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Influencing review scores using behavioural science


There’s a heap of marketing research about influence and how people not as selfish as may be common sense predicts. Nudging is a technique used to influence decisions usually about weight loss and pension applications. I have looked at “Nudging” to influence people’s decisions about the reviews they write about your Airbnb. Here’s my blog post.

I suspect many of you already use some of these ideas instinctively. I think it is good to show science agreeing.

Of course, maybe you don’t agree.

Do you think you can nudge people to give 5 stars rather than 4?

I’d love to hear your feedback.



Another enjoyable blog post, Paul. As I’ve said before I love the way you put so much of what we know and write about here in the forum into an academic structure and give us evidence that what we do to be successful in running our Airbnbs is legit.

Several things I’ve noticed with regards to my own rental. One is that older listings get better reviews. That makes sense. If my listing has 400+ glowing reviews, one person grousing that they saw an ant or I wouldn’t let them check in early is really going to stick out. As it is, the short one sentence reviews stick out, even if they are nice. I’ve not had my guest book out much recently but that’s the same. I know a lot of people read through it and that impact their review of me.

The personal touch was mentioned in another thread recently. Guests don’t care what you know until they know that you care. For example taking the time to type “the conference center is 4 miles” from my house instead of “I’ll answer your questions after you book.” Yesterday I had the airbnb blocked off and no guest dogs. I had a packed schedule of things to do including about 3 hours with my phone off. I messaged my guests from Sunday, thanked them and told them I would be unavailable if they needed anything. Of course, since I was trying to enjoy a very rare day off, they needed something. I was able to see their message in between my Dr. appt and my movie. I called them on the phone and talked them through the issue. I messaged them again after I got home. Not only did I get a 5 star review posted same day but they also booked for their return trip next Sunday. Would I have gotten this if I’d been less helpful? Who knows.

You’ve also written a lot about authenticity. When I started with Airbnb I just used the stuff I had anyway. It was just a sparsely furnished empty guest room and that’s how it was priced and marketed. But after I remodeled and retired from my teaching job I started working on the room more seriously. My style and branding is a reflection of my personality and what I like, not IKEA or Architectural Digest. One thing I have in the room is a minature set of prayer flags that are produced locally to benefit women in our sister city of Juarez MX. You won’t find them at IKEA or Target. Here’s a close up of one

Could these send a subliminal message to the guest that shows up when they review? Sure.
I’ve discussed elsewhere how I communicate my values in the listing so as to (hopefully) deter bookings from people who don’t share my values.

There are many other variables. For some here the last thing in the world they care about are their values or those of their guests. They just want as many nights booked as possible. Some people can’t meet their guests in person and those hosts with whole house rentals seems to have the most problems. People who are catering to tourists have more problems than those catering to travellers.

One thing I don’t do and won’t do is “educate” guests on reviews, give them a sample review or ask for a review.


Yes I too enjoyed your article. That picture of the towel swan reminded me of my very first cruise. I was so tickled to find one on the bed one day. I know for a fact that I did leave a very generous tip for our cabin steward. He continued to make my birthday cruise very special. Indeed I was nudged.


I love your articles Paul, and KKC your thoughts and attitude are also greatly appreciated:)

I will try to translate:
The lotus flower
the pure human soul
whether our circumstances
are adverse,
always the beautiful flowering bud
will be our sky

We have a special blend Kona and French… its just the cheapo brand but it is what I drink. Also I’m used to picking up on what turns people on, have been known to complement a beautiful cars owner for their choice etc.

Here are my 1st 2 reviews for Tiny Tiki Trailer Zone. I am very happy to have got started on the right foot<><> No bookings now though. Maybe I should turn on SP??not. edit: A booking and an inquiry have come in since I wrote this, Yeah.

WOW. Just… wow! So many personal touches went into creating this space that it’s fair to call Julia an artist. She is very communicative and accessible. We loved hearing her stories about the details she personally designed in this space. From the floors, to the upholstery, to the entire bathroom, that is all Julia’s hand-crafted work. It’s just lovely. We also loved the advice she shared about the local hiking (right out the back door!) and things to do in the area. The views were breathtaking. The air was fresh. The neighborhood is so cool, like nothing else in LA. I could go on and on. I would definitely stay here again, and refer others to do the same!

