Using Social Media to Minimize the Impact of a Recall

By Ahvi Spindell
08/30/2013
Credit: photoraidz via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the event of a manufacturer’s recall, fixing a damaged product may be the least of the concerns that needs to be addressed. Customer safety and brand reputation that could impact the bottom line for a long time could be at stake. The good news is that social media has redefined how manufacturers can effectively manage such a crisis.

Social media enables manufacturers to put out a message that will be easily understood and shared and doesn’t look like a press release. This is particularly important in the case of something that is harmful, such as an equipment failure or a manufacturing defect.

“There’s nothing better than social media to convey a safety warning purely for the fact of speed, brevity, honesty, and doing so in a way that is consumable,” said Chris Puckett, president of Thunder11 Media, who works with manufacturing companies to build and grow their e-commerce marketing. (Full disclosure: Thunder 11 has been a client of the author, but not for a social media enterprise.)

Social media has significant advantages over news conferences, press releases, and legal maneuvering to protect a brand against potential fallout or negative impact. “I think in a structured, reactive, very quick response, along with dialogue that follows up that announcement, a brand can further strengthen themselves within their consumers’ minds, rather than a one-way message,” Puckett told Tech Trends Journal.

One of the benefits of using social media when managing a recall is that mainstream media can pick up on the fact that the company is communicating across different platforms. Puckett said that the sentiment and speed of that message will always be considered in any coverage.

Social media also allows a company to communicate its point of view before the mainstream media can get a hold of it or before the “wisdom of crowds” gets to spin your message, said Sam Fiorella, owner and customer experience strategist for Sensei Marketing, and co-author of Influence Marketing.

“By the time it goes around, people have whipped themselves up into a frenzy and often it has nothing to do with the actual reason or impact of the recall. Social gives you the opportunity to put your message out quickly and ahead of everybody else,” said Fiorella.

“The most important thing for organizations to understand is that it is not a good idea to get involved and jump into social media for the first time during a crisis,” said Ann Marie van den Hurk, principal of Mind The Gap PR and author of Social Media Crisis Communications. Otherwise a company is risking some missteps.

If there is a crisis, the organization should already have a built-in community online with whom it can communicate. “During a crisis there are so many things going on. You should be focused on the crisis, not on the mechanics of managing the crisis,” she said.

Best strategies during a recall include identifying the right channels. “It doesn’t make sense to blast it out everywhere. Focus on the channels where you audience is,” said Fiorella.

Unlike traditional media, social media communication tends to be conversational and informal, so it’s important to tailor the message accordingly. “Tone and wording [are] very important in social media although the messaging is the same,” said van den Hurk. “What works in a press release is not going to work in social media.”

For small and mid-size brands it is even more important for executives and the faces of the company to be active in social media in order to show authenticity and to defend the brand. This will connect and resonate with the core group of consumers a company is trying to target.

“I would actively encourage executives to get directly involved in their social media with their name,” said Puckett. He advised they become a regular, strong voice in social media even before there is a crisis, and when a tough message needs to be communicated, it comes from them.

Fiorella also recommended companies put out some kind of personal message from a senior member. “The social media audiences have really come to expect some kind of personalization, and these days video is king on the Internet,” he said. Instead of just linking to a press release, create a video that explains why the recall was done and where people can go for more information.

Puckett noted that open and direct communication builds authenticity by showing the true nature of the brand and a genuine concern for the consumer. “It allows the brand to open up dialogue directly with their consumer and react to that dialogue in a constructive, positive way, showing the consumers they’re concerned with their safety, their health, their money, their value,” he said. 

Another best practice during a recall is to ensure that all the social media posts link to a central authority, ideally the company website. “This way media and the public know where to go for that one central voice,” Fiorella said.

Social media can provide a shortened and more condensed message with a link that points to more detailed information. Van den Hurk noted, “The website should have the important crisis information front-and-center on the landing page.”

It is crucial to “stay on the message,” said Fiorella. “Don’t just post it and walk away.” 

Once the message has been posted, follow the conversation and react in real time. Also, respond to as many people as possible. Publicaly thank people who are supporting the message and if there is somebody who raises a concern, step in and respond, he said.

One thing to avoid during a recall crisis is to go dark. “The days of not responding are gone,” said van den Hurk. “With any situation, how you handle it is how you are going to be remembered.”

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