Social technologies have transformed the fundamental way in which organizations interact with their audiences. They have given employees a voice (whether companies like it or not!) and have become an organizations' gateway into understanding culture.
Additionally, Social technologies have also empowered audiences, who today are highly knowledgeable, have a strong voice, and are impervious to traditional marketing B.S. Unfortunately most organizations and most marketers do not understand this phenomenon. The net result -- they fail to make real connections with real people.
Take the traditional focus group for example. In it's simplest form, a focus group is a research method that's typically used to understand a consumer's reaction to a product/service. Focus groups are essentially after-the-fact testing grounds. They don't really provide market researchers with any real insight into the needs of consumers. What's more, they give marketers the ability to get away with ridiculous ideas and concepts. Remember the Arnell Group's Tropicana Packaging debacle? This design was put through extensive focus group testing. Here's an explanation they offered in regards to the carton's design:
Historically, we always show the outside of the orange. What was fascinating was that we had never shown the product called the juice...the idea of course is to have a consistency between the purity of the juice, which is coming directly from the orange, the cap which you squeeze every day and of course the carton. - Peter Arnell
Tell me that doesn't sound ludicrous! Here's a link to an article that explains the design of Pepsi's new logo. I think some of this is so over the top that even a television show like "The Office" is put to shame! For my Canadian readers, I want to include the example of a recent Niagara Tourism ad campaign that took cheap shots at the city of Toronto and then invited Torontonians to come visit. Again, focus group tested and certified!
Real research is about immersing ourselves in our audiences' culture. It's about spending time with consumers and understanding their world. That's where ethnography steps in. Ethnography is about understanding needs before they exist. Fundamentally, it's a form of qualitative research where data is gathered by observing audiences in their natural surroundings and conducting intuitive in-dept interviews.
So why are most organizations not adapting quickly enough? Well, for one, it requires a massive shift in organizational culture. Responsibility also goes to educational institutions, especially business schools, who haven't really evolved either. At the end of the day, audiences have moved on and their expectations have changed. The next five years will see drastic changes in the way organizations engage with their audiences. It's not a choice anymore. These are the 'cluetrain' years.
 "The body of ideas, emotions and activities that make up the life of the consumer" (quote from Chief Culture Officer).