GM using social media to turn recall negatives into positives

122614 IL GM Using Social MediaGeneral Motors has turned to social media to protect its brand in the future from issues such as the recall that threw the spotlight on the automaker early this year.

The company was criticized for not addressing ignition-switch problems for a decade or more.

In response, now that the worst of the recall worries seem to be past, the company has directed its social media managers, customer service staff and executives to scour social media for early warning signs of quality issues before they become critical.

This is a significant evolution in social media strategy for GM.

The company has moved from solely monitoring official complaints registered with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which handles defect investigations and recalls, and has turned to sites like Twitter and automotive chat rooms, 24 hours a day, to find consumer complaints.

Senior Strategist Rebecca Harris, who leads the Social Center of Expertise at General Motors, said that although the company has been offering consumer support through social media for a few years now, her department has grown into a much larger organization.

The customer care space has “subject matter experts” in about 120 forums and enthusiast blogs in North America, and Harris’ team pays particularly close attention when GM launches a new vehicle.

“We started in January with the Detroit Auto Show, when we launched the full-sized pickup trucks,” Harris said. “We paid attention to the appropriate places online where there was a lot of chatter, and there were two things trending and becoming issues in the social space.”

“We were able to spot those things early on,” Harris said, “way before we got any feedback from the field, and we were able to take that back to engineering, manufacturing and quality within 30 days.”

In this case, the affected vehicles were retrofitted with new parts through the dealer.

But the social media initiative isn’t just about spotting quality control issues.

Harris’ team recently piloted a sales campaign in which agents gathered social media information from a 60-day period, identified 40,000 possible leads and engaged about 8,000 individuals based on the findings. Out of the group, they conversed with about 2,700 people, initiated “test drive” talk with 330, got 45 of those people into an actual test drive and, subsequently, tracked 13 sales from the effort.

“That’s not saying we sold those cars, that’s saying we helped sell those cars,” Harris said. “And that’s something we hope to provide.”

The lesson is that automakers can engage customers one on one and turn negatives into positives.

– Larissa Padden

Posted in Looking Forward, News

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