There is no longer any question about whether or not social media is a fad or is of any use. The answer to that question is YES - but only if you know how to read it and use it to achieve your goals.
Up until about a year ago, conversations about social media were about the tools and the web sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, etc. what they were and how to use them. This conversation has evolved to how to leverage these tools in your business. In other words -- there's no doubt that people are communicating and connecting via social media. Now the next level of conversation is how to make it mean something.
Right now, we have lots of data and very little information. This is changing with the advent of new tools that will help us understand how to become better at using the technology we have.
Getting Better at Social Media - It's not Quantity, it's Quality
As in every other phase of life, it's not quantity, it's quality. The same is true for your social media interactions. It used to be about having lots of Twitter followers, and now it's about having the right Twitter followers and Tweeting the right things. The way to measure the quality of your Twitter stream is through tools like Klout.
Klout measures your overall influence on the web. To what degree to people take what you say seriously enough to pass it on and share it with others. The higher your score the better.
While no number can actually measure what we humans know as influence, this number can help you choose those individuals or brands that do have either reach or viral value.
Track Trends on Twitter
There are free tools out there that will help you track trends on Twitter. You'll be amazed at what people are talking about -- @JustinBieber?
You can see how mentions of Justin Bieber go up in time for his movie release and for his performance on the Grammys.
More Industrial Text Analysis
If you'd like to do more intense and industrial text analysis - check out DiscoverText. You can upload text from surveys and from any of your social media streams and create tag clouds and a variety of analyses that will help you turn data into information.
What's to Learn?
While surveys are still a valid way to collect information in order to make decisions, social media also offers a lot of opportunities for learning and listening so that you can figure out what to PUT into your survey.
Some tools are simplistic and others are sophisticated. All that's required from us is the energy, effort and patience in understanding how to read the data and then how to interpret the data in a way that helps you take action.