#failure or #success in handling social media crisis

Social media is like a mysterious box. You never know what will happen next. I was surprised to see so many posts related to Airbnb at the night of March 15th, and started reading through some posts to find out what happened.

Ari Teman, a comedian with more than 2000 followers on twitter, has been a loyal user of Airbnb to rent out his apartment in Chelsea, New York City. His experience with Airbnb has been positive, until this one. A guy name David rented Ari’s apartment for March 14th, claimed that his brother and sister in law were “visiting for a wedding”. That night, Ari Teman stopped by his apartment to pick up a suitcase and found that “David” has gathered a group of people for a orgy party in his apartment.

Ari quickly searched the renter’s phone number and found a tweet advertising $20 dollars for an “XXX Freak Fest” at his address. He called the police and tweeted out to @Airbnb.

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As Ari Teman tweet out to Airbnb, the news went viral on Buzzfeed, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. He even wrote an open letter to Airbnb complaining about the situation. Ari got over  $87,076 in loss because of the damage in the apartment. He was also evicted by his landlord. This incident reminded many Airbnb users of risks associated with renting your own home to complete strangers. This is not a story about Ari Teman or the guy “David” but Airbnb.

So how did they respond to this mess?

Aribnb’s response was quick.

Airbnb tweeted back to Ari after an hour stating: We’re really sorry to hear that. We’re working on it and will be back to you soon.” They immediately sent a locksmith to replace the lock of Ari’s apartment, made plans to accomodate Ari in a hotel for a week and wired Ari $23,817 to make up some of his loss.

Airbnb wanted their users to know that this incident were rare, so they announced a statement regarding the situation on Gawker:

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April 11th, Airbnb announced a update in the terms of service (hopefully they amended it to prevent similar incidents).

Four lessons learned from Airbnb:

1. Be prepared

We all know crisis is unpredictable. In the digital era, social media is the most used communication channel. When something goes wrong, it is convenient for customers to complain on social media platforms. Be prepared. Social media should play an important role in company’s communication strategy and make sure there will be someone (human) responding to the posts or tweets.

2. Respond quickly

When a social media crisis happens, don’t sit back and wait for miracles. Respond quickly and take responsible actions. Company should react to the problems as soon as they know about it. The first 24 hours are crucial.

3. Take responsibility and be sorry

In the Airbnb case, we clearly know that Airbnb did not make sure the “verified user” was really verified. Despite all the legal issues, Airbnb was responsible for the incident. They quickly took actions to fix the problem and admitted the mistake they have made.

4. Legal team, PR and Marketing team should work together.

Legal team can help to solve the incident and make adjustment to policies preventing future crisis. PR team should quickly respond to the crisis and make press release regarding the issue to show that the company is actively solving the problem. Marketing can rebuild users’ trust by articulating their process of verifying users and the positive experience of other users. It is interesting to know that if you read through Airbnb’s twitter feed, you will not find a single tweet related to the issue. Instead, you see tweets about the happy feeling associated with traveling.

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