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HomeAway Insights - News from the Birdhouse

At the HomeAway Summit this past weekend, owners and managers gathered in Scottsdale Arizona to connect, learn, and share with each other and HomeAway employees. We'll be posting the presentations and a wrap up in the coming days.


Brian Sharples held forth on the evolution of the vacation rental industry, and Brent Bellm shared some awesome market research, while HomeAway employees and vacation rental experts shared best practices on topics ranging from social media marketing and online security to new HomeAway products. Everyone made new friends, toasted old ones, networked and kibitzed. There was even an impromptu “ideas” panel pulled together by spirited Summit attendees to generate ideas for enhancements and improvements to HomeAway’s service.


On Saturday, teams of HomeAway engineers and product managers showed off some “fresh from the lab” ideas for products in the Sneaks session. A hybrid of American Idol and a Hackathon, the Sneaks are always a popular session at the summit. The teams pitch their ideas, and the audience votes with their applause to select a winner. Some of these features are live right now so go ahead and give them a spin! (Insider Guides and the iOS Mobile App)


Sneaks are real time market feedback for HomeAway and a chance for owners and managers to influence our roadmap of coming releases.  After each demo, the Applause-o-meter was put up on the screen to measure how the audience felt about each team’s efforts. We pay close attention to which sneaks get the most applause - so the audience yelled, stomped their feet, and jumped up and down for their favorite features.


sneaks.pnglive demos.pngapplausometer.png


After the 2012 sneaks, four of nine sneaks were released as products – Automating reservations via online booking, Traveller screening via profilesfiltering and searching on VRBO, and the mobile owner app have all made their way out to owners and managers.  A fifth sneak, “fighting phishing” is nearing beta, while the others are still over the horizon. 


In 2013, two of the sneaks are available today for you to try out. See below if you want to get an Insider Guide on your listing or get our new iOS mobile app (it works for VRBO, HomeAway, and HomeAway UK) that enables you to manage you calendar, inquiries, reply with quotes, and send payment requests.


Here’s the list of 2013 sneaks and presenters:


  • The VRBO team (Melissa, Paul, and Kirk) showed how the VRBO traveler site optimizes the experience across iPads, Iphones, Android Phones, Android Tablets, and devices of every size and shape
  • Matt of the HomeAway Traveler team illustrated a way to view the properties that are the most popular with travelers, with HomeAway Leaderboard,
  • Kate showed how Panoramic 360 photographs (see an example here) enable owners to really show off their properties
  • Dustin, leader of the HomeAway Traveler Team, created an Insider Guide revealing a new way to market your properties and provide your guests with information for their stay (learn how you can add an Insider Guide here)
  • Dave from the mobile team showed how owners can manage their inquiries, calendars, and bookings from their iphone. Learn how to get the mobile app here.
  • Patrick, Tim, and Michael of the social team showed a way for potential guests to learn if they know anyone who has stayed at or reviewed your property, increasing trust for reviews
  • Jason and Patrick of Glad to Have You showed a vision for how mobile apps and home automation from BeHome247 can make for hassle-free stays and save money
  • Jacy, product manager for HomeAway owner tools, showed masked email addresses, unlimited templates, and attachments as part of a new Inbox could make your lives easier while helping secure the vacation rental marketplace.


It was too close to call a single winner, so the judges awarded a three-way tie to Panoramas, Home Automation, and the Inbox. It was a great session, and thank you to everyone who participated for all of their hard work, creative ideas, and energetic pitches.


Most of the sneaks were future concepts, fresh from the lab. But two of the products that were sneaks are live today!


If you want to create an Insider Guide like these (standalone guides here: and; and how they appear on listings on and homeaway) simply follow the instructions here for HomeAway owners or these ones for vrbo owners. Or just check out some of the awesome guides below:



Guide to Honokeana Cove in West Maui

Guide to to San Francisco and East Bay

Guide to Ilmington and the surrounding area

Guide to Greater San Diego

And if you want to start managing your VRBO, HomeAway, or HomeAway UK listing from your iPhone, open up itunes, and search on "homeaway vacation rentals" or learn how to get it here. Or if you are reading this on a mobile device, go here.


We hope to see you next year at the summit!




In this final post in the Social Marketing 101 series I’ll provide you with lists of tools to assist with managing your content, monitoring the social web and determining which of your efforts are effective.


