Charlene Li of Forrester recently came to PARC and gave an excellent talk on the transforming power of social applications on businesses.
She defined the "groundswell" as the "social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations". She illustrates this idea with examples. She writes in the MIT Sloan Management Review recently: Brian Finkelstein recently made an YouTube video of a Comcast repairman who was put on hold with a call back to the home office for so long that he fell asleep on Brian's couch. This video was an instant hit with over 1 million viewings and counting.
Take the opposite example that happened with the CBS tv series "Jericho". After CBS canceled the show, fans organized themselves and sent 20 tons of peanuts to the president of CBS entertainment, taking the cue from a character in the show who loved using the phrase "nuts!" CBS listened and engaged with the online fans and asked them to watch the re-launched show to help boost its ratings.
In the talk, she also mentioned examples of companies such as Dell using idea markets to engage customers directly. But of course, there are risks. She mentions the loss of control as the major risk. As an example, when Walmart created a social application on Facebook, it became a magnet for anti-Walmart comments and discussions. For ways to mitigate these risks, you will have to read the MIT Sloan article and watch the video: