In this post, I’ll be exploring how Airbnb build trust among their customers and how you can do the same. You’ll learn:
- The one page that Airbnb have on their site that you don’t
- How the Airbnb site is designed to build trust
- How photographers helped to legitimise listings on Airbnb
- Why you should bring customers to the forefront of your social media campaigns
- How you can get better quality customer engagement from your onsite review system
Goodbye Hotels, Hello Airbnb. How My Behaviour Has Changed
I’m due to go on holiday to Amsterdam soon with my girlfriend. Neither of us has been before, and we have no idea where we’re going to stay. I imagine we’ll ask friends for recommendations, then do a bit of research online. One thing I do know, however, is that when it comes to booking somewhere, I will go straight to Airbnb. (Would you do the same thing? Let me know…I’m curious!)
A few years ago, I’d more than likely have just Googled something along the lines of “hotels in Amsterdam” and scoured the results. Not anymore. My behaviour has changed. Hotels are now an afterthought. Something I’d only consider if I couldn’t find what I wanted on Airbnb.
When I think about it, I find this concept odd. If you’d have told me 5 years ago that I’d be staying in random people’s homes rather than a hotel, I’d have given you a stare down that The Rock would have been proud of!
Hotels aren’t the only casualty however in my (relatively) newfound openness to sites like Airbnb. I’ll give you another example; In Brighton, I rarely find the need to use cabs as I can simply walk everywhere but I’m often in London, and that simply isn’t the case. Usually, late at night, I’ll be stuck miles away from where I’m staying and being honest, I don’t want to spend ages travelling on public transport. Luckily I don’t have to, as there is always an Uber close by. I won’t even think about getting a black cab or ringing up a minicab. In fact, the words cabs and taxi seems to have disappeared from my vocabulary. I no longer suggest “getting a cab” to friends, instead, I’ll simply suggest “getting an Uber”. Again, a few years ago, this idea would have seemed alien to me. Hailing a cab with the click of a few buttons on an app and getting into a car with a stranger? No thanks.
So How Exactly Has This Happened?
Companies like Airbnb and Uber have tapped into TRUST as being a gap in the economy, and if you keep reading, I’ll show you not only why this is true, but HOW they are doing it.
Of course, there are many reasons why people might choose to use Uber or Airbnb over hotels or other cabs. Uber drivers usually arrive within minutes and journeys are often cheaper than alternative taxis. With Airbnb, the whole experience will be vastly different from that of staying in a hotel. However, the key for me is trust. Without trust, it probably wouldn’t matter if Airbnb or Uber were easier to use or cheaper than the alternatives, we simply wouldn’t bother. First and foremost, people want products or services they can trust, so if they can find that while getting a better experience as well, then it’s not a surprise that we’re seeing such a boom in the sharing economy.
Lessons in Trust from Airbnb
When it comes to Airbnb, trust is what the business is built on. In its simplicity, Airbnb facilitates sharing your home with or staying with complete strangers, something that requires an awful lot of trust from both the host and the guest. Scott Colenutt touched upon Airbnb’s use of trust within their marketing in his free whitepaper: What Can Hotels Learn From Airbnb About The Sharing Economy and if you’re working in the in the hospitality industry, it’s critical to understand the role that trust is now playing when it comes to consumer research and decisions.
1. There’s a Whole Page on the Airbnb Site Dedicated to Trust.
Airbnb has trust at the forefront of their mind when it comes to their website. So much so, that one of the key pages on their site (linked to from the homepage) is solely dedicated to trust.
Landing on the Trust page, you are presented with a picture of what we assume to be friendly looking hosts meeting a smiling guest along with the strapline
“2 Million listing. 60 Million Guests. 191+ Countries. Trust is what makes it work.”
You are then presented with a link to their standards and expectations, another section talking about safety, trust, authenticity, fairness and reliability. Straight away, we can see that Airbnb are aware of the importance of trust in their service and that key pages on their site reflect this.
Move down the page, and you’re presented with another image with the strapline “We make it easy to get to know hosts like Mina.” These images and their straplines help to subtly put you at ease, while below, Airbnb detail out the specific steps they’ve taken to allow you to trust their hosts, including:
- Linking social media profiles like Facebook & LinkedIn
- Providing your Google Account details
- Providing Government documents such as passports
- Providing email addresses and phone numbers
It seems obvious but quite simply, the more you know about a person, the more likely you are to trust them and so a guest or host with each of these features set up, helps them to become more human, going a long way to allaying any fears that you might have about booking with them.
