Using Social Media Data: How a tweet captured a CEO's attention and changed the way an automobile was built

In this excerpt from a session of the University of Florida and MECLABS Institute graduate certificate program, Flint McGlaughlin shares a story about an automobile maker who changed a vehicle’s design because of a customer's tweet.

McGlaughlin challenges students to think of ways to capture and use behavioral data from social media (and other sources) in a more systematic manner to understand our customers better and, as a result, make better decisions in our marketing.

This is a case of data being used well. The question is ‘how do we get that precise in our data?’

– Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director and CEO, MECLABS Institute

This excerpt is from MMC5259: Beyond Demographics: How to harness the true power of customer data, part of our graduate certificate program offered through UF. The full session aims to introduce students to the unique and unprecedented nature of the web and how it can be used as a living laboratory to study the cognitive decision process of our customers and predict their future behavior.


Flint McGlaughlin: We're going to focus on a subject today that is ensconced in a word that has come to mean so much it means very little, and that is the word "data." And in my hand is an example of Elon Musk, somehow, someway capturing a piece of important customer data.

Now, this data was captured through an online social media group. And apparently … the article says a Tesla customer complained on Twitter. Less than 30 minutes later, Elon Musk promised to fix it. That's the name of the article (see picture).

And the very short version of this story is that Paul Franks mentioned online, and I quote, "Can you guys program the car once in park to move back the seat and raise the steering wheel? Steering wheel is wearing."

Now, somewhere in the social media universe, someone made a complaint, and somehow that complaint made it all the way to the CEO of this organization. And in doing so, Musk, typical, did not defend the move or the current way that it operates. Unlike many other organizations, he didn't have his PR department or specialist answer the question in a carefully worded reply that protects Tesla from lawsuits. He just admitted the problem and said, "Let's fix it." In fact, his words were, "Good point. We will add that to all cars in one of the upcoming software releases."

Now, this is a case of data being used well. The question is, how do we get that precise in our data? And, more importantly, is this just a chance encounter that Elon had with a customer? How do we actually institutionalize a way to know our customers better, to know how they're thinking, to know what they need, to know how they make decisions?

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