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Benefits of using social media during a recall

by Amy Philpott | October 13, 2011

Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and RSS feeds, offer ways to quickly disseminate information on a large scale. They can be used to inform, mobilize and listen to users — all important communication goals during a recall.

So should social media be used during a recall? The simple answer is maybe.

The purpose of a recall communication plan is to lay out the options that will help a company respond as efficiently and effectively as possible. Social media is one option. Whether to actually use it during a recall is a complex question that requires forethought. Here are three considerations that apply to recall communications:


Current social media presence

Perhaps the strongest factor in deciding whether to use social media is a company’s current social media presence. However, inexperience alone isn’t reason enough to dismiss this tool.

If a company is using social media in its marketing, it will at the very least want to monitor its social media accounts, and it might want to engage in the conversation during a recall.

The relationship with friends and followers is valuable. It is important to identify in the recall plan the circumstances under which it may be appropriate to listen to the conversation, start the conversation or join it.

Over the past 12 months, produce companies with Twitter and Facebook accounts have done all three, with most choosing to listen and engage only when a correction was needed. One company actually started the recall conversation by announcing the recall to its social media followers. Based on the responses, it didn’t hurt the company’s on-line image at all. In fact, it probably helped.

A company that is not engaged in social media should still include social media it in its recall communication plan. It is always necessary to be involved in social media to use it effectively in a recall. When the information is important to social media users, a following can be built relatively quickly, especially when social media is coupled with traditional communications.

For example, the peanut industry didn’t have a social media presence before the 2009 Salmonella outbreak, but if the industry association had opened a Facebook account as the recall expanded, it would have taken only one mention on television to attract hundreds, if not thousands, of followers.

Experience or no experience, the use of social media during a recall should be considered. And while it may be advantageous to have experience, lack of it should not automatically discount the use of this powerful tool.


Recall characteristics

Another consideration when deciding whether to use social media in a recall is the recall itself. Characteristics such as geographic scope, threat to public health and the recall communication strategy can help determine if social media is warranted.

If a recall is limited to one or two states, it may not be beneficial to use a tool with as broad a reach as social media.

On the other hand, if there is a threat to public health and traditional communication tools are not adequate, it may be worth over-communicating to many to reach a few.

Social media efforts should also be in line with the recall communication strategy. An aggressive strategy may warrant more social media than a reactive one. It is also imperative that messages and tone be consistent between overall communications and social media. If different people are handling different communications efforts, there should be a process to assure consistency.



Resources are especially important during a recall. While a Twitter or Facebook account is free, social media require time and staffing, and those resources are in short supply during a recall.

The nature of social media requires that responses and corrections be made in real time. This means that someone needs to monitor and act on a constant basis, especially in the first 72 hours of a recall. Also, a Facebook account doesn’t replace the need to issue a press release, return media calls or maintain a recall web page. Using social media often requires additional staff, and this can be a strain on a company, unless it has planned ahead.

Planning includes identifying in-house staff and outside companies that can be available to carry out social media tactics quickly. Back-up staff should be identified in case the lead person is unavailable, and designated personnel must have the user names and passwords to all social media accounts. Those using an outside social media company should hold a meeting to ask about the company’s ability to help during a recall.

For many companies the idea of using social media during a recall is new. So include social media decision-making in recall exercises, and test your knowledge and resources before you need them. Being prepared is never a waste of time.


Amy Philpott is senior director at Watson/Mulhern LLC, a public communications firm in Washington, DC, that specializes in issue management and risk communications for the food, agriculture and health science industries. She helps companies in the produce, nut and candy industries develop and execute recall communications and media relations strategies.