Moving further down the page and you move onto information about payments. Trust is hugely important when there is money or a transaction involved. As such, the Trust landing page explains that Airbnb uses a secure platform and take care of all the transactions themselves so that you don’t have to worry about anything. By knowing that you won’t have to chase money or deal with anyone personally you can rest at ease. Airbnb also explains that “Hosts are protected up to £600,000 with the Airbnb Host Guarantee” which helps to put you at ease further. If you are renting out your main home, you’d also want to make sure that your possessions and personal belongings are covered, and Airbnb has made sure that this is the case. You may feel that these are standard services that Airbnb are offering, and they may be, but it all helps to put first time users at ease with the service.
They continue by including information on their 24/7 help service, which allows you to connect to their customer support team around the clock, again putting you at comfort knowing that if anything were to go wrong, you’d be able to speak to someone. ‘Real Humans’, as they put it.
Top Tip: If you’re in the hospitality business, consider having a page about trust on your site. Show the standards and ethics that your staff would exude and those that you’d expect from your guests or customers and display them loud and clear on your site.
2. Airbnb Are Designing For Trust
Not only does the Airbnb site talk about trust, but it’s also built with trust in mind too. There’s a great talk about how Airbnb design for trust with Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia. Joe explains how a “well-designed reputation system is key for building trust” and how they have built the site with reputation and trust in mind. Go on, watch it. Treat yourself.
During the talk, Joe provides one key example of how the site is built with trust in mind. It can be found when you’re trying to book a place to stay. During the process, you’re asked to send the host a message telling them about your visit. You’re given prompts as to what you could say, and there’s a box for you to send a message:
Joe explains that this is deliberate and based on research by Airbnb. The prompts contain the basic information that hosts would need to know to increase confidence and therefore acceptance in a guest, as Joe explains “we use the size of the box to suggest the right length, and we guide them with prompts to encourage sharing”. He goes on to explain that research conducted by Airbnb also found that writing too little in an introductory message could hamper your chance of a host’s acceptance, as could disclosing too much. As such you’re provided with a box that is just the right size for you to give enough information about your stay to encourage trust and therefore acceptance with your host.
As explained here, profile pictures are mandatory for both guests and hosts on Airbnb although this wasn’t always the case. Making profile pictures mandatory, was a smart move by Airbnb as they knew that profile pictures were heavily relied upon to invoke trust as well as helping to remove anonymity and build a connection with that person.
From my experiences with using Airbnb as a host, whenever I’ve been deciding whether to approve a guest on Airbnb, I’ll always have a look at their profile. If someone didn’t have a profile picture, I’d move on. Making profile pictures mandatory is simple, yet effective. Compare Airbnb to sites like Gumtree & Craigslist, sites that let you arrange to meet strangers to buy from them, and you wonder why they don’t adopt this strategy as well.
Airbnb has also made their platform compatible with a user’s social profile. As well as being able to connect your social profiles, Airbnb has started to use users’ Facebook data to show you how many friends and mutual friends you may have as a guest or a host. You can find out about that here. The idea behind this, I imagine, is that if a guest has mutual friends with a host, then it will help them to feel like they already know them, aiding the level of legitimacy and trust in that person. E.g. If David from school knows them, then they must be ok!
Top tip: Can you integrate social proof into your website? The best way to find out about what improves trust would be to survey your customers. Get to the nitty gritty of what they say will help to improve trust in your platform. Remember that social proof goes a long way. Can you connect yours or your employee’s social media profiles and allow guests to do the same? It’s always good to put a face to a name.
3. By Offering Their Hosts Free Professional Photography
In 2011, Airbnb began to offer free professional photography for its listings and still do today.
This idea was genius as it killed two birds with one stone. Firstly, it helped to improve the look of their site. Many profiles were massively improved with properties looking slick, sleek and professional. Secondly, photographers HAD to visit the homes, therefore helping to weed out fake listings and scams while also adding an extra layer of verification to the listing.
Both factors contributed toward building trust. Think about it for a second. If you’re using Airbnb and looking for somewhere to stay and had two otherwise equal options, with the same amenities, similar location etc. but one property had had a photographer visit and published professional photos of the property, and the other simply had dingy and dark, camera phone style images, which would you choose?
For hosts, it seems like a no-brainer. If you have a listing on Airbnb and haven’t already done so, do it now! According to this post, it could help you to double your income overnight!
