Uber, the ride-hailing giant, used artificial intelligence to understand the public’s sentiment toward the brand across the mass of unstructured social data created about it every day, in a way that allowed it to make leadership decisions in a matter of hours, compared to what before would have been days.

Consumer trust is declining across the board – in institutions, in government, in brands – for all sorts of reasons. “Multiple statistics show that brands can be made or broken within minutes, within seconds, in social environments,” Rob Key, CEO at Converseon, an AI-flavoured social sentiment tracker, told the I-COM Data Creativity Awards (Malaga, May 2019).

“Into this environment comes a company like Uber.” (For the full treatment, read WARC’s exclusive report: How Uber built a real-time sentiment tracker).

Given its current ubiquity, it’s sometimes hard to remember Uber didn’t actually exist six years ago. The pace of the company’s advance has been vertiginous. It’s now in 173 countries and 785 metropolitan areas. Every day it realises millions of rides.

It is also the most famous ride-hailing app on the planet, a poster-child of what is euphemistically known as the sharing economy. In the last year, it has been gearing up towards its IPO, a massive moment for any company, but especially for one as scrutinised as Uber. It needed to know what was going on.

Separating signal from noise is very difficult – any listening system would need to emulate a human’s understanding of those sentiments that helped to point to users’ feelings of trust toward the brand.

Given the company’s prominent position in the trust economy – despite all the bad press, both drivers and riders do continue to trust the platform – evaluating this sentiment was crucial. It would need to perform this analysis at scale, while retaining the ability to drill down to the regional and local level.

Uber worked with Converseon to do part-level analysis of Uber-related online writing. This meant that the AI could drill deeper into the message that the company needed to take away, and allow it to understand the root cause of the grievance.

A granular understanding of its brand has been crucial for the company in the run-up to April’s much-anticipated IPO. The company, for all its interest and publicity, continues to face significant questions around its profitability.

As an article in Slate points out, there is quite a crucial detail: around 24% of Uber’s bookings come from just five large cities. It is vulnerable at a local level and brand will be an important element of this fight. 

Brand has always been important to the taxi business: think to the London black cab or New York’s yellow taxis. It has been part of the taxi’s history since the industry’s inception, as the Economist writes. Another truth surfaces: the business is cutthroat, and any firm playing in it needs to know all it can.

Sourced from WARC, Financial Times, Slate, The Economist