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How Airbnb Used Blogs as a Stepping-Stone to Generate Substantial Buzz About Its Service

t’s important for entrepreneurial firms to generate press as effectively and inexpensively as possible. One startup, Airbnb, generated substantial press during its startup phase at very little cost. Its formula was novel, but it is instructive for any start-up trying to generate buzz and positive PR. Airbnb is a marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique spaces (typically in people’s homes or apartments) while traveling. It’s also useful for people who have space to rent to generate extra income. Founded in late 2007, the firm initially targeted people traveling to conferences and events in the united States. however, Airbnb now offers its services worldwide and has grown to allow people to rent space while traveling for any purpose (instead of business only, which was the initial focus). Early on, observers were struck by the amount of press that Airbnb generated. In its first two years, the company was featured in time magazine, in the new York times, in the Washington Post, on Cnn, and in a variety of other places. There wasn’t any obvious reason Airbnb (called Air Bed & Breakfast at the time) was getting so much attention. It didn’t have celebrity founders, wasn’t backed by a venture capital firm, and didn’t spend a ton of money. In fact, it was started by three previously unknown entrepreneurs and was bootstrapped until late 2010. So how did they do it? It all started with blogs. Shortly after the company launched, the firm’s founders e-mailed as many design bloggers as they could, explaining the Airbnb concept. The founders were designers, and the site was first used to help people attending design conferences find rooms in local designers’ homes for the duration of the conference. Several of the prominent design blogs, including Core77.com, picked up the story and ran articles about the new service. This initial effort prompted a small mention in Mashable, a widely read social media blog. In an interview about how they generated so much press early on, Brian Chesky and Joe gebbia, two of Airbnb’s founders, characterized getting mentions in blogs as a progressive process. If you get mentioned by small blogs, it’s easier to get the attention of larger blogs, and a company sort of moves up the ladder. The process wasn’t totally efficient. They often had to reach out to several blogs to get a single mention, but overall the strategy worked. next, they reached out to newspapers and magazines, which was also a successful effort. Airbnb seemed to resonate with journalists because of the unique aspect of its service. But the blogs played an important role here too. One thing the founders of Airbnb learned is that the first thing a newspaper or magazine writer does, when pitched by a new company, is type the firm’s name into google to see if anyone else has written about them. Fair or unfair, a journalist is much more willing to write about a company if others are writing about it too. That’s one of the advantages of being covered by blogs—their stories will show up in google searches. Even mentions in small blogs, which generally appreciate being reached out to, show up in search engine searches. Even though Airbnb is much more proven today, its founders still reach out to bloggers. They circle back to the blogs that have already written about them and ask them to write additional stories when there is something exciting to write about.

Questions for Critical Thinking

1. how does an entrepreneur establish a “relationship” with an influential blogger?

2. What’s the right way and what’s the wrong way to approach a blogger about writing a post about a particular company?

3. how important is generating press and PR for a start-up firm? Is it more important for some types of businesses than others? Explain your answer.

4. Case 11.1 focuses on ModCloth, an online retailer that sells independent designer women’s fashion. Make a list of the blogs (minimum of five) that ModCloth’s founder could have potentially reached out to when the company was launched.

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