Monitoring the Social Web and Managing Your Content:

There are many free, or inexpensive, tools available to help you monitor the social web for mentions of your vacation rental location, travel and events that are relevant to you. There are also free or low cost tools that can help you schedule in advance the content you want to publish on your accounts, as well as keep track of engagement happening with your accounts.  This is by no means a comprehensive list of tools available; these are just some of the more popular ones on the market now.


The best thing to do would be to test these tools and see which work best for you. Scheduling content ahead of time is a helpful time saver, and I’d recommend trying the tools below that allow you to both schedule content and monitor your account.  Another time saver is finding the best tool that will allow you to keep track of the interactions happening with your accounts in one location.



Determining if your Efforts are Effective:

Once you have started your social marketing efforts you’ll want to determine what is working well and what isn’t, so you can focus on the most productive activities.  Within Facebook and YouTube are in depth analytics data that will provide you insight into your account growth, content that is most engaging, where your fans are located and more.  Beyond using the information that the networks provide, there are more free tools that help you gauge your overall social presence. For Twitter- there are countless free tools to help you measure performance.  Below is a list of some of the most used tools, but again, this is not a comprehensive list and you might find additional services that work better for your needs.



With that, I’ve covered the basic phases to getting started with social media marketing. I look forward to seeing the conversations about what works for your vacation rental in the Community Forums



Jennifer Stafford


HomeAway Social Media Manager

Find me on Twitter @HomeAway or @JennStafford


We are pleased to announce the addition of a new social publishing tool on the owner dashboard for™ and, which makes it easier than ever to share an update about your rental and create an enticing slideshow of your vacation rental on your Facebook® Profile or Fan Page. Those who click on your wall post and slideshow are directed back to your listing and can find more information about your rental.


Additionally, we also integrated the option to Like a property on Facebook or share the property on Google+ via the +1 button for and We encourage owners to ask their friends, family and past guests to share their property with their social network by utilizing these buttons. By increasing the number of social shares that occur on their properties, owners are providing themselves additional opportunities to increase inquiries through the expanded reach provided through their social circles. 


Below are some things to consider as you begin testing this new social tool, and I highly encourage you to read Jennifer Stafford’s blog post on Social Media Marketing (part 3) for additional tips.


Social Publishing


Facebook recently reported that it now has over 750 million accounts around the globe, and nearly 3/4 of users visit their accounts daily, even while traveling.   Travel is one of the topics people comment about most often, especially when searching for where to go, and when sharing details and photos during and just after their trip. 


Our new publishing tool is an ideal way to make your rental part of the conversation.   A simple piece of news is all you need. Here are some examples to think about:

•    a new restaurant has opened nearby, and it’s really good

•    one of your guests had a unique wildlife sighting

•    a local festival is coming up soon

•    you just finished re-staining the deck and are enjoying a cool drink in the shade

•    all the wildflowers are currently in bloom

•    recent thunder showers have made the mountain view crystal clear


It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just something that might make someone else think how nice it would be if they were there right now.


“Marketing” to Friends


One of the best reasons to use this new tool is the ability to keep the people you know casually aware you have a rental available.  Sharing your own – or your guests – enjoyment helps keep your place in mind in a way that’s not pushy or salesy.  Even better, when someone in Facebook piles on with a comment, your original post becomes even more interesting and gets shared on their wall for all their friends to see as well.


If you want to use Facebook, but want to present more of a business identity as a property owner or manager, you can use the tool to publish to a Facebook Page instead.  This way messages that are posted will be shown only to “fans” of the page – those who clicked the like button on the page – and not all of your friends.  This is a good way to engage with past (and future) guests without having to make everyone Facebook friends. 


And the good news is, with our social publishing tool, you can share updates with both audiences if you choose.  Just write one post for friends, then switch your target page, and write another one for fans.  It’s easy.


How to get started


Visit your dashboard and look for the tab labeled “Get more referrals: Publish a slideshow to Facebook.”  There you’ll see a view that looks something like this:

Screen shot 2011-07-26 at 4.32.20 PM.png

All you have to do is add your comment, then click “Post Slideshow.”  If this is the first time you’ve used the tool, you’ll be asked to connect and grant permission to connect to your Facebook account.  You’ll also be able to choose whether you want to publish to your friends via your Facebook profile page, or fans via a Facebook Page.


