How AirBNB Built A User Community That Will Take Action

by Jason Keath on May 11, 2015

airbnb rally

Douglas Atkin is the Global Head of Community at AirBNB. He spoke at CMX Summit last year and detailed out some of the lessons he has learned about building movements from his years at companies like and AirBNB.

Save 15% off the next CMX Summit, in NYC May 19th, with discount code SOCIALFRESH.

During his presentation Douglas spoke a lot about movements and grassroots organization > purpose-full communities that are focused on taking action.

This is why he was hired at AirBNB, where their community building efforts look more like a non-profit or political campaign than the average brand community management.

AirBNB is one of several collaborative economy companies that are forced to work against a set of old laws that impact this new style of business.

Here’s his tips on how to build a community that will take action:

1. The Not Impossible Metric

Your community needs to have a huge vision… a purpose, and a measureable purpose at that.

Data and tracking small wins are a part of any movement or community, but Douglas also suggests creating one big goal and metric that seems impossible.

At AirBNB, their big impossible metric is to create a world where all 7 billion human beings feel like they can Belong Anywhere.

At All Out, a non-profit Douglas helps with that fights for LGBT equality internationally, their impossible metric is to reduce the number of countries where being gay is illegal or punishable by death from 78 and 10 (respectively) to 0 and 0.

The impossible metric, according to Douglas, should not actually be impossible. It should be big and “improbable but possible.”

2. New Level of Community Leaders

This key piece is what allows a community or movement to achieve large scale.

Relying on a single community manager creates a single point of failure. As political organizations do, AirBNB treats its Community Managers more like Field Organizers, there to empower the community.

“A Field Manager is a Community Manager on steroids,” said Douglas Atkin, AirBNB Global Head of Community.

AirBNB treats their community employees as engines to empower their actual volunteer community members to lead, with great autonomy. In reference to this, Douglas spoke about the system Obama’s campaign teams used called the Snowflake Model.

snowflake model


Here is how the Obama 2012 campaign described the roles of the volunteers in the Snowflake model, “Relationships among team members… ensured the team was communicating frequently and working toward common goals… In the center of the team snowflake was the Field Organizer, who managed multiple Neighborhood Team Leaders.”

“In addition to the NTL, each team consisted of at least three Core Team Members, or CTMs: a Phonebank Captain, a Canvass Captain, and a Data Captain. Many teams had at least one other state or turf-specific CTM, such as Voter Registration Captain, Digital Captain, Youth Captain or Faith Captain.”

At AirBNB the Field Organizer (or Community Manager) is at the center of this snowflake. Their entire purpose is not to manage the community, but rather to empower the community to manage itself.

They recruit, train, and manage volunteers for leadership roles within the community. The equivalent of the Obama Campaign’s Team Leaders or NTLs. Because of this a key trait of successful community managers at AirBNB is to be able to identify and activate these volunteer leaders.

“That’s how we scale. We don’t try to do the community management. We get our users to do the community management by training them to effectively be community leaders,” said Douglas Atkin, AirBNB Global Head of Community.

3. Use The Commitment Curve

One tool that is essential for moving fans and community members from no action to becoming community leaders is the Commitment Curve.

The Commitment Curve is a tool for moving community members to increasingly harder actions by starting them off with very low-barrier actions. Sharing something in social media or signing a petition would be some of the easiest actions to ask your community to take.

Then you ask them to do something that is a little harder. For AirBNB hosts this might be to write their Senator (to encourage a change in old laws that affect AirBNB negatively) or attend a volunteer meeting.

Ultimately AirBNB wants their host community leaders to complete harder tasks like visit a Senator’s office, attend a rally, and become an involved volunteer.

Douglas also shared an example of what these increasingly more difficult asks looked like at, where they ultimately want you to move from an online group member to an in-person meetup attendee.


Source: Slideshare

You start with the easiest asks because once someone has done something, anything, to support your community or cause, they are predisposed to take a harder action. They are invested.

Getting them to gradually try harder tasks, and more time-intensive community supporting activities, is easier than jumping straight to the hardest tasks you’d like their support for.

You get more of the community to complete the harder tasks by providing these intermediate support opportunities.


If you’d like to see more speakers like Douglas Atkin talk about the power of brand communities, checkout the next CMX Summit in NYC May 19th. Save 15% on your ticket with discount code SOCIALFRESH.


Post Author

As the CEO and founder of Social Fresh, Jason is the lead analyst and consultant for all Social Fresh brand clients. Jason has 15+ years of experience as a marketing leader and focuses on how to help brands be more...