Case History: Airbnb
The five stages of social media grief are rant, press send, deny, excuse, apologize. To save time, it might be best to just apologize first. Or we can stop doing dumb things on social media. You will see this play out with a viral meme going around, a post by @Airbnb’s global communications director, Kim Kingsley.
Kingsley was attending a party for colleagues on the San Francisco pier, and someone took an artful photo of the group, which she posted on Instagram. For reasons she now regrets (her Instagram account is now locked), she juxtaposed the image of revel-making pranksters with two young children in an immigrant detention center, with the caption: “…that night I fell in love with new colleagues while children 2,000 miles away were being detained in
The intent of the message was sympathetic, to be sure. But on social media, where the concept of love has been reduced to a swipe right or left, asking for deep introspection is a bit naive. The media predictably reacted to the image as insulting, craven, and very millennial.
The New York Post called it a “communication blunder of global proportion” while Fox News sniffed, a total “Air-head move.” When the Post’s writer, Oli Coleman, first saw Kingsley’s post, the only word he could think of was “cringe-worthy.”
Kingsley is no wet behind the ears neophyte when it comes to media. She was COO of Politico before joining the shared rental company. If she can make a faux pas of this magnitude, so can I or you or someone we just hired to handle global communications.
One thought to keep in mind before hitting the send button is that those who agree with you aren’t going to buy the product because of the post. But those who disagree will use the company as leverage to get back at you and the company. The company’s enemies aren’t hiding, they’re waiting for the right moment to attack.
For example, Airbnb is fighting a heated political war with hotel labor unions who claim the home sharing company is stealing jobs from blue-collar workers. The unions are taking direct aim at Airbnb’s business and its wealthy founders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, among the richest billionaires in the world who are looking at a 50 billion dollar IPO on the horizon. The union efforts have been effective in cities like New York and most recently, according to the New York Times, the resort island of Majorca.
People may love Airbnb, but fandom can cloud perception and lead us to believe we are as virtuous as we convince ourselves. But the cynical media isn’t buying it: “Is anyone shocked that Airbnb, a $31 billion global company that’s made its fortune flouting local housing laws and exacerbating the housing crisis, would spend millions to protect its black-market housing racket?” shouted the New York Daily News in an article that could have been ghost written by a labor activist. (One has to ask, how much advertising revenue does the Daily News receive from New York hotels vs. Airbnb?)
This underscores how even the most successful organizations are vulnerable to mass hysteria and anti-business trolling. When our modern digital enemies see viral memes from unauthorized social media posts, it is a rallying cry. Which is why business leaders need to follow common-sense rules when it comes to political opinion.