Social media can allow direct and faster access to a person, a group or discussion of an issue, and that has led to wide ranging players in the automotive world figuring out how to use it in order to improve performance. Dealers encourage customers to use sites like Google+ and DealerRater.com for reviews, automakers like Hyundai and Chrysler have someone dedicated to watching Twitter for complaints, and federal agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey forums and websites for hints about possible defects.
Said Hyundai Motor America's executive vice president of sales on using Twitter to speak to customers, "The function is the same: People have problems, and we take care of the problems." The company's interaction with Twitterers didn't exist a year ago, but things could progress to the point where Twitter forms part of the way that dealer satisfaction surveys are submitted by the automaker. There's work to do and knowledge to gain before that happens, but it's envisioned in the field of play.
Bodies like the NHTSA are said to "routinely search" the web "for information that might lead to an investigation." By going straight to the sources where car buyers are highlighting issues with their cars, the NHTSA has a line into early indicators of issues that might be defects, and it can begin to gather data or can supplement the data it already has. The other side of the equation: Law firms are taking note as well, with a university professor saying the increased and more public exposure of potential issues "could mean higher litigation."