How to Not Turn People Away From Your Brand

Lessons From Airbnb’s Content Strategy Manager, Holly Hetherington.

A few weeks ago I wrote about what I learned about content strategy from Nicole Fenton at Huge’s regular Content Strategy Meetup.

Two weeks later Huge hosted another content meetup featuring Holly Hetherington of Airbnb. In effort to improve content strategy at my own company and connect with others who are passionate about content strategy, I’m rehashing my most notable takeaways from her talk on creating inclusive and thoughtful experiences. But before we dive in, let’s learn a little bit more about the speaker. Context is always important.

Previously at Facebook, Holly worked on suicide prevention, where she helped shape the communications and experience Facebook was giving to people who we’re considering ending their lives. You can learn more about her project here. At Airbnb she worked on the Community Commitment experience, in which users were asked to make a commitment to not discriminate against accepting home-stay offers; this initiative was created to help prevent discrimination and ties back to their tagline, “belong anywhere”. You can learn about this project here. Her learnings from both of these projects acted as the foundation for her discussion and insights.

  1. “Know your edge cases”. For Holly, this meant understanding Airbnb’s former users who did not sign the community commitment, an agreement that means users will not discriminate against any visitors. While it could’ve been easy to neglect experience of the group that did not sign the agreement, and focus only on those who did, Holly talked about the important of using non-judgmental language learning more about why the people who declined the agreement did so. Turns out it wasn’t all malicious or racist thoughts that were causing some not to sign the agreement. In some cases, it happened to be single female hosts who felt unsafe by accepting males to stay. Airbnb has made some exceptions for these hosts and others, Holly says, which demonstrates the importance of her last point on this topic; leave the door open at the end of the day, because it’s not about shame, but about hope and change of opportunity.

2. Listen without agenda. Don’t listen with judgement. Listen and ask more questions.

3. Avoid labels. This might have been my favorite learning of the night. “Avoiding labeling is one thing you can do immediately to make your experience more thoughtful and inclusive,” Holly said. This was important for particularly important for copy that pertains to sensitive topics. For example, she learned that people who were struggling with an eating disorder can be in denial, so instead of using language that explitically talks about seeking help for eating disorders, language that asks if someone is hurting, or in another addressed the underlying suffering, can be more effective.

4. More sensitive, more context. The more sensitive the issue, the more need for context. This means more words are okay in web copy around topics or information that can cause stress.

5. It’s okay to remove your brand from the center of the story. AirBnb put up a new banner for with a header for their campaign around social good. It also said “join us”. Seemingly harmless, right? It also acts as a “call to action” that’s drilled into every marketer’s head, but it also puts Airbnb at the center of the story. They ridded the phrase which allowed them to re-designate the focus on the community that they were trying to serve; by giving their community a louder voice, they establish more trust and respect.

Alright, that’s all for now! Want to talk content for fun? Leave a comment or get in touch! @JessicaSchimm.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Jessica Schimm’s story.