How Social Media Could Change Product Recalls

Recalls (and unfortunately) lawsuits are inevitable. But taking control and mitigating risk is easier than ever before. We took 5 poorly-managed product recalls and looked at what could have happened if today's online strategies were applied.

Product recalls are more common than most consumers think. Across several industries there can be anywhere from a dozen to a hundred of recalls in one day – from small parts breaking in a manufacturing plant to spoiled medicine accidentally making it on the shelves at stores. Despite how common product recalls are, the way in which companies address recalls from a social media perspective is generally slow and counter-intuitive to the recall process itself since many recalls are company initiated to spread safety and prevent harm. See 5 Tips for Brands to Handle Recalls.

The average consumer finds recalls to be scary, a waste of time and perhaps most importantly, that product information is not being shared properly. The incentive to both monitor recall information and submit product information is very low for the consumer. When first-hand disruption occurs (fault of recalled item that causes harm) the kneejerk reaction is ambivalence or “take ’em to the cleaners” aka class action lawsuit. Companies, despite having highlighted a recall, are often seen as the bad guys by consumers.

The relationship between companies and consumers then becomes dueling and not comprehensive – and a bad client relationship begins to brew. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Power to the People?

With the ease and availability of social media outlets, consumers end up spreading and sharing information with each other before companies can even meet to decide on a “corporate strategy.” Said corporate strategy soon becomes outdated by angry Tweets on the interwebs or bloggers wondering why they are the first to ‘uncover’ a product issue. And some, like this senator in Kentucky, think the safety of consumers is handled better in the hands of private organizations like Consumers Union (which publishes ConsumerReports). The government has tried its best to keep a firm grip on product safety by creating tougher mandates through the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act which will hold companies to higher standards in product recalls, including monitoring the effectiveness of recall processes.

Safety is serious stuff but doesn’t have to be unpleasant.

Things to Remember as a Consumer:

1) Companies do care about your well being

2) Mistakes happen

3) Recalls are a good thing

4) Companies Don’t Make Evil

Production is equipped for faster speeds than ever before – even the most efficient and proactive company might catch an issue quickly through internal inspection and quality control. But thousands of units could have already shipped out in the meantime. Are there ways to improve quality control? Yes, and companies are on it. What could companies do today to optimize the opportunity they have to dialog with customers about their recalled products?

To demonstrate resources available to companies, we took 5 poorly-managed product recalls in the past 40 years and looked at what could have happened if today’s online strategies were applied:

1) Ford Pinto (1978)

Despite having a massive automobile recall during the ’70s, this model of car could have avoided its multiple awards for “Worst Car” and possibly large punitive damages in court if it was properly managed.


The bad: Word would have spread faster about the tank issue and more plaintiffs would have joined the class action suits.

The good: Ford could have turned the tables, developing a marketing campaign incentivizing consumers to get updated parts at dealerships, filling out surveys which would have aided market research and customer retention.

2) Graco High Chairs (2010)

Graco recalled over 3 million strollers and high chairs in one year over fingertip lacerations and other limb-risking issues. A relatively recent recall here are some tips on how this recall could have been better managed: