In a command center with a wall of monitors resembling an air-traffic control room, General Motors employees "listen in" on social media.
Every day of the week, they scour Facebook, Twitter and 90 auto-enthusiast sites for customers in need and disgruntled rants that could damage GM's four brands' images or point early on to a potential product problem.
The 18 employees in the social media customer center mostly watch GM car owners converse.
But the employees are trained to engage with people online when appropriate to find them parts, hook them up with dealerships or defuse their anger by showing them that someone at GM hears their complaints.
In many cases, the intervention preserves a customer, said Melody Blumenschein, GM social media manager of customer and relationship services.
"Everybody knows it's a whole lot easier to keep a customer that you have than get a new one," Blumenschein said. "I can give you example after example after example of a customer who has said, 'I'm so glad you were out here. I would have left the brand.'"
Every automaker has a social media strategy. GM, like others, builds brand awareness by interacting with shoppers on Facebook pages, tweeting out tidbits about launches and sponsoring content on any number of sites and blogs to show subtly that the automaker cares about customers and their interests. That's the offense part of social networking, for which GM has a staff separate from the customer service group.
But GM also believes in playing defense. Blumenschein said many GM brand customers prefer to air their questions, platitudes or frustrations online, not over the phone or at a dealership.
GM feels so strongly about online perceptions that this year it mandated that its 4,300 dealerships use one of three reputation-management vendors to help them solicit reviews and monitor posts or risk a portion of their factory incentive money.
Blumenschein said her 18 employees answer questions online or otherwise post 200 to 300 times a day. That's about 5,000 to 7,000 a month, seven days a week, she said.