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Social media fuels automaker’s R&D

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

The good, old-fashioned focus group isn’t going away, but leaders are increasingly finding that they can bolster their companies’ R&D efforts by using social media strategies.

Take a cue from leaders in the auto industry who use social media to engage with customers:

1. Listening to real-time chatter allows you to make real-time fixes.

“Nimble” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of automakers. But when Kia Motors heard a groundswell of complaints about the seats in its midsize sedan, the Optima, the company instantly incorporated comfier seats into the model.

Michael Sprague, vice president of marketing and communications for Kia Motors America, credits social media. Using online social media tools, “you can have a focus group of a hundred or a thousand people versus 10 or 20,” and “you can do it almost in real-time.”

2. Crowdsourcing works. Nissan’s Erich Marx says the company used tools like Facebook and Twitter to suggest new names for an optional interior package for the Nissan Cube.

He sees an opportunity to conduct “some real, hard-core research” using the tools.  “With 300,000 people following us on our [Nissan Facebook] page, we certainly have a relevant sample from a statistical standpoint,” Marx says.

3. Hearing what customers really think is a lot easier. Kia’s Sprague points out that in a focus group, an outspoken participant can dominate the group and influence others’ opinions. Not so online.

Scott Kelly, digital marketing manager for Ford Motor Co., doesn’t expect social media to entirely replace traditional R&D methods. But it has “widened the aperture for us to get input.”

—Adapted from "Fueling Auto R&D With Social Media,” Josh Cable, Industry Week.

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