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Is Social Strategy Driving Airbnb’s Success?

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In the past few years, we have seen the rise of businesses involved in the “sharing economy” – platforms for facilitating peer-to-peer transactions of goods and services by different people and organizations. Companies like Uber, Taskrabbit, and Instacart (to name just three based right here in San Francisco), leverage information technology as a part of the economic phenomenon, collaborative consumption.

Does a “sharing economy” company pursue a different digital marketing strategy? And does it pay off?

During the holidays, many of us think about travel. Which brings us to one of the originals in the sharing realm — another local company made good, Airbnb.

Let’s compare Airbnb to a more traditional online travel agency (OTA). We’ll look at Priceline, founded in 1998 — exactly 10 years before Airbnb. We’ll start with a simple Site Comparison.

One thing stands out about Airbnb: its users are far more engaged.

Airbnb vs Priceline Time on Site

Airbnb’s average “Time on Site” is more than double that of Priceline. What’s making Airbnb’s users stick around so long?

Priceline is very transactional, and transactional e-commerce sites tend to focus on reducing friction – getting the customer through the conversion funnel as quickly as possible before they get distracted by a competitor or develop second thoughts.

Airbnb makes a point of using big, beautiful pictures and evocative descriptions. It wants you to slow down and stay awhile. It’s also invested heavily in custom local content, serving as a travel guide to its top destinations.

An even more striking difference is seen in a comparison of traffic sources, which highlights further the importance of social:

Airbnb vs. Priceline Traffic

Priceline gets 0.76% of its traffic from social, which is in range of other traditional OTAs like Expedia and Travelocity. But Airbnb’s social traffic is closing in on a whopping 4%.

Looking directly at the companies’ Facebook pages tells a similar story, where Airbnb boasts 1,195,374 likes and Priceline trails with 652,793.

Is an investment in compelling, custom content actually driving more traffic to Airbnb’s website? Let’s go back to that Site Comparison and look at our favorite KPI, the Alexa Rank, over the past two years:

Airbnb vs. Priceline Alexa Rank

Airbnb’s popularity has accelerated over the past year, with no signs of stopping.  At this rate, Airbnb will overtake Priceline in the next few months.

And right now, its reach is almost at parity.  Its reach actually surpassed Priceline’s in both July and August of this year – the crucial summer travel season.

Airbnb vs. Priceline Reach

When you think about it, the concept of a sharing economy is not unlike social sharing. In social sharing, you share because content interests you, because you want to be an expert, or because you have something others might also value. This purpose overlaps the sharing economy, where it’s about access, not ownership. Here, you also share what others may find valuable.

Knowing that 71% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on social referrals, the strategy of companies in the sharing economy actually makes good business sense. The platforms of sharing companies are being built for a generation that is already heavily invested socially. And their interfaces are meant to mirror those that people interact with daily.

According to Pew Research, 89% of adults ages 18-29 use social networking sites, followed by 82% of adults ages 30-49. When we compare demographics for both sites on Alexa, we see that both of these highly engaged user groups are over-represented at Airbnb.

Airbnb vs. Priceline Demographics

Per Joe Kraus, general partner at Google Ventures, people find value in sharing economies for economic, environmental and lifestyle reasons. Now, they have convenient access to what they need, with convenient access to a (social) community of people who value the same things they do. It’s a win-win, and as a result, companies are making major changes in the way they market.

Would Priceline do as well to invest in social and content? A strong social orientation is a particularly great fit for a peer-to-peer platform like Airbnb. But unlike Airbnb, Priceline is not doing much to get its users to share. And whether or not sharing is the future of travel, as evidenced by the traffic metrics for these two companies, it’s likely the future of digital marketing.

How social is your brand? Are you delivering differentiating value on platforms that are socially accessible for your audiences? 


  1. salman October 9, 2015 at 7:24 am - Reply

    Nice site,,,,,,,,,,

  2. fukton.com January 5, 2015 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    Airbnb, a website that allows people to rent everything from vacation homes to spare couches for short-term stays is now in 192 countries.

    Yet Airbnb has faced regulation in many towns where rent-control advocates are teaming up with hospitality-industry heavyweights to try and shut down Airbnb and similar services.

    In the past five years, more than 550,000 people have turned to Airbnb to rent out all or a portion of their homes to 10 million users, driving the estimated business value to more than $10 billion.

    Despite Airbnb’s well-publicized Host Guarantee, which covers damage to certain types of items within a property up to $1 million, the company doesn’t protect credit cards, checks or any other financial instruments, nor do they cover jewellery, fine art, furs, automobiles, watercraft, underground mines, dams and — not kidding — standing timber.

    Eventually established hotels will push legislators to make Airbnb pay the same taxes and fees that they are required to charge customers. We also predict Airbnb will invest in offsite protected storage units where hosts can place valuables.

    The app-driven car service Uber, which bills itself as “everyone’s car service” and connects drivers and riders in minutes, presents a similar threat to traditional taxi services. District attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles claim Uber made “untrue or misleading representations” regarding the quality of its own background checks on drivers. In Thailand authorities say the firm lacks proper registration and insurance.

    Bloomberg reportied that Hangzhou Kuaidi Technology Co., a taxi-booking service backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd is adding luxury cars in China to boost revenue as it steps up its challenge to Uber Technologies Inc.

    Kuaidi is targeting wealthy travelers with a new smartphone application as it partners with chauffeur companies in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, Chief Executive Officer Dexter Lu said in an interview. The new cars include the 5-Series from Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Audi AG’s A6.

    Uber and Kuaidi are competing with Didi Taxi, which is backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd. (700), for a bigger slice of China’s 500 million users who access the Internet from their phones and are boosting use of location-based services. We predict that whilst Uber is valued at $40 billion today the DiDi Taxi and Kuaidi will leverage of their existing “social capital” and the fight for a market share will depend on how engaged the users will be on the networks. Founded in November, 1998, Tencent has grown into one of China’s largest and most used Internet service portal. As of Dec 31, 2012, the active QQ users accounts for QQ IM amounted to 798.2 million while its peak concurrent users reached 176.4 million.

    Last month Alibaba reported 279 million annual buyers with an average 52 buys per year. It has 153 million monthly mobile active users (MAU). This placed Alibaba’s share of mobile gross merchandise value in China at 76.2%. Keep in mind that Alibaba Group also includes Alipay, Taobao, Tmail, China yahoo, China Vision, etc. Alipay alone has 300 million registered users and processed $513 billion of transactions. Taobao has 320 million mobile active users. Alibaba said its operations grew strongly. Revenue for the quarter rose 54% to $2.74 billion. During the past quarter, Alibaba added 29 million mobile users—a sum larger than the population of Texas.

    Besides getting squeezed by the Tencent and Alibaba we predict that Uber will be asked by local authorities to prove that its drivers have commercial insurance to protect passengers. The competitors who hold more :social capital” will give Uber a run for the money. We feel the social trends are changing and Internet-of-Things will drive business to close off their eco-systems and offer all lifestyle services within. This means that while a favorite KPI, the Alexa Rank, shares some some insight, it only sheds a light on a small part of that ecosystem.

    The Pumpkin

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Is Social Strategy Driving Airbnb’s Success?