NHTSA Says it Uses Various Forms of Social Media to Discover Defects in Vehicles

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Usually agencies such as the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) find out about vehicle issues when the manufacturer or owners who have experienced trouble report to them.

Now, an agency spokeswoman acknowledged that Twitter, Facebook, other social media websites, and even fan sites, online forums and bulletin boards are searched by the NHTSA regularly in order to discover information about possible issues that may warrant an investigation.

A large-scale study published last year by the Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business about online forums showed that they are a new source of information and surveillance for defects in vehicles.

Professor Weiguo Fan and assistant professor Alan Abrahams, who conducted the study, took snapshots of thousands of discussion threads for Honda, Toyota and Chevrolet in June 2010 and then analyzed and categorized the posts.

“Social media analytics provides low-cost, real-time insight into defect existence and severity by vehicle component category”, said Abrahams. “Using social media analysis, one maker’s car models can be benchmarked against other brands”, he added and pointed out that, by scouting social media, defects can pop up at an early stage.

While the study did not include Twitter of Facebook, automotive social media expert and founder of Kuse Control Inc. Kathi Kruse said that automakers could benefit greatly from using them as tools.

“Take a platform like Facebook”, said Kruse. “It’s the most frequently checked website on the internet: 852 million daily logins, 25 percent of users' login five times a day, 3.2 billion likes and comments everyday”.

Another expert, Jim Wangers, believes that, for now, social media are much more useful as marketing tools than a means to weed out possible defects as they produce an “unusual amount of personal gripes” and complaints about minor defects like rattles.

Apart from the NHTSA and automakers, there’s a third party showing increased interest in social media: law firms.

Abrahams remarked that the vast amount of content available online “could also mean higher litigation as law firms more easily and rapidly discover vehicle defects from public social media sources”.

By Andrew Tsaousis

Story References: Autonews