Friday, July 29, 2011

Airbnb: Crisis Management Fail

There are so many things disappointing about this story regarding an Airbnb customer and Airbnb.

Customer's blog posts:

I hope the victim is able to eventually find peace as this incident certainly appears to have left her in an extremely vulnerable state.  What's disappointing is that Airbnb had several opportunities to turn this horrible situation into something better for both the victim and Airbnb.

They only had to do the right thing. By doing the right thing, Airbnb could have made the incident a non-issue. They should have taken care of the victim: provided accomodation, resources, and support. The cost? Some phone calls, a personal visit, and some nominal costs. The downside for not doing so? Alienation of its current and future community members and hundreds of millions of dollars in valuation.

A lot of people argue that by doing the right thing Airbnb is setting a precedent and opening the door for future fraud claims. That is a short-sighted and misinformed judgement. Just because Airbnb provides support to this customer doesn't mean they are setting a precedent for how they treat all cases. And even if they are extremely concerned about setting a precedent, they can take mitigating steps.

If this situation were handled correctly, the victim's blog post never would have been written and none of us would even be having this conversation.

This is Crisis Management 101 for Airbnb and they failed.  They failed not just once, but multiple times.  Each stage of this crisis elevated the stakes of the game, and each time Airbnb mishandled the situation.

Stage 1. Victim contacted Airbnb
Stage 2. Victim writes blog post
Stage 3. Victim writes 2nd blog post

People familiar with crisis management know that the minute a story about a relatively unknown company hits mainstream media in a negative light, the negative brand cost is tremendous. For the millions that are for the first time hearing about Airbnb through mainstream media outlets, they are leaving with a horrible first impression.

There is little Airbnb can do now to change those people's impression.  They read the news story, remembered "Airbnb = not trustworthy", and moved on.  Tomorrow their attention will turn to something else.

The best thing Airbnb can do is take advantage of its current airtime to broadcast:
1. What its doing to prevent future situations like this from happening
2. How it plans on supporting community members
3. An honest apology

The climb out of a ditch is always more difficult than the fall in. It's up to the Airbnb team to figure out if they make things right. At the very least I hope they make community management priority #1 (it certainly is not right now).

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