Marketing by Example: Airbnb and Community Content

In today’s increasingly automated age, consumers are looking for brands that not only share their values but also engage with their community in meaningful ways. Out of all the companies that have taken a community-driven approach to marketing content, Airbnb has proven itself to be one of the best at it. At the Digital Summit in Phoenix, Airbnb’s former Brand Writer/Creative Lead Liza Dunning spoke about how to follow in the company’s footsteps when it comes to community-based content.

As marketers start to refocus on the internet-savvy millennials and Gen Z, they’re starting to find that the traditional methods of marketing are no longer effective because these groups have different values. According to marketing surveys, almost two-thirds of millennials and centennials prefer “brands that have a point of view and stand for something,” and more than nine in 10 millennials said they would switch to brands associated with a cause.

Associations are in a great position to attract these two demographic groups because they are communities organized around a point of view and a cause: the advancement of an industry and the professional and personal growth of their members. Associations that lead their membership marketing or advocacy efforts with stories about the differences they are making within their spheres of influence stand a better chance of keeping membership rolls healthy and new members more engaged.

Use narrative storytelling as a marketing tool

Many companies have started to tap into these interests by using narrative storytelling as an effective tool. Dunning said that at Airbnb, all the marketing focuses around its community of users rather than just the brand itself. There are five aspects of community-driven branding that she lays out that include: knowing your why, finding your tribe, owning a moment in the conversation, walking the talk, and making it about more than just the conversation.

Airbnb is in a lucky position when it comes to community-driven marketing because it, as an app, is inherently driven by community. Without its hosts who let customers into their homes, there would be no Airbnb, so its marketing team works with those hosts and customers to produce their community-driven content. After all, young consumers want to see the human side of the brands they use.

The idea that “we believe in a world where people can belong anywhere” is central to Airbnb’s mission, and Dunning said this idea is at the core of all the marketing that they do. In fact, a lot of the content they use isn’t even produced by their in-house marketing team but by the people who use the app instead. That way, people can see the kinds of experiences they should expect to have before they even book their Airbnb.

Employ user-produced, community-focused stories in your marketing

User-produced content also goes a long way in building the brand-community relationship. Airbnb’s marketing team goes through hashtags with content community members post on social media and “make them famous” by sharing those stories on the app’s own social media. That way, Airbnb doesn’t have to spend a lot of money sending photographers out around the world while still getting great content and building trust with the community.

Even for content organized in-house, the Airbnb marketing team makes sure it has a community focus. One of their recent campaigns was called “Brought to You By,” and it revolved around families using the app in response to learning that parents were wary of staying in an Airbnb versus a hotel with their children. Instead of hiring models and filming a typical, scripted advertisement, they gave each member of a real family, including the kids, GoPros and told them to just film their experience. “There’s some intimate moments, authentic moments, that you could never capture with just a film crew following people around and making them feel awkward on camera,” Dunning said.

Another marketing campaign they did was called “Based on a True Review.” For this campaign, the marketing team reached out to customers who left incredible reviews about their Airbnb experience and illustrated their stories with a voiceover of their retelling. By doing this campaign, they were able to once again build more trust within the community while showing the totally unexpected experiences people have with their hosts that a scripted advertisement could never capture.

Community can defend your brand, too

The community-driven approach even extends to marketing addressing controversies like in 2017 when #AirbnbWhileBlack started trending after a host sent offensive messages to a black customer. The company responded with a 30-second ad spot during the Super Bowl entitled “We Accept” to reaffirm the company’s commitment to inclusivity, and on social media, they posted interviews with each of the people in the video talking about what acceptance means to them.

After releasing this content, Airbnb saw 87 million earned impressions on their posts, which is an impressive feat for advertisements during the Super Bowl. In the end, the posts received an 85 percent positive response and even though many people perceived it as political, Dunning said they “really believed it was about our community.”

No matter the context, Airbnb’s marketers strive to keep its community engaged in the conversation surrounding the brand. By building trust within their community of users and interacting with them on a deep level, they were able to become the model for well-planned, community-driven marketing.


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About The Author

Adam Turner is a content strategy intern with Naylor Association Solutions.