Showing Up as a Person: What We can Learn From AirBnB on Instagram Stories

‘Show up as a person. Never show up as a company. People relate to people.’

- Linda Boff, CMO of GE.

OK, here’s the thing.

We know Airbnb is an obvious use case for storytelling mastery. It’s no secret that a category that’s all about travel and creating unique experiences provide two very compelling reasons for people to pay attention to the Stories that Airbnb tell.

But this isn’t an article about why Airbnb crushes it on Instagram Stories in a way that only Airbnb can.

It’s about how they tell Stories as humans - not as a brand. And why people relate to it, feel connected to it, and above all, fall in love with it.

So, here’s 4 things that every brand can learn from Airbnb’s approach on Instagram Stories, no matter what industry they happen to be playing in.

  1. They’re Obsessively Audience Focused.

What we mean by this: every Story they tell is grounded in a first principle insight about their audience, and digs into the value they can add around this.


Take their #NotYetTrending content stream as an example. They feature a lesser-known destination every week and tell the story of it through the eyes of their local hosts. It shows the quirks and perks of a place you’ve probably never heard of before, and what their hosts do to create a unique experience there.

The key audience insight: millennials and gen z, in particular, crave unique experiences. Whether it’s the speakeasy bar hidden behind a pizza place or a build your own Magnum pop up ice cream bar, they’ll invest in unique experiences over things - every single time. And they love to be the one who heard about it first. Airbnb’s #NotYetTrending directly taps into this.

So how can you learn from this? What is your first principle insight? What’s the thing about your audience that you can extrapolate, dig into and create a story around?

Instagram Stories dive deeper because they offer an immersive, authentic look at the story at hand - so starting with a key audience insight that your brand can talk to authentically will engage them, and keep them coming back.


2. They Put Their Audience at the Centre.

Speaking of being audience-obsessed, Airbnb takes it one step further with the way they tell their Stories. That being, the audience is always at the center of the narrative.

Take their #TravelTuesday content stream as an example. First of all, they use user-generated content to showcase a destination - the holy grail of authenticity. They reveal the destination one small segment at a time, then quiz the audience with a native Instagram poll to see if they can guess what it is. They finish up by featuring more UGC content of the destination in question, complete with facts about the place and a CTA to swipe up for more info.


The audience is at the center of this every step of the way. It’s gamifying the story by testing their knowledge of destinations, giving them interesting facts and insights they may not have known before, and showing them how to explore more.

What can you learn from this? Make it about your audience first. Build the narrative around them - their knowledge, their feedback, their content and their experiences. The more you start with your audience, the more they’ll listen.

3. They Know Consistency is Key.

One thing Airbnb have on lockdown that every brand can learn from: consistency.

Their content streams all make sense for the brand, have a clear purpose that ladders up to a business objective, and feature weekly. Their #TravelTuesday, #NotYetTrending and #TravelStories content streams are all regularly featured pieces that their individual Stories fit into.

We’re trained to consumed content in an episodic manner. By having regular content streams, Airbnb ensures that every story they tell makes sense - both for their audience and for their brand. It avoids your storytelling becoming a case of chucking sh*t at a wall to see what sticks, and starts building wider narratives that your audience can really buy into.


4.  They’re Appropriately Relevant

This sounds like something your grandmother might have said to you at the dinner table growing up, but trust us on this.

Relevancy, for a brand, is a hard line to walk. By relevance, we mean tapping into cultural moments in time with storytelling, like Mother’s Day, the Superbowl, or Pride.

Airbnb did a phenomenal job with the latter during Pride Month in the US. They showcased one of their host’s murals that was created in the streets of Brooklyn to communicate the idea of acceptance and inclusion,  and providing the exact address that people could go and find it (corner of N14 and Wythe, if you’re interested).


It was a beautiful Story for them to tell, because it was innately human at a time where the country was celebrating acceptance and inclusion. But it was relevant for them because they were not only providing a unique experience for their followers, but also featuring one of their very own hosts: the artist who created the mural. It therefore made it an appropriately relevant story for them to tell, on a channel that allowed an intimate look behind the scenes of the mural’s creation.

What can brands learn from this? Cultural moments in time can be powerful engines for storytelling: they allow you to be part of a wider conversation, increasing both reach and visibility. Instagram Stories provide a powerful platform for an authentic way to build that narrative. But they have to be authentically relevant for your brand. Really relevant.

Otherwise, we’re all in for another Kendall Jenner/Pepsi debacle. And we all know how that turned out.

Turns out AirBnB do have stuff we can all learn from, after all.