As soon as you do that, your post will be live in Facebook, and anyone that clicks the play button will see your post expand to an attractive and automatic slideshow, featuring all your property photos that look something like this:


Screen shot 2011-07-26 at 4.34.03 PM.png


Clicking the photos or on the links in the post brings a reader directly to your listing’s property page.  Each post you make is also captured on the dashboard where you can keep track of what you said before, when you said it, and see which of your posts drove the most visits.


Try it today!


Screen shot 2011-07-26 at 4.34.18 PM.png


The previous posts in the “Social Marketing 101 for Your Vacation Rental” series covered the basics of goal setting and determining the social networks and content that best suits your needs. Now I’ll cover how to build fans and engagement on your profiles within the largest social networks. 


Tactics for Facebook, YouTube and Twitter vary, but the main challenges and keys to success remain are universal. Building fans can be a challenge when you are starting to market your rental using social media. In order to attract people to your social profiles, you need to create quality content that’s relevant to your vacation rental and its location. Again, content is defined here as anything you’re publishing; from photos, to videos, to updates on events, deals or the weather. To keep people tuned in to your social profiles, you need to consistently update your content and engage with your fans and followers.  Let’s cover some strategies to build your accounts and engage with fans.


1.  Building awareness: What are some of the most common ways to inform people of your social media accounts?


•    Promote them on your website

     o    If you have a website, consider adding the social plug-ins available from Facebook such as the Like button, Comment box or buttons from other networks like Twitter.  By allowing people to share content from your site, you gain access to their social networks and therefore a larger pool of potential travelers.

     o    Consider adding a feed of your Facebook or Twitter content to your website.


•    Include your social media accounts in your communication to guests

     o    If you email guests, be sure to include links to your social accounts or via email signature so they receive updates from you.

     o    Add a note on your check-out instructions at your vacation rental to remind guests to Like your Facebook page or Follow you on Twitter, and provide the URLs.


•    Test Facebook ads

     o    If you have a budget for marketing, try testing a Facebook ad to encourage people to like your page. You can also use ads to try and fill vacant dates or inform travelers about specials.

          ♣    You can set any budget for your ads, from $1/day to $500/week, it’s up to you.

          ♣    To find more information on Facebook Ads, here is their ad guide.

     o    Facebook offers a variety of ads that enable you to promote content on your page, ask people to Like your page, promote dates you have availability and more.


•    Find others who post content relevant to your rental

     o    If you need to reach new fans of vacation rentals or the location of your rental, try reaching out to people who already have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts or YouTube channels about similar topics. To find these people use the search features of the social network and look for people mentioning the destination of your vacation rental.

     o    If you respond to content they are posting and share information with them, you can then ask them to interact with your account or repost your content.

          ♣    For example, if your local Visitor Bureau tweets about traveling to their destination, or about an upcoming event, respond to them with a link to your property and available dates.


•    Do you often have specials or deals?

     o    Consider promoting them through deals sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and Facebook Deals or Facebook Ads to reach a larger audience.


2.  Increasing engagement: How can you get people to interact with your accounts?

•    Content relevance is key

     o    In the third part of this blog series, I covered content types that work for each of the main social networks.  Ensure that your content is relevant to your audience and has a purpose.  It’s better to post less but ensure that the quality is high - versus posting regular superficial content.

     o    Content testing is also important. Vary and track the content/information you post to see which produces the most engagement with the people connected to your social accounts.


•    Stay engaged

     o    Push for interaction with your audience by asking questions, requesting reviews or testimonials, asking for comments when publishing photos, etc.

     o    Don’t over extend yourself. To be successful you have to publish quality content and spend time looking for opportunities to get involved in conversations that extend beyond marketing your rental. Engaging regularly with others will make them more likely to interact with you in the future.


•    Encourage interaction with your past guests

     o    When you email past guests or leave them instructions at your rental, tell people what you’d like them to do versus just mentioning your accounts. 

     o    Provide a link to your page, but if you’d like to get reviews on your Facebook page ask guests to post them there; if you’d like people to share photos on Twitter or videos on YouTube ask guests to share them with you. Giving guidance will increase the likelihood that you’ll get content from fans which will in turn get shared to their networks as well.


•    Offer social media exclusive discounts

     o    If you are connected to guests through Facebook or Twitter consider offering exclusive discounts to encourage travelers to stay connected to your accounts.


I also wanted to include this infographic from Ad Age that shows demographic data for some of the various social networks.  As you can see, many people using social media now fall into the target demographic for travelers that you’d like to market your rental to. This reinforces the importance of not only engaging in social media, but choosing the social networks that will have a higher probability of helping you achieve your goals.


