If you haven’t read Douglas Adams’ seminal series of novels The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or watched the just-as-good 2005 film adaptation, you should add it to your to-do list immediately.

Filled with witty quips and a charming story set against an intergalactic backdrop, the novels still enthrall fans far beyond just the sci-fi community, over 30 years since they were written.

Two months ago, every social media marketer’s dream (and nightmare) befell one of our clients: a product recall.

Now that the dust has settled, here are some social media lessons we learned from the recall. Funnily enough, they just so happen to have a lot in common with some of the Hitchhiker’s Guide’s finer points.

The situation

Our client, a baby food brand called Rafferty’s Garden, recently issued a precautionary recall for one of their most popular products due to there being concerns that glass had made its way into a particular batch.

As anyone who’s ever had to deal with a full-blown crisis on social media knows, the team kicked into high gear, literally working around the clock to manage crisis communications as it unfolded on multiple social media fronts.

The recall notice on Facebook reached over a million people organically in less than a week, which was an exhilarating experience for those of our team who were managing the crisis from start to end.

Here’s how to deal with such a situation:

Don’t Panic.

Towel not required, but perhaps one of the biggest contributions from the novels is the mantra “Don’t Panic”, which can really be applied to any other facet of life.

In a social media crisis, having a cool head and implementing your social media crisis plan is key. As we were working on a baby food brand, the panic caused by the recall was’t surprising.

The key to avoiding panic that doesn’t involve a towel? Have a plan, communicate early, communicate often and communicate clearly.

Nothing travels faster than the speed of light, with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.

When something blows up on Facebook, the speed at which it gathers steam is remarkable to watch. Shares and friend tags multiply exponentially in dizzying fashion as concerned mums share it with their immediate social circles and everyone they can think of.

It’s crucial to also remember how news spreads on social, with Mum-centric pages and groups as well as news sites spreading the news on their own channels as well.

Responding to questions and urgent queries on our own post was a priority. What really helped contain the panic and uncertainty was also monitoring and reacting to off-page conversations as these were equally impactful to the brand’s perception.

Just when you think life can’t possibly get any worse, it suddenly does.

In a recall, especially where there is the potential that babies might come to harm, parents will understandably panic.

During a crisis, the state of play can rapidly change in the blink of an eye. You will be forced to switch gears often, from addressing concerns of what the brand is doing to prevent this from happening again, to dealing with parents concerned that their baby’s symptoms are due to the recall.

Working closely and leveraging the client’s technical resources worked well for us, as we were able to co-ordinate same-day pickups of suspectedly affected pouches for tests, which gave us conclusive results that were used to reassure parents.

“The Answer to the Great Question… Of Life, the Universe and Everything… Is… Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

One of the first questions we were asked was “How long will this last?”

There’s no true answer, but assuming that everything is managed as well as it can be and there are no additional meta-issues that pop up, you can expect a crisis to die down within 42 hours of it beginning.

Facebook’s algorithm and the fast-moving news cycle give social media marketers an assurance that the spread of news tapers off from the 3rd day onwards as the rate of reach and engagement start to decay.

The first 42 hours are usually the most trying, with round-the-clock monitoring and responses almost mandatory, but once the public are able to see that the brand is taking active steps to communicate and address issues, you can expect a sense of calm to return, especially once your advocates start joining the chorus to defend their beloved brand.

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Jay Ong

Jay is an Outreach Manager at Scorch iProspect and has been with the team for over four years. He is a public relations specialist, with a particular expertise in weaving digital communications and social media together to create successful communications campaigns.