The recent scandal involving Airbnb, the social media platform for home sharing and couch surfing, portends the most fundamental lesson in PR crisis management: It’s a hell of a lot better to have a plan and not need it, than to not have a plan and get your reputation ransacked.
As the media have catalogued, an Airbnb user named “EJ” had her apartment trashed and vandalized by someone who booked a visit via the website. Unfortunately for EJ, her ordeal only got worse when she sought Airbnb’s assistance in remedying the situation. As she very thoroughly catalogued, the site’s operators and safety staff were nearly absent and may have even impeded her efforts to seek justice. Prominent blogs picked up her story, and from there the crisis public relations nightmare only got worse for Airbnb.
Aside from Airbnb’s moral and ethical duty to right these many wrongs, the company also had financial priorities to consider, as it recently raised a major chunk of investor funding. Nothing will shake investor confidence more than horror stories like this, played out for the world to see, reblog, retweet, and scare future business away.
Airbnb did finally issue a very lengthy apology and announced new, enhanced security measures to prevent future threats against site users. But the fundamental question(s) must certainly be running through many minds: Why didn’t Airbnb have a thorough crisis management plan in place? Had the C-suite not anticipated such worst-case scenarios? Were holding statements and rapid response given advance review? Was there a checklist of immediate information to communicate to law enforcement?
Just like EJ’s most recent blog post says, “had these significant new policies been implemented from the very beginning….” Our thoughts exactly.