How to do Organic Discovery like Airbnb: Part 3

A guide to creating organic discovery: Part three of three

So now we come to the last part of our trilogy on how to create and implement an Organic Discovery strategy like Airbnb. In Part One, we talked about how to start with the basics by ensuring your customer experience really is first-class and is something that people would want to talk about, and making sure your SEO is in order. In Part Two, we discussed getting your customers to create content and leave reviews and share those on social. Now we discuss Influencers, Referral Programs and Employees and Partners, and how to tie all these elements together.


Now unfortunately influencer marketing isn’t typically considered to be an unpaid marketing strategy, but it is definitely a way to get your message out to a large audience of potential customers without paying anything to Google, Amazon, Facebook or Apple (GAFA). So while it can be an effective way to get content created by or co-created with an influencer in front of a large, attentive and targeted audience, it often isn’t a strategy for those of us with limited marketing budgets. Particularly when you consider that a mega influence like Kylie Jenner can charge upwards of $1m per post (yes you read that right: per post!). 

But that notwithstanding, as we highlighted in this post and illustrate below, influencers come in all shapes and sizes from the mega influencers like the Kardashians of the world, through to macro and micro-influencers, all the way down to nano influencers. In fact, everyone is probably an influencer for someone, even if only a close group of family and friends. And, of course, many influencers have been known to write the odd post or fire off the odd tweet about a product or service they really enjoyed, without any expectation of payment. After all, recommending something you actually do like and use every now and again is good for authenticity and credibility, even for macro-influencers!

A graph showing word-of-mouth marketing strategies and tactics

So if you are already running an influencer marketing campaign, then you should coordinate that with your Organic Discovery strategy by making UGC available to influencers. But given that micro and nano influencers often have more influence given their proximity to, and authenticity and credibility with, their followers, why not engage with them to encourage them to help spread your content with trackable links allowing you to reward them for each action they drive.

A Referral Program

A key part of Airbnb’s marketing mix has always been a referral program, one for hosts and another for guests. And that makes perfect sense, after all when you have created a unique and world-class customer experience, you have NPS surveys saying a high percentage of your customer base would recommend you to friends, you have lots of positive ratings and reviews, etc., then it only makes sense to give those customers an easy way to refer you to their friends. 

In their pre-IPO prospectus, Airbnb talked about “putting in place the infrastructure” that supports unpaid channels and that is precisely what a referral program is. It is the element that turns all the other parts of the Organic Discovery strategy into sales. With research consistently showing that consumers trust ‘recommendations from people [they] know’ more than any other marketing message channel, referral leverages the authenticity of the recommendation of an actual customer combined with the relationship and trustworthiness of the referrer vis-a-vis a known friend. 

Recent research explained that the effectiveness of referrals is partly down to better matching and partly due to social enrichment. Better matching is simply that a referred-in customer is much more likely to be a good fit for your brand than an average website visitor. This is due to the fact that friends of a good customer tend to share a similar customer persona and that customers tend to search among their network for people they know would appreciate the offer. Further, social enrichment comes from the fact that your customers know your products and services very well and can make precise recommendations.

By offering rewards to referrers for successful referrals, brands can not only thank customers for their efforts in bringing a new customer but, according to research from Yale and UC Berkeley, overcome the psychological barriers to referring, namely the risk that the referral turns out to be a bad one. This is more powerful when the reward for the referral, as in the case of Airbnb, is linked to further use of the service, in this case with account credit. The incentive to refer can also be further increased if you add clever psychological tools like tiered rewards, gamification and triggers to get customers referring again and again. 

Interestingly, Airbnb realized early on that the primary motivation of hosts for listing their properties was to earn money, and so they offered cash rewards to hosts instead of account credit. So your referral program should be capable of supporting a variety of different rewards. Finally, we should not neglect the importance of incentives for the referred-in friend, as highlighted by research from Harvard, as the power of a trusted recommendation is only magnified by an exclusive offer that you can access thanks to your friend’s recommendation.

How to use referral programs to boost Organic Discovery

Employees, Partners and other Influencers

An often overlooked part of Organic Discovery is supercharging it by reaching out beyond your customers to use the same tactics and tools with your employees, your affiliates and your business partners.

Your employees are some of the most credible and motivated influencers you have at your disposal. Not only do they know your products or services in great detail, but by choosing to work with you they have already shown their dedication to your success. And their recommendation is going to be so much more convincing if they themselves are avid users of your product or service. But remember that not only can they advocate for you one to one with friends and family, with the average Facebook user having 338 friends and the average Twitter user being reportedly followed by 707 others they can become an important part of your social outreach strategy. 

While affiliates are not strictly part of an Organic Discovery strategy, as affiliate marketing is, by definition, performance marketing, to the extent that you are working with affiliates, you should coordinate with your Organic Discovery efforts. Affiliates can use UGC, such as images and reviews, to increase conversions and you can use your referral marketing software to extend the reach of affiliates and add gamified rewards for higher performance.

Your business partners are also another important audience that can be connected to your Organic Discovery strategy. They may already work with the kind of people who would be your ideal customers and can offer an ideal co-marketing opportunity, particularly if your product or service is complementary with theirs. Of course, if you really offer a great product or service at a competitive price, then your partners should have no problem recommending you to their own customer base even if you do not provide something complementary to their own offering. And you can scale the reach of your partners’ audience using referral marketing with smart psychological incentives.

Bringing it all together as a Unified Organic Discovery Strategy

Up until now, we could forgive you if you said ‘tell me something new!” Each of the elements above are well-known elements of many good marketing strategies. However, that would be to miss the essential element of how you need to knit these together so that they are complementary and become self-reinforcing as part of an Organic Discovery ecosystem, including:

  • Making sure that you have a great product or service is the basis for customers to have a great experience that they would want to share and become brand ambassadors for you. But also by having ratings and reviews, using surveys, and monitoring sentiment on social media and the percentage of customers that go on to refer you, you have a continuous feedback loop from customers and the inputs to further improve your product or service. 
  • By ensuring that your website and owned properties are optimized for web search via SEO, not only will more users see your content and UGC, they will also be more likely to find the links to leave a review, post content or refer a friend. And having great content and UGC that has longer dwell times and is shared and liked frequently will help convince Google, Bing and other search engines that your content is good quality that should be surfaced in search results.
  • By having UGC content on and off your website you will not only increase brand awareness and traffic, but also provide social proof, thereby using positive word-of-mouth to increase conversion rates, and thus making all of your traffic more cost-effective. 
  • A user who posted images or videos should be a good candidate to give a review, and a customer who posted a glowing review or gave a high NPS score is signaling that they are a potential brand ambassador who can refer you to family and friends. Conversely, someone who refers a lot of new customers should be an ideal candidate to leave a review, etc. Thus, the elements can and should reinforce one another.
  • The essential element that Airbnb managed to create was an ecosystem where both sides of the transaction, the host and the guests, clearly benefit from the reviews and UGC and see that by contributing themselves they not only improve the service for themselves but for everybody. If you can get to this stage then you have an Organic Discovery machine.
  • Finally, the main takeaway from what Airbnb has done should be that all this won’t happen by chance and you need to have a coherent and well-executed strategy for Organic Discovery to be successful.

We appreciate that this has been a long and in-depth article and if you made it this far and would like to talk about Organic Discovery and how to put the elements together, we would love to talk, even over a virtual coffee.

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