leisure with an easy-to-navigate and user-friendly content offering.

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3. Drive leads with testimonials: The Airbnb Lifestyle

Testimonials are an excellent way to amass content while generating buzz and awareness through community. Airbnb Life is a dedicated video content hub that exclusively highlights the stories of users, showcasing how they've benefitted from using the service from a financial, social and emotional standpoint.

The tagline "Live a richer life" is quite apropos, as all of the content on the site is focused on the benefits of becoming a member of the Airbnb community. The idea behind living a richer life is threefold: first, renters have the opportunity to make incremental income by renting out what they already have on hand, second, renters are able to save for something "big" they'd otherwise not have the opportunity for without an added revenue stream, and, lastly, renters express how Airbnb can be as lucrative of a business as anything else; success stories feature how the service developed instant entrepreneurs -- users who quit their day jobs to fully operate their own vacation properties.

All of the content on Airbnb Life is motivational and informative. Videos of renters who've turned extra bedrooms into full-fledged businesses, empty nesters who have found a new use for old bedrooms and personal success stories. Watch the story of one man who, after quitting his 18-year-long career, decides to pursue a second career and turned to Airbnb to sustain his lifestyle, eventually growing his income by renting out existing space in his home. All of the stories aim to inspire existing, and potential, Airbnb users. The message behind living a richer life is easy; Airbnb promises opportunity, new beginnings and second chances for its community.

By allowing their community to share their personal experiences in an engaging manner, Airbnb is showcasing the true advantages of developing a strong community base. Essentially, the content comes at no cost to Airbnb, and it's distributed in an optimal manner--directly from the consumer's mouths. In effect, Airbnb is crowdsourcing content, building upon their community-driven marketplace and enhancing their brand sentiment all at one.

4. Drive leads through social engagement and calls-to-action: The Strategic Use of Social Media for Promotion

Besides operating a host of social media channels, including Facebook, with 247,000 likes, Twitter, with over 140,000 followers, YouTube, with over 3,400 subscribers, and a company blog, Airbnb has successfully leveraged social media channels to promote the content they house on the site itself.

Airbnb's Twitter feed pushes out original content from their user base, including stories from renters on their experiences in new cities, local information that always includes link that takes followers directly to the Airbnb Neighborhood Guide page for that city.

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Contests are a great way to engage users, and Airbnb recently held a contest based on Instagram inspiration. Users were called upon to share photos that put a "cool, innovative twist on a summer cliché", and then tag it "Airbnbfun. The winner of the contest, who won a whopping $2000 travel credit with Airbnb, was featured on the brand's Twitter stream, highlighting their penchant for personal communication.

5. Drive customer loyalty and trust: Airbnb Connections

Along the lines of social media effectives and tactical promotion, Airbnb's new Social Connections feature allows users to sync their Facebook accounts with their existing Airbnb account. Once connected, the tool shows if users' friends have previously booked a place they are currently considering. This feature is particularly important because it taps into social currency and word-of-mouth recommendations, the most powerful drivers of online sharing and commerce.

Using tailored search functionality, the Social Connections feature showcases the top-rated rentals within a user's social network. Thus, users feel safer and more confident booking with Airbnb, knowing people in their social networks have endorsed certain spaces.

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