A Detailed Breakdown of Airbnb’s Online Community

Last week we began the first in-depth breakdown of a large, established, online community. You can read our breakdown of Apple’s online community from last week.

This week we’re going to do a detailed overview of Airbnb’s online community.

You can view the slideshare here (or read the breakdown below)

Concept and Background

Airbnb’s online community is a community for hosts (not guests) which has existed for over five years and been through several iterations and strategies during this time.

The community is based on the Lithium platform and uses most of Lithium’s available modules. This means the community allows hosts to ask questions, share tips and tricks, connect with other hosts, suggest ideas, create and host meetup groups, and collaborate with each other in home sharing clubs.

The community also uses translation (rather than separate sites) to cater to different languages.

The main challenges for a mature, highly active, community like Airbnb usually include handling high levels of activity, being highly responsive to member questions, and ensuring members are engaging in actions which drive real value to the brand.

There may also be questions about the value of an online community. The larger the community becomes, the bigger the team required. As the size of the team grows, so does the temptation to cut the budget if the value of the community cannot be proven.

THE STRUCTURE OF THE COMMUNITY

The community umbrella includes (by order of website prominence):

1) Tips and tricks to become better hosts. The primary goal of the community is to facilitate members sharing ideas with one another.

2) Connect with local hosts. A second goal is to build sub-groups for hosts to connect locally with one another.

3) Customer Support. Much of the community activity revolves around hosts asking questions and getting support from one another.

4) Home Sharing Clubs. This is where hosts can share stories with one another and support local initiatives.

5) Host Voice. Members can suggest ideas they would like Airbnb to implement.

6) Meetups. Members can create and sign up to attend local meetups.

This list doesn’t include the host newsletter, toolkit, host stories, webinars, and toolkits which have lesser levels of activity. Nor does it include social or groups started on 3rd-party platforms (e.g. Facebook).

COMMUNITY HOMEPAGE AND NAVIGATION

  • The language and copy on the community is telling. This should highlight the main goal of the community. A community where ‘anyone can belong’ suggests Airbnb is pursuing a movement rather than a function. This is a high-risk, high-reward approach. I’m not sure it’s the best way to motivate contributions.
  • There are two very clear calls to action. This suggests this isn’t just about resolving problems but genuinely facilitating ongoing conversations.
  • Would love to see photos of some top members here instead of just hosts. The diversity within the photos selected is a smart balance of sexualities, age, and race.
  • Three clear categories here. 1) Get inspired by new ideas, 2) connect with others (validation), and 3) get support. However these don’t clearly connect to the mission-statement opposite.
  • I like the translation method of handling the multiple-language challenge.

  • Showing top posts instead of latest posts by default is a good idea for idea/tip-driven communities.
  • ‘Your latest posts’ is great for catching up on recent discussions or seeing if any answers have been received. Would be good to show date or recency of last response.
  • The mid-form display is an interesting way of displaying content. It works well when the goal of the community is to provide new ideas and get people to click on ‘blog style’ posts for inspiration. But it’s not great when it includes customer support posts that won’t be relevant to as many people.
  • Featured discussions on the right are fantastic when they support a clear goal. I’d be interested in displaying them clearly.

  • This looks like a good an interesting mix of content here, but it’s buried too far down for almost anyone to see it. I’d look to display this much higher up. Showing lengthy posts instead of just titles has reduced what can be shown on the page.

MOBILIZE OPTIMIZATION

  • The site works well on mobile with the images dropping out to reveal a simple layout above the fold. Could possibly remove the copy below the headline here.

  • The full posts take up lots of space and lead to a lot of scrolling on a mobile space. I’d reduce this to just the titles of the post to allow for easier scrolling

USER EXPERIENCE AND PARTICIPATION

Now we can begin to explore what it’s like to ask a question within the community.

  • First, you will probably enter the question in the search. Lithium’s autocomplete search works well with the related discussions appearing as the question is being typed. The tick next to the questions with resolutions is a useful touch.

  • This prompt when you first click on the search box is also a nice touch. Small nudges like these can be really effective in online communities.

