How GM uses social listening to drive product development

bethbohnert    October 30, 2017

In a command centre in General Motor’s Detroit headquarters, the employees scanning a bank of monitors are making a vital contribution to GM’s product lifecycle management. 

But they’re not designing new models or developing the next product launch. They’re listening. 

The command centre is part of GM’s Centre of Excellence (CoE) and the employees are members of a team of 30 “social media customer care advisers”. These individuals use social listening tools to follow customer conversations on 150+ brand social channels for GM, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac as well as 85 forums where car buffs congregate. 

But the team are more than electronic eavesdroppers and they’re doing much more than just monitoring tweets and likes and collecting data. These social listeners actively engage with potential and current customers, helping to amplify positive feedback and rectify negative customer experiences.

In a post on Hootsuite, Christina Newberry notes that while social monitoring is focused more on metrics, like engagement rate, number of mentions, and so on, social listening looks beyond the numbers at the overall mood behind the social media posts—how people actually feel about you, your competitors, and your industry. [It can] help you see trends over time that can keep your future marketing and product development efforts on track. 

Here are three ways GM is using social listening in the launch, post-launch and support phases of product development. 

Reaching key influencers 

Last year, GM introduced its new electric vehicle, the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV, at the Consumer Electronic Show. What was different about this launch is that it was the first to be broadcast on Facebook Live. 

GM CEO Mary Barra gave a presentation on the Bolt’s features, while a 360-degee video allowed viewers to explore the interior.  

Approximately 24,500 people viewed the 25-minute presentation on Facebook, and those who invested the time to watch it were obviously deeply invested and likely to be good ambassadors for the new product. 

The CoE social media team were able not only to access these potential influencers’ demographic data via Facebook, but they were also able to provide a meaningful, interactive experience for them. 

As Mary Barra was giving her presentation at CES, Chevrolet’s social media team was busy reacting to the comments the viewers were posting on Facebook. They were able to answer questions and share the online video commercial with people who wanted to know more. Fans were given a personal connection to their favorite brand. (Comm, 2017) 

Quickly responding to negative brand perception 

Not every brand launch goes as well as the Bolt’s. 

During the 2014 World Series, Chevrolet promoted its new Colorado pickup truck by awarding one of the vehicles to the Series’ MVP. The Chevy spokesperson, a Regional Manager, who was unaccustomed to appearing on TV, referred to the truck’s new features as “technology and stuff.”  

The hashtags #TechnologyAndStuff and #ChevyGuy quickly began trending on Twitter, and much of the buzz was negative from GM’s point of view. “We decided to get sassy with it,” says Jamie Barbour, manager of Chevrolet’s digital and social advertising, who oversees the Chevrolet social team. The group decided that humor was the best response and soon tweeted, “Truck yeah the 2015 #ChevyColorado has awesome #TechnologyAndStuff!” (Joch, 2015) 

Twitter followers responded enthusiastically, with the tweeted reply earning 178,000 views, 1,520 retweets and more almost 1,500 favourites. In addition, Chevy creative staff worked overtime to incorporate #TechnologyAndStuff into upcoming Colorado promotions.  

Chevrolet executives estimate that all the social conversations resulting from what could have been perceived as a gaffe earned the company more than US$5 million worth of free media exposure. (Joch, 2015)

Addressing product flaws and improving quality 

According to Alicia Boler-Davis, a Senior Vice President at GM,  

“Active listening isn’t just hearing and robotically responding to customer feedback; it’s also interpreting sentiment, and communicating that understanding to your customers. Our advisers actively monitor vehicle owner forums and other social media platforms to identify potential issues, and they are empowered to provide real-time customer feedback to brand quality and engineering leaders.  (Sellers, 2016) 

GM’ social media team is quick to respond to negative experiences customers have with GM products. In one example, customers who had purchased Cadillac Escalades found that the back-seat cooling system was actually heating the front passenger seat 

And in no time, [the] team of 20 could see on their Oracle-powered data dashboard that a wave of owners were posting about the flaw via social sites. [They] alerted the engineers, and repairs were made on the Escalades that were shipped to dealerships a few weeks later. (Heine, 2014)

Lessons for Others

Here’s what we can learn from GM about setting up a social listening function:

Build a multi-disciplinary team.Make sure your social listening team is multi-disciplinary, with members from marketing, customer care and product development. Encourage team members to collaborate and share their expertise so that issues can be reported properly to the appropriate unit for resolution. 

Give your team appropriate tools. Technology like Hootsuite allows your team to set up social media streams that monitor conversations and keywords across several social networks and respond directly to customer issues. 

Don’t be afraid to engage and let customers know they’ve been heard. As Alicia Boler-Davis notes, “Equally important to the proper structure and people are the processes to identify and resolve quality concerns. Active listening isn’t just hearing and robotically responding to customer feedback; it’s also interpreting the intended meaning, and communicating that understanding to your customers.” (Sellers, 2016) 

Organization: General Motors
Industry: Automotive
Name of Organization Contact: none

Authored by: Beth Bohnert

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


Newberry, C. (n.d.).Social listening: What it is, why you should care, and how to do it well. [Blog post].  Retrieved from on October 28, 2017.

Comm, J. (2017, February 14). What GM’s live video says about content marketing strategy in 2017. [Blog post]. Retrieved from on October 29, 2017.

Sellers, J. (2016, April 4). How GM uses social media monitoring to create lifelong customers. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from on October 29, 2017.

Chevrolet. (2016, January 7).  2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV Reveal at CES 2016. [Video file]. Retreived from on October 28, 2017.

Chevrolet. (2015, August 11). #TechnologyAndStuff (CANNES LIONS 2015 Case study). [Video file]. Retrieved from on October 30, 2017. 

 Joch, A. (2015, August). Changing gears: With a shift toward social, GM uses new channels to talk with (not at) customers. [Blog post].Retrieved from on October 28, 2017.

Heine, C. (2014, December 8). Here’s how GM uses social data to improve cars. [Blog post]. Retrieved from on October 29, 2017.