Airbnb’s Battle to Retain Public Trust


Ronn Torossian, Founder & CEO, 5WPR 

After the tragic Orinda shooting, Airbnb has been left with a large PR crisis. As much of the company’s business rests on users feeling a sense of safety when renting out and temporarily occupying homes, it will have to make an effort to reassure consumers that something similar won’t occur. 

On the night of the shooting, a user requests to occupy a property. She falsely claimed she wanted shelter from the California fires. Instead, she threw a party that was attended by over 100 people. Neighbors called the police, who arrived after a shooter had killed five victims and injured many others.

Airbnb’s Battle to Retain Public TrustAirbnb’s response 

The CEO, Brian Chesky, tweeted an acknowledgment of a problem with the company’s booking system which gives renters the ability to turn a property into a party house. Chesky started a thread and talked about the steps the company has created in response. 

As opposed to the complex hedging language that would have been an option in a case like this, Chesky used clear and to-the-point wording. He also provided a large amount of detail about the systems that Airbnb has put in place to address the situation. 

A statement would not have allowed users to immediately leave globally visible comments, However, Twitter provides users with the ability to reply to Chesky’s threads with their thoughts. Some responded by claiming that the response was meant to clear Airbnb’s culpability as an IPO approaches. Chesky responded to these comments calmly and respectfully. 

By putting consumer needs first and making an active effort to engage with the public, Chesky started a channel through which he can repair trust. His willingness to interact with users directly, while providing a great deal of detail about what the company intends to do going forward, helped to assure users that the problem is being taken seriously. 

The reception to Airbnb’s crisis management 

While Airbnb has taken active steps to repair trust and show that they put consumer needs before all else, the plan hasn’t been universally well-received. It ticks some boxes on the good PR checklist, such as transparency and offering an actionable plan, but some users and news outlets have criticized that plan for being too vague. 

The plan presented by Airbnb is to verify the listings on its platform. Given the sheer number of listings, along with the ease with which someone can register, the public has been wondering how exactly the company intends to put such a daring plan into action. 

Despite some of that criticism, others have praised Airbnb’s for being proactive and its evident commitment to ensure the safety of users. While a problem of this size can lead to a major PR crisis, Airbnb’s quick response that put consumer needs first helped them to retain public trust.

Ronn Torossian - How PR Firms Can Lead by Example with Diversity and InclusionAbout the Author: Ronn Torossian is founder of 5WPR.

1 Comment

  1. Princess Frazer on at 7:09 PM

    Thank you for your post, Ronn!

    It is really tragic that something like this happened in the Airbnb community as with any incidents like this one on a global spectrum. At the moment, Airbnb appears to be dealing with the crisis respectfully and being forthright towards the crisis.

    At the same time, I am curious about the individual who lied and had that many people on the property. Would she be also held legally accountable/responsible for what went on that evening? How should she be dealt with regarding the matter in terms of being the renter? Can Airbnb go after her legally or the owner (s) of the property?

    Just a thought…