Is Twitter a Lean Tool?

Twitter, the incredibly popular website where people post millions of 140-character messages, won’t help you improve capacity or eliminate waste like other lean tools.

But Twitter can help you focus on creating value for the customer.

I come to that conclusion after reading about General Motor’s recent decision to cancel plans for a Buick sport-utility vehicle.

Creating customer value is, of course, at the heart of a lean strategy, so it is essential to understand what customers consider to be value.

According to Bloomberg.com, GM achieved that understanding rapidly via the Internet, primarily through Twitter.

The decision was made Aug. 14, after GM earlier in the week showed the SUV and other future vehicles to consumers, dealers, employees, analysts and news reporters, Vice Chairman Tom Stephens said on a company blog.

“We were all struck by the consistency of the criticism,” Stephens wrote. “It didn’t fit the premium characteristics that customers have come to expect from Buick.” He didn’t elaborate on the vehicle’s shortcomings.

The decision to cancel the Buick was based on all of the input, face-to-face, blogs and tweets, Christopher Barger, GM’s spokesman for social media, said in an interview. No matter how they expressed it “they just didn’t like it...”

Negative feedback spread on Twitter Inc.’s site after users began calling the vehicle a “Vuick,” a reference to GM’s Saturn Vue that provided the basis for the Buick. It looked more like a retread than a fresh design, they said. Detractors began using the “#Vuick” name as a hash tag -- an indexing tool on Twitter that lets users quickly find messages on the same topic.

Rebranding a mediocre model with a new name was typical of the “old GM,” blogger Joel Feder said last week on his Twitter account. He called the car hideous and a crying shame. “#Vuick must die,” Feder wrote.

It used to be that you had to send letters, conduct interviews, conduct surveys and more to understand what your customers wanted.

The Internet changes the methods. What hasn’t changed is the need to understand what customers value.

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