Pushing your brand's message through social media as proven to be an effective strategy for plenty of businesses. That said, it has also proven to be a way for disgruntled customers to voice their disdain for brands and products, and spread that disdain virally throughout their social circles. Businesses are often quick to step in and defend their turf (at least businesses with interest in online reputation management), and respond to criticism.
In a recent interview with WebProNews, Sam Ford of Peppercom made some good points about brand social media use:
As Ford notes, a lot of brands think all they have to do for negative commentary is to respond to that commentary. It's better to listen to what is being said, and if there is any merit to that, it may be better to actually effect change than just try to conserve your online reputation. If you can change things that need to be changed about your business, your reputation is bound to improve anyway. Otherwise, it's just going to be a never-ending defensive battle.
While reputation management is important to maintaining a respectable brand, don't think of social media just as a way to monitor your reputation, or even just as a marketing tool. Think about it as an open door to feedback, and a way to gain ideas, perspective from users about what they want, and ultimately a way to better your business/product, which should hopefully lead to more stablility for your business in the long run.
Social media may be on its way to becoming more convenient, if open standards allow for more cross-network communication. This should make it easier to listen. As Google' Chris Messina suggested, it may become "a way to host distributed conversations across the web — rather than in several disconnected contexts." That means convenience for providing feedback will also be there for customers.
A couple other points I'll tie in here are that it's easy to get caught up in the "next big thing" in social media, but it doesn't matter what channel you're using if you're not listening to what the users are saying about your brand, and forums are probably one of the best places you can go to listen to what users are saying, particularly in specific niches.