How Does Airbnb Referral Program Work Successfully?

How Does Airbnb Referral Program Work Successfully?

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Referral marketing is one of the best business growth strategies employed worldwide. A firm that did this well and found immense success through it is Airbnb. Other brands and businesses often wish to learn how the Airbnb referral program leveraged the power of social proof, incentivizing, and user data.  

This blog will be of great help to such businesses. For it lets you know the following-

  • The origin of the Airbnb referral program
  • The Airbnb referral program’s features made it highly successful.
  • How you can develop a brand ambassador program like that of Airbnb for your business

The origin of the Airbnb referral program

Airbnb is a San Francisco-based firm that runs an online marketplace for lodging, mostly homestays for vacation rentals, and tourism. Back in 2008 when Airbnb offered services for travelling to distant places and staying there at a stranger’s house for entertainment purposes, people started suspecting it of a scam. 

Since this concept was something never heard of before, people considered it risky. Some were scared that it might be a false front for human trafficking or some other wrongdoing. To promote its services in such a scenario, Airbnb started relying heavily on word-of-mouth and positive reviews. This is how the Airbnb referral program was born in 2011. 

However, it was only partly successful and was considered yet another example of a failed referral program. But not for long. When the data on the success of the referral program was announced, it made everyone truck back to Airbnb. For, the program had earned a revenue of millions of dollars. 

The biggest issue was that Airbnb’s program wasn’t promoted enough. So, they created the second version of it. It sought to create brand awareness and drive a lot of sales. And it certainly was a huge hit- it boosted the daily bookings by 300%. This blog will discuss why this program became one of the best referral programs

Features of Airbnb referral program that helped it succeed

Here are the reasons why the Airbnb referral program became a sensation. 

  • Mobile-friendliness: Unlike the first version which did not cater to mobile audiences, the second version was available on iOS and Android. Airbnb included this feature as it found that half of its emails were read on mobile devices. This way, they addressed the needs of a quickly growing mobile population.
  • Banking on human compassion: When it came to choosing a suitable reward for its referrals, Airbnb wanted to know what will work. They A/B tested two variants. One of them offered $25 for referring a friend and the other enabled giving $25 to a friend. Surprisingly, the second variant got higher response rates, restoring faith in humanity.
  • Providing convenience: Airbnb referral program facilitated convenience in three different ways. One was providing a shareable link. The second was the provision to import contacts from email service-providing platforms. Though this might have been considered as intruding on people’s privacy, the power of convenience conquered the former. And the third was providing flexible payment options. 

  • Playing safe: Another aspect that helped the Airbnb referral program succeed was how it played safe. It did so by providing an unsubscribe link whereby uninterested people could quit. Yet another way it did this was by staying out of the tricky SMS marketing. 

  • A/B testing: For successfully running the Airbnb referral program, the firm A/B tested all possibilities including calls to action, emails, subject lines, and landing pages. This helped them know which ones worked for them and which ones didn’t. 

  • Analytics: The firm continually improvised the Airbnb referral program by measuring its performance. The metrics that they evaluated were potential, book, onboard, acquire, share, and return. This framework perfectly suited their user journey. 

  • New acquisition channels: Airbnb understood the importance of new channels for tapping into brand affinity and driving business growth. So, instead of relying on email alone, the firm also focused on WhatsApp to acquire new referrals. This served as a huge competitive advantage for the firm as it was an early bird to use it. 

  • Influencer marketing: Airbnb also relied greatly on influencers for viral marketing. Reports say that a single China-based celebrity named Anthony motivated thousands of people to sign-up and thousands of them to book with Airbnb in the very first month. 

  • Different rewards: Airbnb referral program offered different rewards for hosts and guests. The formerly received cash rewards and the latter received travel credits for their future bookings on Airbnb. This was because hosts preferred cash rewards over travel credits. And this triggered higher participation in the program.

  • Personalization: People today expect high levels of personalization in the communications they receive from brands. Airbnb referral program facilitated this by placing a photograph of the referrer in their emails. Besides, the firm introduced the program to its customers at many different entry points such as soon after signup, after a good experience, etc. They also tracked every single entry point for its performance.

Creating a referral program like that of Airbnb for your business

Developing and launching a referral program like that of Airbnb for your brand isn’t rocket science anymore. With a referral program software like InviteReferrals, you’d find it a piece of cake. It is a simple-to-integrate yet powerful referral tool that enables your business to grow and widen your customer base through referral marketing.

Trusted by more than 20,000 clients worldwide, it lets you easily run referral programs on your website and/or mobile app. Once launched, you can set up a customer referral campaign by following the simple instructions given. It allows you to promote your campaign on different marketing channels such as your website, email, mobile apps, SMS, Whatsapp, social media networks, etc. 

The software is feature-rich and allows you to easily carry out activities necessary for running a successful referral program. Here is the list of features of this software. 

  • Simple one-time integration
  • Security and fraud prevention
  • Complete automation
  • Customizable multi-event rewarding
  • White labelling
  • Payment checkouts
  • Developer APIs
  • Multiple campaign types
  • Influencer identification
  • Referral statistics
  • Multi-lingual availability
  • Great support

Additionally, the software seamlessly integrates with tools and platforms that you may be currently using for running your e-commerce store, website, and more. Some of them are 3dCart, opencart, Drupal, BigCommerce, Shopify, Magento, WordPress, and Google Tag Manager.

Wrap up

The Airbnb referral program became a great hit due to several reasons. We’ve discussed those in this blog. Developing a referral program like that for your brand needn’t be just a dream anymore. Using a powerful yet simple tool like InviteReferrals you can tap into the immense potential of referral marketing. Do try the 14-day free trial offered by it!


Q1. What is referral marketing?

Referral marketing refers to the technique of promoting a brand and its offerings to new customers through referrals. 

Q2. What is a referral marketing channel?

The components of your referral program that your users will interact with are referred to as the touchpoints or marketing channels of your referral program. These include your marketing emails, Referral widgets, share messages, push notifications, and notification emails. 

Q3. Why is referral marketing important?

Referral marketing is important because people trust other people more than they trust advertisements and messages from brands. Besides, while the latter can be irrelevant to them, the former cannot be. 



Shivani is a content writer at InviteReferrals. She writes SEO articles, blogs, and guest posts for businesses to improve website ranking on SERP. She follows a balanced approach for the quality of content and its marketing. She loves to do creativity, although she had an English major in her graduation.

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