  • Once you select ‘start a discussion’ you’re taken to the ‘all discussion rooms’ page which then asks you to select from relevant ‘rooms’. This feels clunky and the categories are confused. This would work better within a ‘drop down’ menu to select while writing the post itself. Also, many questions could easily be in hosting and help simultaneously.

  • Not sure this large image at the top of the page has to be here. This pushes all the other content way down the page.
  • Is the copy at the top right necessary? It duplicates the copy opposite and most people would naturally ‘start a discussion’ if they wanted help.
  • The ‘welcome to help’ area also feels like it could be shortened to something much simpler, it’s a good idea though.
  • Now you have to click ‘start a discussion’ AGAIN to start a discussion. This shouldn’t be happening.
  • Showing the community guides at the top of the page works well, I think showing the guides themselves in box/pinterest style would be better here.
  • Showing related tags works well, but would be best to organise these by priority or trending topics.

  • This is a clean interface. The autosave feature is also appreciated. The drop-down list appears again to avoid duplicated questions. Smart.
  • The box offers images, links, and bullet points but no other HTML. this is probably a good idea for Airbnb.
  • This area would benefit from some Apple-style advice sharing simple tips to help people ask good questions (e.g. give context and details).
  • Tags don’t automatically appear (nor are there any suggested tags based upon the post) – this would make it easier to select the right tags in the community.
  • Do you really need a ‘cancel’ button? People will either post or not. Feels an odd place to encourage a cancellation.

  • There are FAR too many things to do here. This is before we look at the two ‘options’ drop-down menus which show the same options. Would benefit from a like / me-too / reply and nothing else.
  • Could move the # comments and views to the top of the page to show popularity of each post.
  • ‘Join the conversation’ feels a bit weak, why not ‘reply’ or ‘help’? Can be more specific with the kind of participation required here.

RESPONSES AND EMPATHY

Now we can look at what kind of responses we get…

  • Airbnb does a very good job of ensuring almost all questions and tips shared receive a quick response. In some areas, these become sprawling discussions. In others, they are simple customer support questions which receive a good response.

  • It lists the respondee as a ‘level 10’ here but there is no other information on the community about gamification, rewards, or what these levels mean. It seems level 10 is the highest a member can reach in the community. There is great potential to further develop and improve this.
  • ‘Mark as helpful’ is a useful button. This might benefit from an additional prod to select this.

  • Most responses come from community members at a level 10 or above.
  • The responses are generally factual, but not rich in empathy and there isn’t much attempt at a follow up to check if the problem was resolved or make a solution as a featured answer. This is a missed opportunity. The low-level of responses from staff members suggests a relatively small team manages this online community

REGISTRATION AND ONBOARDING

How easy and motivational is it to join and register for this online community?

  • Accessing the Airbnb community requires using an Airbnb account. There isn’t a distinct community registration pathway. You go through the same process as you would to register for the site itself. There aren’t separate user journeys here.
  • This means there is no onboarding pathway to engage or educate members. The anti-discrimination policy acceptance is a welcome touch.

  • Because there isn’t a distinct community participation track, there is no welcome email that guides people into their ongoing contributions to the community. This feels like a missed opportunity to convert people into active participants and also hints at a limited level of integration with other areas of the organisation. This email even guides people away from the community they just tried to join.

  • A curated list of tips and help guides is a great addition, but it’s buried within the community and would benefit from being listed in an automated onboarding journey. The list is strong and potentially very useful however. It is also kept regularly updated.
  • I’d list by popularity rather than alphabetically but it’s a minor tweak

  • The community also has a list of centrally created tutorials to do basic actions on the site. I prefer these as one-time pop-up notifications, but they can work well here if they are easy to find. They appear above the fold, yet tend to push down after discussions. It’s best to showcase a tutorial next to the action where it is needed.

TIPS AND TRICKS

Now we can start reviewing the subsections of the community in a little more depth. This begins with tips and tricks which is relatively active and has good content.

  • The tips and tricks area of the community is structured similarly to other areas. This needs a good display of the top tips shared by hosts, ideally in visual form.
  • This area would benefit from best tips ever shared, top tips for new Airbnb hosts, tips to get higher ratings, and trending tips relevant right now.

