Personally I see enormous advantage in monitoring public sentiment towards specific agencies and departments - particularly online sentiment (where journalists often get their stories).
This allows departments greater early warning of issues, with the ability to address them more quickly. It also provides a baseline of public perceptions that senior public servants can use when a Minister receives details of a specific incident, which might be able to be correctly positioned a complaint as isolated or used to support the case for wider reforms that an agency has already identified as necessary.
I've posted previously about the range of US government agencies and elected officials using Twitter, the most popular web-based 'micro-blogging' service, in various initiatives ranging from disaster recovery, through traffic management, policy development, customer service and monitoring public sentiment. You'll find my post at Twitter catching on in the public sector and List of US government Twitter users.
An upcoming book by Shel Israel will be recounting stories of how organisations have used Twitter to navigate public relations issues and deliver positive customer service experiences. It will also contain some of the examples where organisations ignored online conversations and lost business and public reputation.
Shel has begun publishing notes about some of the case studies he'll be using in his book in his blog, Global Neighbours. These include,
- U-Haul - where a single bad experience has echoed to more than 10,000 people and taken up in broader media,
- Zappo - a US-based online retailer founded in 1999, now selling more than US$1 billion per year, which uses Twitter as a tool to carry the corporate culture beyond the organisation's walls to establish credibility with customers,
- HR Block - who uses Twitter to build bridges with Gen X and Y clients just entering the tax paying arena, in order to lock them in as customers for life, and
- Ford - who used Twitter to minimise a major reputation issue which could have created national media headlines - but only because they had built online credibility over time prior to the issue.