What a charming local get-away! So much more than I expected. I was looking for a beautiful, peaceful place for reflection and inspiration – and this “zone” offered so many options for just that. I was glad that I arrived during the day to clearly see that the brief winding road was well paved and easily accessible – and was well worth it! I was warmly greeted by Julia, Michael and their sweet dog Bella. I was welcomed with tasty treats and great information about the area. As the sun began to set, I was enveloped in twinkling lights from the stars above and valley below. The next morning’s sunrise hike bathed the unstoppable view in glowing hues. The tiki bed was a great place to sit and read. I was concerned that the space would be tight and more rustic in the trailer, but to my delight, the creative use of the space and comfort touches drew me in to cozy up. Beautiful! Creative! Warm and Inviting! I will be back! Thanks Julia (and Michael)


As soon as I saw your heading I thought “nudge theory”. I think it works provided you don’t overdo it and expect too much every time. I explain to my guests that I am disabled and do my best and ask them to consider that when awarding stars for cleanliness. For the first time ever I got that message “8 recent guests said that the premises were clean and sparkling”. How did I achieve that? Through nudging them? Playing the disability card? No. By getting a professional cleaner in once a fortnight to do a really good clean. Sometimes it is easiest to achieve 5 star ratings the old fashioned way. By providing a 5 star experience.


Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I take them and think about them a lot.

I always assumed a starting point of clean and tidy makes clear business sense. No one can argue with this.

Success in a hotel and an Airbnb is the difference between trade and a craft. The Hotel Trade is the application of a simple set of rules, but the Airbnb is the artistic craft of hospitality. Of course, this is broad brush strokes, 5-star hotels/cruise ships employ artisan crafters too.

My emerging pet theory is that artisans have an understanding of human nature that they find hard to articulate as a set of rules. I guess because of its complexity. The Nudge, behavioural science and authenticity research are a start to unpicking it, but as you are pointing nudging can be inappropriate. Too much nudging becomes an inauthentic shove. In short, hosting is a personal art form.

Your answers suggest to me that social proof is the strongest method of persuading people of your Airbnb is the one they should book. It follows the astute host should do all they can to nurture social proof. Form a strategy around the acquisition of positive social proof and your business is on the right side of a feedback loop to success.

What I think I am trying to illuminate is that going the extra mile is a strategy that has as clear a business sense as making sure the house is clean.

I’ve submitted my dissertation on Airbnb hosting now. The original title was Nudging benevolent behaviour in Airbnb guests using handcrafted artefacts. A mouthful I know, but I gather academics love this. My findings are that handcrafted social “stuff” makes guests feel more at homes than a property made to look like an asocial hotel room. My experiments all revolved around assets left on or in the fridge: a handwritten note, homemade pizza and photos of me and Lynnie. I found guests left homes tidier and were more likely to ignore negative issues.

Handcrafted assets seem to work for an Airbnb as you do too.

I think the @KKC prayer flags are an excellent example. They are unique (therefore a surprise) and they send a message that you care about “others”.

@MtnGal swan towel is another example of extra care that fits this, It is broadly unique and sends a message from the cabin crew that they care.

The upholstery and personal design mentioned in @gypsy review suggest further evidence towards this too.


Congratulations on finishing your dissertation Paul! Hi Five! Waytago!


Useful thoughts in the article. In the second home/second STR I am currently setting up, I hung local prints from a local photographer, including a little framed bio of the artist – and directions to his studio nearby. So that would be location-specific authenticity.
I also stayed at an Airbnb on a recent trip, and the owners authenticity trick was to provide a continental breakfast with a fresh-baked French loaf delivered to your door after you messaged them with a selected timeframe choice. Even though I knew exactly what they were doing (differentiate and provide homey personal touch to market their product), and that they likely just bought ready-to-bake loaves at the local grocery chain and stashed them in their freezer until bake time, it felt authentic.

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