How Airbnb Turned a Viral TikTok into a PR Win: A Masterclass in Social Listening

In today‘s fast-paced digital world, opportunities for brands to make a splash on social media can come and go in the blink of an eye. That‘s why having a proactive, agile approach to social listening is essential. And there‘s perhaps no better recent example of this than Airbnb‘s viral TikTok moment with influencer Alix Earle.

The Influencer: Alix Earle

First, let‘s set the stage by taking a closer look at Earle‘s influence and reach. At the time of this incident in 2023, Earle had amassed:

  • 5.3M+ TikTok followers
  • 2M+ Instagram followers
  • 180M+ cumulative TikTok video views

Earle rose to fame on TikTok for her "get ready with me" videos and college lifestyle content as a student at the University of Miami. Her relatable personality and engaging storytimes quickly earned her a loyal following, particularly among Gen Z women.

As her star power grew, so did Earle‘s appeal to brands. She had already secured lucrative partnerships with companies like American Eagle, Revolve, and Spotify, reportedly commanding up to $70,000 per sponsored post according to The New York Times.

The Incident: Stranded in Italy

In June 2023, Earle traveled to Italy with a group of 11 friends, some of whom were also content creators. Upon arriving at their intended accommodations booked through Booking.com, they discovered that the rental didn‘t actually exist, leaving them stranded without a place to stay.

Earle recounted the ordeal on TikTok:

@alixearle Heres the storytime … stay tuned for updates 🤣🫶🏼✈️ #positano #girlstrip #italy ♬ Young Folks – Shindig Society

The video quickly went viral, racking up over 3.9 million views as Earle‘s followers eagerly awaited updates on the situation.

The Response: Airbnb to the Rescue

This is where Airbnb‘s social media team saw a golden opportunity. Within 24 hours of Earle‘s original post, they reached out to the group and arranged for them to stay at a luxury villa nearby for the remainder of their trip.

Earle once again took to TikTok to share the good news:

@alixearle THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE. Omg thank you @airbnb for coming to the rescue 🥹😭 #positano #airbnb #italy #girlstrip ♬ original sound – alix earle

This follow-up video garnered another 3.8 million views, along with glowing praise for Airbnb in the comments.

The stark contrast between Airbnb‘s swift, personalized response and Booking.com‘s delayed, generic comment on Earle‘s initial video only further boosted positive sentiment for Airbnb:

Booking.com's delayed response on Alix Earle's TikTok

Source: Alix Earle on TikTok

By the time Booking.com replied days later with a canned "reach out to us" message, Airbnb had already saved the day and reaped the rewards of organic, authentic influencer endorsement.

The Impact: Millions of Impressions

It‘s difficult to put an exact dollar value on the exposure generated for Airbnb by this viral moment, but we can make some educated estimates based on Earle‘s reach and engagement.

TikTok videos featuring the hashtag #airbnb have cumulatively received over 11.3 billion views as of March 2024. If even a small fraction of Earle‘s combined 7.7 million video views translated to new or increased brand awareness for Airbnb, the impact is substantial.

Factoring in Earle‘s reported sponsored post rate of $70,000, the equivalent value in traditional advertising spend for the impressions from her two Airbnb-related videos could easily reach into the six figures. And that‘s not even counting the intangible benefits of positive press coverage, word-of-mouth buzz, and perception of Airbnb as a brand that listens to and cares about its customers.

Beyond this single incident, Airbnb‘s proactive approach to social listening has served them well on numerous occasions. For example:

  • During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Airbnb was quick to address host and guest concerns, implementing flexible cancellation policies and launching resources like their Frontline Stays program for healthcare workers.
  • Amid the racial justice protests of 2020, Airbnb voiced support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement and committed to anti-discrimination initiatives, fostering social goodwill and mitigating potential criticisms of their handling of past bias incidents on the platform.

The Takeaways: Social Listening Best Practices

So what can other brands learn from Airbnb‘s success with social listening? Here are some key strategies to keep in mind:

1. Monitor relevant keywords and hashtags

Go beyond just mentions of your brand name to track conversations around your industry, competitors, and target audience interests. Tools like Hootsuite, Sprout Social, and Mention can help streamline this process.

2. Prioritize speed and authenticity in responses

As Airbnb demonstrated, timing is everything when it comes to capitalizing on viral moments. Have a plan in place for quickly escalating and addressing high-priority mentions. And when you do respond, skip the canned replies in favor of personalized, authentic engagement.

3. Look for partnership opportunities

Influencer marketing doesn‘t have to be limited to formal, paid contracts. By building genuine relationships and looking for organic collaboration opportunities, you can earn valuable endorsements and content at a fraction of the typical cost.

Tressie Lieberman, VP of Digital Marketing and Off-Premise at Chipotle, emphasizes the importance of choosing the right partners: "When it comes to creators, we always lead with authenticity. We want to work with real fans of the brand who organically post about us."

4. Think beyond damage control

While social listening is often associated with crisis management, it‘s just as valuable for identifying positive trends and conversations to join. Stay attuned to the topics and narratives resonating with your target audience, and don‘t be afraid to jump in when you have something valuable to add.

5. Measure and refine your approach

As with any aspect of your social media strategy, regular analysis and adjustment are key to long-term success. Track metrics like response time, sentiment, and share of voice to gauge the effectiveness of your social listening efforts and identify areas for improvement.

Airbnb‘s agility and attentiveness on social media have solidified their status as an industry leader in customer experience and digital engagement. By listening closely to the needs and conversations of their community—and acting quickly to provide solutions and support—they‘ve built a loyal following and positive brand image that extends far beyond any individual booking.

Of course, social listening at scale does require considerable time and resources. But with the right tools, team, and strategy in place, businesses of all sizes can reap the benefits of being truly tuned in to their audience.

As Earle‘s experience illustrates, sometimes the most impactful social media moments are the ones you can‘t plan for. The brands that are best positioned to take advantage of these opportunities are those that are already actively listening.

So go ahead—open up those (metaphorical) ears and dive into the social chatter. Your next viral win could be just one mention away.