4. By Placing Guests and Hosts at the Centre of Their Social Media/Content Marketing Campaigns
Airbnb is all about connections between people and the experiences they have. For Airbnb, social media is another platform for them to showcase this. Their social media strategy is driven by mining content from their customers. They actively encourage their guests and hosts to share their images (with full credit being given when their photos are used) as well as their Airbnb stories. As such, the content that is posted acts as another key way for customers to discover exciting new places to stay.
(These photos taken from the Airbnb Instagram account include a property available in Eagle Rock, LA, a fitness trainer from Cape Town and Canyons in Taiwan. Guests or hosts have taken the images, and the text along with each photo provides more information about things to do in each location).
On Instagram, rather than populating their account with corporate images, or images generated themselves, the Airbnb account is full of (beautifully shot) user generated content, curated from both hosts and guests. They typically show examples of guest’s experiences on a trip and often feature hosts’ homes that are available to rent on Airbnb. In doing so, they subtly add another layer of authenticity to their service at the same time as using the images as a means of advertising.
Take the example below. It’s a great piece of storytelling on Airbnb’s behalf. The photo is genuine, with credit given to the photographer (who’s own post on Instagram details what she’s experienced on her trip to Cuba) while the text alongside it provides advice and local knowledge of things to do when staying in Vinales in Cuba. I don’t know about you, but it makes me want to go to Cuba and stay in an Airbnb.
Today, to trust a service or product, we often need verification from others, be this from our peers, or by looking at online reviews. By using their customers at the forefront of their social media content, Airbnb has found a way of achieving verification from others, while also showcasing all the great experiences going on each and every day. Again, Scott Colenutt touched upon this, in his whitepaper: What Can Hotels Learn From Airbnb about the Sharing Economy and you can download that for free here.
Top tip: The best way to showcase authenticity is to highlight actual experiences going on with customers using your service. Increase customer engagement by encourage your audience to share their experiences with you and include them as part of your social media strategy.
5. Through the Onsite Review System
Without the onsite review system, Airbnb simply wouldn’t work. The incentive is mutual for both guests and hosts. For hosts, it’s an encouragement to provide their guests with a great experience and acts as a way for them to gain verification. Through hosting guests and providing them with a great experience, they can build up some positive reviews and in turn, increase the number of bookings they receive. For guests, it provides a platform to showcase themselves as honest and trustworthy guests. This is clearly important, and when I first started using Airbnb as a guest, I found it difficult to get accepted. Now that I’ve built up positive reviews, I have no trouble at all.
Unlike other review systems, Airbnb’s has two key features. Firstly, as mentioned above, hosts and guests can review one another, and secondly, those reviews are only made public to guests or hosts once both parties have submitted theirs. This adds an element of trust as it maintains honesty and helps to stop people only leaving positive reviews in the hope of one back. Reviews need to be made within 14 days, helping to keep the feedback fresh and based on a recent trip. Guests are also able to provide private feedback to hosts, including one thing that they loved and one thing that could be improved – a nice bit of free consumer research for the host. All of this helps to constantly improve the service and weed out the poor places on offer.
You can find out more about Airbnb’s review system on their blog here.
- If you use an onsite feedback/review system, make the feedback loop quick. Within 14 days for example.
- Consider not publishing reviews/feedback until both parties have submitted theirs.
- Prompt users on points to consider in their review/feedback. g. one thing they loved, one thing that could be improved, etc.
Although Airbnb was among the first to tap into trust as a missing piece of the economy, it doesn’t mean that you can’t follow suit. There are many examples of Airbnb’s marketing strategy that you could look at and apply to your own business, and although I’ve only touched on a few in this post, I believe there are quick changes businesses can make to help them build trust among their customers.
- Highlighting how your business communicates trust, ethics, standards and expectations on your website
- Do the same for your guests
- Improving the design of your site for both conversions and customer engagement
- Improving your onsite review system
- Encouraging guests to share their stories and experiences with you & incorporating these to your social media/content marketing strategies
I hope you found this post useful or at least gave you food for thought. If you have any ideas yourself of how businesses can build trust with their customers, please feel free to share them with me, and I’ll be happy to add them to this post. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for that perfect place to stay in Amsterdam. On Airbnb.
If you enjoyed this, you might also be interested in Scott Colenutt’s post The Top 3 Challenges Facing Hotel Companies in 2016. We’ll soon be updating the post for 2017, so if you’d like to contribute, feel free to get in touch.