  • Despite the best efforts of the community manager, many topics are filled with complaints about Airbnb or customer support questions. This brings the tone of discussions down from what it could and should be.
  • It’s impossible to upvote or rate a tip without clicking into it. Reddit-style upvoting works best when sharing new ideas. Make it easier for people to upvote ideas they like.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

The local connections area could easily be removed.

  • Airbnb encourages members to ‘connect locally’ and join groups for their city. Very few of these groups are active and many share the same kinds of discussions as appear elsewhere. Ironically it’s not possible to send a direct message or ‘connect/befriend’ with other members.
  • This section could easily be abolished or control handed over to regional community members who could lead these groups either on Airbnb or, much better, on Facebook groups where they may already exist. At the moment too many of these groups have very low levels of activity and need to be pruned.

HOME SHARING CLUBS

Home sharing clubs have high levels of activity and great potential.

  • The goal of home sharing clubs is to educate local hosts about local laws and benefits of hosting.
  • Home sharing clubs overlap significantly with local connection groups and should be merged. These are led by community members and generally have higher levels of activity which suggests great potential in letting community members lead areas of the community.

IDEATION

This is where members can suggest ideas and improvements. It’s not working well, mainly due to Airbnb’s limited ability to implement and respond to ideas.

  • The ideation area is hidden and not very active (or clear under the name of ‘host voice’)
  • Translation of ideas is very smart.
  • The ‘how it works’ explanation would benefit from explaining the process of how an idea goes from ideation to participation.
  • It’s best to display ideas by title with their current status. The design of this area is not well suited for ideation.
  • Anger is boiling up from a lack of participation from Airbnb. This does not bode well.
  • The idea statistics in the bottom right should be at the top. However, 6 ideas under consideration isn’t a great statistic. Showing the list of ideas previously implemented would be useful.

INTERNAL SUPPORT

There are several indicators the community doesn’t have high levels of internal support. Two of the biggest are:

  • The online community is hard to find. It appears at the very bottom right below several rows of invisible scroll posts. This indicates the community has low levels of internal support.. The easiest way to boost traffic would be to increase the community’s visibility.

  • The community is interestingly not hosted on airbnb.com but has been moved to a ‘withairbnb.com‘ domain. It’s not clear why this has changed in the past year.

CONCLUSION

Overall, a confused strategy, some design issues, and far too much sprawl.

Airbnb’s online community has huge potential but feels like a smorgasbord of different initiatives which have grown under the banner of community. This leads to a confused strategy which has led to a sprawling use of Lithium’s modules and overlapping areas of participation.
The community would benefit from focusing on solving host’s problems, sharing the best ideas between hosts, and removing all other features from the website.

Local connections and meetups can be best facilitated by people submitted groups hosted on third parties (e.g. facebook.com or meetup.com) for approval to be listed. These can then be led by a committed advocate in collaboration with Airbnb.

Airbnb would benefit from customising the design for each purpose (customer support, best ideas) and making it easier to find and scroll through the trending questions or ideas and the best ideas ever shared.

The community mission of building a planet where everyone can belong is noble, but would be far less effective than focusing on the immediate needs of the hosts (e.g. booking their properties solid and solving host’s problems).

Ideation would be useful when Airbnb can communicate what ideas it needs and when it needs these ideas. There is also potential in better nurturing superusers and building a more advanced gamification system.

I hope you found this breakdown useful, drop me a line with any questions.

Comments

  1. Nick Emmett says:

    Awesome! Some really great points in here that we can ALL learn from! Positioning of content and key components, hints, tips and “nudges” for users to be more active or helpful are a great idea, something I’m going to consider how we can include some of these in our Salesforce based community.

    I need to come back and read again later on, when I’ve cogitated a little!

    These posts are brilliant @richard_millington

  2. Richard Millington says:

    Thanks @Nick_Emmett,

    I think I’m going to move into less frequent, but more detailed, blog posts going forward. Seems to be a little more popular.

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