In the final post of the ‘Social Marketing 101 for Your Vacation Rental’ series, I will cover managing your content and monitoring the social web, and how to determine whether your social marketing efforts are effective.


In the first two posts I’ve discussed goal setting and determining which social networks will help you achieve your goals, as being the first steps to take when marketing your vacation rental using social media.  Today I’ll cover how to decide on types of content that you could publish.



Step 3: Decide on the types of content that you want to publish on social networks

First, let’s define content; in this context we are talking about any information, photos, videos, links to websites, etc that you have available and want to share. Different types of content work better for different social networks.  If you’re time constrained you need to think about content that is readily available to you, and easy to publish, but if you have more free time then you can be more creative with what you publish.  Be imaginative with information that you can share and create content that encourages engagement.


            Think about:

    • What information do you have that’s “insider knowledge” for the location of your rental, or just some of your favorite things in that location? Do you know the best shop to go for coffee in the morning, know of great deals at local restaurants, or the perfect spot to see that amazing sunset? 
    • Photos of your rental or local events and attractions near your vacation home are easy ways to create new content and share relevant information with potential guests
    • Offering a deal or freebie that is exclusive to your fans on social networks
    • Sharing videos of your rental or the town where your rental is located. If you don’t have any video consider creating a few short tours of your rental or favorite attractions in the area. Adding a personal touch through video could make a potential guest feel more comfortable when considering renting your home.


Again, let’s go through the well known social sites and talk about content types that work best for them.  Keep in mind though, without engaging with the community, publishing content isn’t going to yield results.

  • Facebook
    • Updates about your rental business and events in your rental location
    • Links to local attractions, restaurants you enjoy, discounts being offered in the area, posts about “things to do” or “what you should know about X city”
    • Photos of your rental and the area including attractions and events
    • Video tours of your rental and the local area and/or local businesses you enjoy
    • Deals can be publicized or offered exclusively to your Facebook fans on your page. You can also utilize Facebook’s new Deals product which will allow you to create a deal that can be found on mobile applications and by subscription.
    • Poll your fans about your home or fun facts about the area with the Questions product on your page
    • Add your vacation rental as a location guests can “check in” to on Places and updates will be shared with their networks giving your business more exposure
    • There are also easy to use applications that allow you to create custom landing pages, or Welcome Tabs to greet visitors of your page. These applications, such as Pagemodo or Involver, are easy to set up and install on your page.


  • Twitter
    • Short snippets of information about your rental and the area such as:
      • Deals for your rental, calendar updates, reviews received, last minute vacancy dates, events and attractions in the area, deals being offered from nearby businesses or restaurants
    • Photos uploaded through a site or application like TwitPic or Instagram
    • Links to video tours you’ve posted on YouTube or your website


  • YouTube
    • Video tours of your rental
    • Videos of events or attractions in the location of your rental
    • Video of tips for things to do, places to eat, museums to visit, etc


  • Flickr
    • Photos of your rental, your local area, events and attractions


  • Yelp
    • Contribute reviews of your favorite restaurants and shops
    • Join conversations in the Talk and/or Events areas. The key here is to contribute to the conversation and not only talk about your rental. Look for conversations where it may be appropriate to join and talk about your rental though.


  • FourSquare/Gowalla
    • Deals if you offer them
    • Tips for what to do in the area


  • Forums
    • Contribute your expertise about the vacation rental industry, your business or your local knowledge
    • The important thing about Forums is to find something you’re interested in talking about and become a part of the community with conversation and not just marketing your rental
    • Local information can be a great conversation on destination based forums where you can add value with local knowledge


  • Blogs
    • Blog on your personal website about local information and features of your rental
      • Provides an opportunity to engage with travelers and potential customers through your blog
    • Find opportunities to guest blog on other sites that discuss topics where you could add value to the       blogger’s site
      • Often you will be able to include your bio with a link to your personal site or vacation rental listing so guest blogs aren’t overly “salesy”
      • Guest blogging can also help with search engine rankings by providing links to your personal website        or your vacation rental listing



    In Part 4 of ‘Social Marketing 101 for Your Vacation Rental’, we’ll discuss how to build fans and engagement on your profiles.


    In the first blog I discussed goal setting as the first step to start marketing your vacation rental using social media sites.  Now we’ll cover how to determine which networks will help you accomplish those goals and the time needed for each.


