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The opportunity in crisis

In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of chatter generated by a host’s recent experience having her apartment ransacked, robbed, and trashed by fraudulent guests via AirBnB.

Initially, AirBnB appeared to be helpful and supportive, but according to the host, EJ, after she posted her horrific experience to her personal blog, AirBnB’s supportive stance seemed to stop. Since then, her post has gone viral, and the story has been muddied – with some even going so far as to challenge the truthfulness of her story. For weeks, EJ remained silent, until more recently, when she finally posted a follow-up that provided her point of view on some of the key events that had unfolded and to shed light on her appalling experience with the online rental start-up.

It would seem that after the supportive trail seemed to go cold, one of the founding members of AirBnB went so far as to call her and ask her to take down her blog or make her post about her experiences private, as it could impact AirBnB’s growth and chances of securing funding. News statements released seemed to insinuate that her claim and story may not be legitimate. All the while, to the media, AirBnB gave the strong impression that they were being supportive and helpful to EJ, and that a suspect had been apprehended with their help. EJ strongly noted to the contrary.

Through these collective actions over the weeks, AirBnB has demonstrated a very short-term, shallow, and immature response to a crisis that has only served to undermine the strong brand equity they have managed to gain in a very short period of time. For an online service company that relies heavily on good faith and trust between community members, the erosion of that very foundation can be devastating.

When crisis hits – particularly for an online service company like AirBnB – it is integral that the reaction is focused on their customers and the resolution of any situation – in this case, crisis – with integrity, compassion, and authenticity. Do that, and ironically, everything else that seems of grave importance – like reputation management and containing the damage – will be positively affected as a byproduct of the swift actions taken to demonstrate listening and crisis resolution. To do anything but will only detract from the the crisis at hand.

The silver lining to this story is that AirBnB reconsidered and decided to turn back and fully address the situation and look to make improvements to help prevent future tragic losses like what EJ experienced. Brian Chesky posted an address to their blog today, which is a positive move in the right direction. A very similar address has also been sent via email to all AirBnB members. Unfortunately for AirBnB, a lot of damage has been done to their community’s trust in them, not to mention what EJ has had to go through – a great deal of which could have been prevented. However, where others have pressed on in their old habits, AirBnB at least took inventory and made efforts to turn things around. So long as they continue on this path, I have no doubt they will be able to recover from this incident.

Besides, a lot of people will be watching and reading in the coming weeks on the next follow-up and hopefully conclusion in time for EJ. As a community, I’m sure those same people hope AirBnB makes good on their strong words and promises.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have been following the incident since it unfolds. Too bad EJ seem to stop updating her blog regarding the upgrades of the incident. Hopefully she will be okay. Last I checked, Airbnb seem to be doing pretty well now with launching of London office and getting news coverage in Germany.

    I won’t have a problem renting others’ apartments on Airbnb, but I will definitely think twice offering my own place for rental. Even with the Airbnb protection, I don’t want to put up the terrible feeling of own apartment being trashed by some freaks.

    October 3, 2011

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