Social Insights into Kia and Hyundai Car Thefts

Diverse audience personas and perceptions in the #Kiaboyz and car thefts conversation

Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst


Social listening unveils diverse audience personas

A recent spate of Kia and Hyundai car thefts made its way into the news recently, and social media content – specifically, TikTok tutorial videos – are the root of the thefts.

Using Infegy Atlas social listening, we tracked how content spreads online and uncovered how different audiences discuss the same thefts from very different points of view, personalities, and demographic characteristics.

In this brief, we share our findings to explore how analysts can use social listening to gain insights into different audience personas that emerge in conversations around a particular topic.

TikTok tutorials ignite a crime streak

The New York Times sparked our interest in this topic on March 10, 2023, after publishing an article highlighting the recent surge of Kia and Hyundai thefts prompted by TikTok videos. This article noted a surge in car thefts due to a vulnerability in Kias and Hyundais. Thieves posted tutorial videos on TikTok about how easy it was to start specific Kia or Hyundai models with a screwdriver and a USB drive equipped with malware. These thefts have caused cities to file lawsuits against these automakers. Kia and Hyundai have responded by introducing free software upgrades and providing steering wheel locks to police departments.

New York Times screenshot

Figure 1a: A screenshot from The New York Times about the growing problem of stolen cars and social media; The New York Times.

We used Infegy Atlas to dive into the conversation surrounding Kia and car theft. We discovered a remarkable 2830% increase in this conversation over the past three years. In addition, we compared the growth of organic social media to that of mainstream news articles.

We found that Infegy Atlas post volume trends show that the conversation multiplied on social media before mainstream news outlets, such as The New York Times, covered it. This is typical: grassroots issues often emerge on social media and serve as a leading indicator to later news content growth. Our post volume graph supports the claim and value that social data can be an early indicator of future news content growth.

Post volume of organic Kia car theft posts

Figure 1b: Post volume of organic Kia car theft posts alongside mainstream news articles; Infegy Atlas data.

Jumping into hashtag analysis

Seeing the spike in post volume (around Kia thefts) in both organic social posts and mainstream news articles, we delved into hashtags to get a closer look at the underlying conversation. We generated a word cloud of hashtags social media commonly used when discussing this topic.

We found #kiaboyz and #kiaboyz frequently appeared in the predominant hashtags. We also found more professional-sounding hashtags like #cybersecurity or #security. This suggests an interesting dichotomy exists in the conversation in between those two disparate communities.

Hashtag word cloud showing the prominence of #kiaboyz

Figure 2: Hashtag word cloud showing the prominence of #kiaboyz; Infegy Atlas data.

Examining how #kiaboyz differs from "car theft” conversation: Source bios

Based on that dichotomy, we constructed two parallel searches around car theft. First, we looked at the source bios of people who specifically mentioned the words "Kia" and "Car theft." Second, we looked at the source bios of people who specifically included the hashtag #kiaboyz. This showed us how people identify themselves online and how this differs between those talking about "car theft" and those mentioning #kiaboyz.

Our findings showed that people discussing "car theft" were primarily posting under police department accounts, whereas those saying #kiaboyz did not have any institutional connections. For the latter, we saw frequent use of descriptors such as "music," “creator,” artist, and “content," which suggests that these were social content aficionados without organizational affiliations. Furthermore, “Milwaukee” and “Chicago” showing up in the #kiaboyz conversation shows us that the people talking about the subject are from some urban centers where car thefts are more common.

Source bio word clouds from both audiences

Figure 3: Source bio word clouds from both audiences; Infegy Atlas data.

Examining how #kiaboyz differs from "car theft” conversation: Emoji

Next, we performed a similar search but looked at emoji instead of source bio information. Analyzing the emoji used in the conversation helped us determine the emotional character of the conversation. For example, people posting with #kiaboyz laughed about the drivers' predicament. At the same time, official police accounts in Midwestern cities used different emoji that indicate alarm and severity like sirens, police cars, and lightning bolts. The differing emoji indicate that although these two groups were discussing the same topic, they had dramatically different perspectives.

Emoji word cloud from both audiences

Figure 4: Emoji word cloud from both audiences; Infegy Atlas data.

Examining how #kiaboyz differs from "car theft” conversation: Income demographics

Finally, we looked at how the income-based demographics of the two groups varied. We found that people posting about #kiaboyz tended to have much lower average incomes and less disposable income than those posting in the “car theft” conversation.

Seen together with the insight that people posting in the “car theft” conversation have official, institutional accounts, it’s likely that they have jobs that require specialized training and possibly a higher income. Infegy demographics and income data suggests that the people posting under #kiaboyz and who engage with the content as entertainment are likely to not be in positions of authority and are not above median-income earners at this time.

This data shows that even though two distinct groups of people are talking about the same topic, the two audiences look dramatically different when you look closely at their contexts and demographics.

Starkly different income demographics between two audiences

Figure 5: Starkly different income demographics between two audiences; Infegy Atlas data.

Social listening highlights parallel conversations from different audience segments

In conclusion, the recent spate of car thefts associated with Kia and Hyundai models shows how important it is to consider context and audience segments when conducting social media analysis. A thorough analysis and robust social intelligence will allow you to isolate different demographics of people talking about the same topic.

Our analysis revealed a fascinating dichotomy in the conversation between two disparate communities: the professional community using hashtags such as #cybersecurity and #security, and the social content fans who use the hashtag #kiaboyz. Our study also reinforced the value of social data for providing early indicators of future news content growth and gaining insights into different audience personas that emerge in conversations around a particular topic.

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