Use the AirBnB effect to grow your local community group

Stand out by using great photography

This is one of those stories that has inspired big and small companies and organisations alike. In case you haven’t come across AirBnb: It’s an online marketplace that allows people to lease or rent short-term lodging all around the world.

These days, if you book a holiday home on AirBnB you will notice that most of the listings look very polished and informative, even though it’s private home owners and not professional hotel owners who have uploaded the information and images to the site.

But, this hasn’t always been the case. AirBnB was previously no different from other User Generated Content sites when it came to the appearance of its listings. Let’s be frank: most of us are not equipped with professional cameras and photographer skills!

So, what changed?

The big shift happened when AirBnB started a simple experiment: They sent out professional photographers to a number of privately offered houses on AirBnB to take high quality pictures. The bookings for those houses went up immediately.

So they sent out 1,000 photographers to visit people using the platform to support them with their photography. Soon those places were booked 2.5 times more frequently than those of customers who didn’t get pro shots of their place on the Airbnb site.

Why is this relevant for your local project?

The lesson we can learn here is simple: When you document your project well, and make it stand out by looking great, you attract more people.

Just put yourself into the shoes of someone who knows nothing about your group or project;  someone who has never been to a Poetry in the Park meetup, a GIY group or a Fáilte Isteach class.

There are lots of questions people have and maybe some barriers to cross before they decide to just come along. Is this right for me? Who are the people involved? What actually happens at the meet up? What’s the atmosphere like, will I feel comfortable there? Is it fun?

A huge part of that feeling of insecurity, we all know ourselves, can be taken away just by offering a sneak preview into the project. And photography is the perfect way of doing so.

How do you make your project look good?

You want to give people a good overview of what’s going on in your group. Usually that means showing a mix of what’s involved in your project: the people participating, the friendships being built and the topic you’re working on. Try and get a good mix of pictures documenting that in a variety of panorama and close up shots.

For example, for your Poetry in the Park group, get shots of your whole group, some close ups of people reading and listening, close ups from the books and notes people are holding, and also the surrounding, the park where you’re holding it.

In a GIY group, get a photographer to come along when you’re meeting outside or doing your plant swop for example that makes for some good images. Get pictures of people chatting, having their cup of tea but also of the vegetables you’re growing.

Light and weather conditions are important to present your project in the best possible light. Many locations just don’t offer the best light. And we all know, that good weather is nothing we can order. But it’s something we can be aware of.

If you’re in a dark location, is there an activity that you can take outside for the day when you take pictures? Is there a photographer, who has some more experience and the right equipment for shooting in difficult light conditions? Sometimes it can help to switch to black and white to get a better picture.

One last tip: “More is more!” – People like to browse around and get a good feeling for what the community project is all about. Let people spend some time with your idea before making the decision to come along by providing many and varied photos.

How do you get a professional photographer?

It’s the same as always when it comes to asking for help with volunteer-run projects. You need to find someone who cares about the community and wants to help to make your project stand out. Start by telling them why YOU care.

It doesn’t need to be someone who does photography for a living; there are lots of people out there who have a professional camera and take amazing pictures just as a hobby. And if you don’t know anyone yourself, just start asking around.

We’ve been working with hobby photographers as well at ChangeX and really enjoy it because you find people who really care about their community and are happy when they can donate their skills to a good cause.

When you ask for a favor like this, just remember, you’re not asking for yourself, you’re asking for the community!

Good luck with documenting your projects and please share your pictures with us on your ChangeX page or send us a link to [email protected]

Header Photo: Taken at the community group Common Ground in Bray by volunteer photographer Alex Sheridan

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