At the start of the pandemic, the future was dim for Airbnb. The infamous hotel industry disruptor was now facing a devastating disruption of its own. Suspended travel, shelter-in-place and strict social distancing cost them $1 billion in canceled bookings—a loss that left them no choice but to postpone their long-awaited IPO plans, and cut their staff by almost 2,000 employees.

But by summer’s end, the tides had turned. The brand baffled the business sector as it recovered from a 90% drop in bookings to a 22% YoY increase in consumer spending in July. Not to mention—against all odds—it went ahead and filed for its initial public offering.

So what contributed to the brand’s comeback? A deep dive into its social activity over the past few months gives us several clues.


As I scrolled through Airbnb’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube feeds, a few things became clear:


1. They act fast

Their team has launched several large-scale initiatives since the outset of the pandemic. The first was #FrontlineStays, in which they partnered with hosts to extend free housing for 100,000 doctors, nurses, and other frontline responders. What’s most impressive was how quickly the brand stood this campaign up. #FrontlineStays launched March 26th—a mere 13 days after COVID-19 was declared a national emergency in the United States.

Takeaways: Acting fast enabled Airbnb to make a tangible impact on the global crisis at a crucial point in time. Plus, instead of just donating money, they donated their offering. It’s a good  exercise for your brand to consider how your unique product, offering or service could make a difference in a time of need.

To increase the speed of your own creative and strategic output, work to develop an agile process for creative work that includes an abbreviated review workflow. Planning and scheduling your content in advance also frees you up to create more timely posts on the fly.

2. They understand their audience’s needs on a deeper level

Shortly after #FrontlineStays, the brand unveiled “Online Experiences,” the digital equivalent of their preexisting “Experiences” offering. Experiences are one-of-a-kind activities that offer a deep-dive into the local host’s world and passions. Since Experiences could no longer take place in physical spaces, Airbnb recognized that their audience’s need for adventure and connection was stronger than ever.

Not only was this a way for people to stay connected during the shutdown, but it was also a clever strategy for hosts to make money while their properties stood vacant. Online Experiences are now a focal point of Airbnb’s social content strategy, and could remain a staple of the company’s service offering well after in-person Experiences open back up.

Another benefit of Online Experiences is that Airbnb can use the data from sign-ups and social engagement to learn even more about its audience. Those insights will be indispensable to practically every area of the company from marketing and sales, to R&D, customer service and more.

Takeaways: Catherine Powell, Head of Airbnb Experiences, has said that “human connection is at the core of what we do.” So when circumstances beyond the brand’s control kept them from offering their normal services, they went back to their audience’s deepest need: connection. And they came up with a way to create it in the only place they could: online.

What’s at the core of your product or offering? What need does it answer for your audience? Keep that need at the forefront of everything you create and you can’t lose.

3. Their content is driven by data

Another program that’s featured heavily across Airbnb’s social profiles is its #GoNear campaign—a new initiative to support economic growth through local travel. Tapping into the company’s own booking data and customer surveys, they identified a growing demand for nearby trips within 300 miles, or a day’s drive, of people’s homes.

A deeper dive into some of the company’s trend reports reveal additional insights: an affinity for remote locations, unique and work-friendly spaces and longer stays. They’ve also noticed an uptick in searches for international destinations, suggesting a rekindled wanderlust. And you’ll see that the brand’s social content reflects these insights: posts about road tripping, working from home, floating cabins and the occasional envy-provoking views.

Takeaways: Engagement on social depends on your content’s relevance. One way to ensure your posts are resonating is to tailor your content to what’s trending with your audience—which you can identify with a good social listening tool.

You can also use your own social data and your competitors’ to identify which types of content perform best. The data itself might even make for great content if it’s compelling or interesting enough. Airbnb does this by sharing posts that reveal the trending searches on their site.

4. They know how to work the right channels

A common mistake brands make across their social channels is using the same pieces of content on every platform. Because no two channels are alike, you need to provide a unique experience on each platform to be successful. And that’s exactly what Airbnb does. For example, their Instagram grid looks and reads like a traveler’s diary. It’s full of dream destinations, excerpts from listings and quotes from hosts and guests alike detailing their adventures.

Their tweets, on the other hand, are much more interactive, often asking their followers to pick a favorite or participate in a poll. Their tone is also less whimsical and more witty. If the brand’s Instagram reads like a travel diary, then its Twitter reads like…well, a Twitter—meaning they use more everyday/slang phrases and language. It’s also where the brand shares more of its blog articles and resources. They know people use Twitter more than Instagram to read news and consume helpful information.

And then there’s Airbnb’s YouTube channel, which is full of beautiful, Travel Channel-esque video content. The brand’s robust video library includes playlists of destination and adventure highlights, content from Experiences (both online and in-person) as well as more “how-to” type content like tips for hosts and guests. That destination-specific content probably came in handy to scratch the adventure itch while the brand’s audience was stuck at home and unable to travel.

Takeaways: Each platform has nuances and best practices for generating engagement. Your brand may not need to have a presence on every platform, but for your posts to resonate, you need to have a strategy that is specific to the platform you’re using.

This article breaks down social media marketing tips by platform. It’s also important to have a good social management solution to help build, monitor and optimize a solid cross-channel social strategy (plug intended).

5. They make great partners 

Airbnb’s most recent initiative is probably the biggest to date: a global partnership with The International Olympic Committee (IOC) to support the Olympic Movement through to 2028. According to the announcement, “the nine-year, five-Games partnership is designed to create a new standard for hosting that will be a win for host cities, a win for spectators and fans, and a win for athletes.”

This partnership will generate hundreds of thousands of new hosts, new Airbnb “Olympian Experiences,” support for refugee athletes, positive economic impact and new, unique accommodations and services.

Want to know what else it generates? Content. Olympian interviews and experiences are now a significant pillar of Airbnb’s content strategy.

But this isn’t the brand’s only partnership. Past and present partners include the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), MINI Cooper and The NAACP, to name a few. Not to mention the local authorities, charitable partners and tourist bodies from around the world—including the National Park Foundation (USA)—that are an integral part of the brand’s #GoNear campaign.

Takeaways: Partnerships can lead to all kinds of organizational benefits including bolstered credibility and distribution. They’re also great brand-builders, awareness and content drivers. Partnerships can help expand your reach, communicate core values and create new opportunities to engage with—and serve—your audience on social.

Identifying the right partners for your brands starts by learning more about your audience. What other brands are they loyal to? Make sure you seek partners in categories that are relatable to your own, and companies that share your values.