Learning to Airbnb by Engaging in Online Communities of Practice

Shagun Jhaver
Aug 19, 2019 · 4 min read

This blog post summarizes a paper that investigates how Airbnb hosts learn the intricacies of their work through becoming integrated members of Facebook Groups dedicated to Airbnb hosting. This paper will be presented at the 22nd ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in Austin, Texas.

The sharing economy has been growing at a rapid pace, with numerous emerging platforms such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb that have revolutionized how individuals interact with services long provided by established industries. One crucial aspect that distinguishes Airbnb from traditional hotels is that while traditional hotels are typically operated by lodging professionals, providers of accommodations on Airbnb tend to represent an unconventional workforce that in large part consists of “amateurs” occasionally renting out their apartments. Hosting on Airbnb can mean a substantial source of income, but these hosts’ abilities to consistently earn this income depends on how well they learn to serve their guests in competitive marketplaces, while remaining cautious and efficient with their expenses. Sharing economy platforms like Airbnb represent a general paradigm shift towards nonprofessional service providers. It is, therefore, particularly important to examine the current learning strategies of workers in this space, and determine ways in which their pursuits may be supported.

Requirements for enlisting as an Airbnb host are not stringent. However, the process of learning to become an expert Airbnb host is non-trivial. To better understand this, we posed the following research questions in this paper:

  1. What kinds of informational resources do Airbnb hosts rely on for gaining expertise at Airbnb hosting?
  2. How do the practices of Airbnb hosts change as they evolve from new to more experienced hosts?

To answer these questions, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 active Airbnb hosts in the Atlanta, Georgia area. We also studied the activity of Atlanta hosts on two popular Facebook Groups: Metro Atlanta Airbnb Hosts and From Zero to 100 (Atlanta AirBnB).

We found that some of our participants joined these Facebook groups before they began hosting so as to learn what Airbnb hosting entailed. Other participants told us that they joined the Facebook groups after they had started hosting to improve and stay motivated. These Facebook groups allowed potential hosts to seek established hosts and connect with them to form individual relationships. Most of our interviewees took paid online courses to learn about the procedural aspects of Airbnb. Those who were less keen to invest in an online course researched online to learn about hosting - their research ranged from reading blogs and listening to podcasts to watching YouTube videos.

Our participants turned to experienced hosts on Facebook for advice on how to maximize revenues and minimize costs. Participants used Facebook Groups to learn about a variety of new tools, software applications and services, such as smart locks and automation software, which made it easier for them to conduct hosting. Hosts also used these online communities to make sense of bad experiences with guests and learn how to prevent such situations from occurring again.

As hosts moved from the periphery of these online communities of practice to the center, they became more involved in supporting the new community members, often through providing mentorship. Many participants also built on their early experiences and support from the community to expand their properties, either through increasing the number of listings or improving the quality of their listings.

Our findings offer many important lessons for the benefit of (1) sharing economy platforms, (2) micro-entrepreneurs of the sharing economy, and (3) online communities catering to the needs of the above. We posit that sharing economy platforms could help reduce the learning demands on new workers by recommending amenities they might find helpful to purchase. We also recommend that Airbnb, and other platforms, can be more learning-oriented and offer free online tutorials with information on what new hosts might expect. Our findings suggest that sharing economy workers may enjoy many benefits by increasing their sociability with other micro-entrepreneurs in their communities of practice. We also propose how new online communities could be designed to support the needs of sharing economy workers.

We contend that the takeaways we glean from our research are valuable not only for Airbnb (the hosts, platform, and online communities of practice), but also for sharing economy platforms in general, particularly against the backdrop of the changing nature of work. We hope that future CSCW and sharing economy research will further investigate learning processes of workers to inform the design of more thoughtfully and deliberately designed learning infrastructures.

For more details about our methods, findings, and design implications, please check out our full paper that will be published in Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction (CSCW) 2019. For questions and comments about the work, you can reach out to any of the authors, or drop an email to Neha Kumar (advisor) at neha.kumar [at] gatech [dot] edu. Citation:

Maya Holikatti, Shagun Jhaver, and Neha Kumar. 2019. Learning to Airbnb by Engaging in Online Communities of Practice . In Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, Vol. 3, CSCW, Article 228 (November 2019). ACM, New York, NY. 19 pages. https://doi.org/10.1145/3359330


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