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Airbnb: Social Crisis Management

You may have heard Airbnb mentioned recently in our “Topics That Are Igniting,” mainly because they just received a sizable investment from Ashton Kutcher. Airbnb is a marketplace that brokers rentals of people’s spare rooms, entire apartments, or vacation spots. It’s a very cool service, I’ve been a member since they first started, when I was renting out a spare bedroom I had in Brooklyn.

Unfortunately, a member of Airbnb known as EJ posted on her blog about a bizarre and brutal destruction of her home by someone who rented her space through Airbnb. Her things were stolen, her identity documents photocopied and her apartment destroyed. After the ordeal, she contacted Airbnb, with some difficulty, to let them know what had happened.

I am citing Airbnb’s eventual response here as a solid example of social crisis management. After EJ’s blog post began circulating around the web, other users became concerned, and in order to keep people’s trust about the security of using a site like Airbnb, they needed to act.

The first thing they did was to post a mea culpa of sorts on their blog , which began with the words “We felt paralyzed, and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up.”

The first rule of managing a social media crisis is to genuinely apologize and take responsibility for what you’ve done wrong. Members of social communities are not known to mince words, so if you put out what appears to be a PR apology, or a disingenuous attempt to divorce yourself of blame, Twitter will shred you to ribbons. You will do far more damage to your brand than whatever crisis you are attempting to control.

Be honest, be humble, make change, and act quickly. Airbnb dropped the ball on the “quickly” part, so they attempted to rectify the situation by really nailing the humble and making change parts. Aside from their sincere apology, they rolled out brand new safety features, including the suggestions that EJ herself had made.

They built an online Trust & Safety Center , where they rolled out some of their new improvements, including a $50,000 guarantee against any damages caused by an Airbnb tenant, a 24-hour customer support hotline, which was one of EJ’s suggestions, a bigger customer support team, and a platform for crowdsourcing suggestions about how to make Airbnb safer and easier to use.

At the end of the day, their handling of this crisis will have a two-fold benefit – the first is that Airbnb users will see that the company is honest in their efforts to improve their experience, and the second is that they’ll glean valuable user feedback that will help them to build a better experience.

What are your thoughts on the handling of this crisis?

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