    Step 2: Determine social networks that can meet your objectives and time commitments 

    As much as we’d all like to participate in all of the social networks, there are too many at this point to be able to utilize all of them effectively. You need to take your business objectives and availability and match them to the various social networks to see which is the best fit for you. Remember, just because the mainstream media is mentioning a social network everyday that doesn’t mean it makes sense for your business.


    Let’s break down some of the basic uses for the more well-known social sites as well as the time commitment required to succeed on each:



        (HomeAway research has shown that Facebook is the most utilized social network among our travelers)

    Good for:

      • Connecting with past guests
      • Finding potential guests
      • Connecting with other owners and vacation rental-related businesses
      • Publishing a variety of content types (photos, links, videos, stories, etc) in one location
      • Using it as a website if you don’t currently have one
        • To get the most out of Facebook create a Page, not a profile for your business

    Time Commitment:

      • Initially low, if your page grows significantly and is very active then medium



    Good for:

      • Finding potential travelers
      • Connecting with local businesses and events organizations
      • Publishing short updates about your business and links to other sites

    Time Commitment:

      • Medium if you want to build an active and engaged network



    Good for:

      • Showcasing videos about your rental and the area where your rental is located

    Time Commitment:

      • Low to Medium depending on how intricate you want your videos to be and whether you’ll spend time filming and editing versus hiring someone

    Options for videos: Below are examples of owners and managers who’ve done well at showcasing their homes through a variety of different video setups.

           Slide Shows – Example 1, Example 2 Showcase home & attractions

           Video Tours –  Example 1Example 2 Showcase home, attractions and add personal touches



      Good for:

        • Showcasing photos of your vacation rental

      Time Commitment:

        • Low if you are only going to upload photos



      Good for:

        • Connecting with local businesses through the reviews system
        • Engaging with the community through Yelp Talk & Events (if available in your area)

      Time Commitment:

        • Low if you engage as you have time available



      Good for:

        • Exposing your business to an audience in the area of your vacation rental
        • Promoting specials
        • Building loyalty with social savvy guests

      Time Commitment:

        • Low beyond setting up your location and updating with deals, if you offer them, or local destination tips



      Good for:

        • Contributing to conversation on topics related to your business, events and/or attractions in your area
        • Connecting with others with similar interests, potentially finding new guests as well
        • Talking with other owners about best practices in vacation rentals

      Time Commitment:

        • Low to high depending on how much time you want to dedicate to the community


      In Part 3 of ‘Social Marketing 101 for Your Vacation Rental’, I’ll cover how to decide on the types of content that you’ll create for marketing your vacation rental via social media.




      Jennifer Stafford

      HomeAway Social Media Manager


      As I’m sure you’re aware, everyone is trying to market their products or services using social media.  If you’re just getting started with social media marketing, it can be difficult to decide where to start and how to most effectively use your time.  Some people think the “try a little bit of everything” approach is best, but if you have limited time and resources, you need to concentrate on networks that will be most effective for your goals.


      This series of posts will discuss the steps you should take to create an effective plan to market your vacation rental using social media. Over the next few days we will cover setting goals, determining networks to use, deciding what types of content to publish, building fans, monitoring the social web and measuring your effectiveness.


      Step 1: Set goals and realistic expectations for your social marketing

      To be successful with any type of marketing you need goals to determine what tactics you need to do to meet those goals.   Is your goal to reach new travelers or to communicate with returning guests? Do you want to try to market locally or nationally? Would you consider yourself a success if you are engaging with people who love your rental or do you need to drive inquiries to feel that social marketing is worth your time?


      Once you’ve answered those types of questions, you can decide how much time you have to allocate to social marketing. If you have a few hours a month, you need a social outlet that doesn’t require much commitment, such as a blog or forum participation. If you are able to be active daily or weekly, one of the mainstream social channels, like Facebook, Twitter or Yelp, could be a good choice for you.  The other thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to participate just to be involved in a social network.  In order to be effective when you’re engaging on a social network you need to be adding value to a conversation, not just providing information, or else others won’t be receptive to your communication.


      After you’ve defined your goals and how much time you’re willing to devote to social marketing, it’s time to decide where to participate.  In Part Two of ‘Social Marketing 101 for Your Vacation Rental’, I’ll discuss how to determine social networks that can meet your objectives and time commitments needed.



      Jennifer Stafford


      HomeAway Social Media Manager

      Find me on Twitter @HomeAway or @JennStafford