Social media is a powerful and persuasive environment. Online interactions via Twitter or Facebook have now replaced local coffee shops as gossip centres. This has changed the way that news spreads, and most significantly, the speed that it circulates. Now, anyone and everyone can share a negative story within seconds, and retweets only fuel the fire.

Consumers love bad news. Stories of trauma or disaster will always attract the most traffic online – it’s just human nature. The emergence of the 24-hour media means that a powerful story will continue to gain momentum during both day and night. Consequently, product recalls that appeal to scaremongers and gossips on social media gather a lot more momentum. It’s so much easier to criticize than praise. Coupled with how effective complaining on social channels has become to get a response/resolution, it’s easy to see why there is so much bad news online.

This is more noticeable as more product recalls are declared. The horsemeat scandal is a prime example of a high profile case, which had long lasting effects on social media. Vast numbers of customers still boycott the food retail outlets that mis-sold burger produce, and tweets still appear to this day condemning the way the crisis was handled. Product recalls are sensitive subjects and must be dealt with carefully.

While social media often functions as a forum for aggrieved customers to vent their frustrations, it can have a positive function, as it allows brands to communicate with customers. Managed communication is an essential part of a recall; the more people are aware of it, the lower the risk of harm. The speed and interactivity of social media can make it a forum for interaction and an opportunity to forge a stronger bond of trust between a business and its customers. However, it also must be approached with an element of caution. Particularly sensitive customer issues should be handled offline to avoid negative conversations being held on social channels.

Voluntary recalls are on the rise – in almost every sector, but, especially in industries where there is a strong element of customer loyalty, like the automotive industry. When a brand issues a voluntary recall, before any incidents have arisen, the brand is proving that its relationship with customers is paramount – especially if customer safety is at stake.

In order to make recalls successful, companies need to have a crisis management plan in place before the crisis hits – either an internal plan, or an external provider on standby.

One of the most important elements of this plan is customer communications – which should be conducted in a way that demonstrates both issue transparency and duty of care to the customer.

By ensuring that a recall situation is handled both swiftly and effectively, with minimum disruption to those affected customers and exemplary customer service, companies undergoing a product recall can come out of such situations unscathed. Having a positive attitude to recalls is the best way. In the face of negative reaction on social media, a proactive and positive response can be the making of a brand.