NEW YORK: Brand owners like Dell, Coca-Cola and Neiman Marcus are seeking to use "social listening" tools to enhance their understanding of popular preferences.

Dell, the IT giant, has been a pioneer in the digital space, and boasts what it calls the Social Media Control Centre, a global hub monitoring roughly 22,000 online mentions of the company each day.

The information gathered covers both broad and specific topics, alongside current sentiment, share of voice, different geographical trends and wider subjects relevant to the industry as a whole.

"The goal is to track and understand the largest possible number of conversations, good and bad, across the web," Rishi Dave, executive director of online marketing at Dell's public and large enterprise business unit, told ClickZ.

"Using this information, we are able to quickly answer customer questions, address their concerns, build better products, and improve the overall customer experience."

Aaron Shockey, VP, digital marketing, at Neiman Marcus, argued most campaigns pose obstacles in terms of measurement, but suggested keeping up with online results was not straightforward.

He said: "We can get a feel for its performance, and we have social listening tools so we know what's being said. But there are varying levels of measurement, and word of mouth is difficult to measure and more difficult than hard and fast direct marketing tactics."

Coca-Cola, the soft drinks group, is also searching for an agency to assist in this kind of activity in North America, covering its portfolio of brands.

Around 20 agencies are participating in the selection race, according to Kerry Tressler, Coca-Cola's senior media relations manager in North America.

"[We want] to identify a consistent agency and format for conducting social-media monitoring," she said. "[The aim is] to yield the most information about what consumers are saying about our brands, so we know what they are looking for."

More broadly, firms such as Kenneth Cole, Mattel and GoDaddy have all faced considerable pressure due to negative social media buzz, and Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, the CRM specialist, warned this could become increasingly common.

"It's not so long from now we'll start to hear about Corporate Spring and Enterprise Spring," he said. "We've seen Mubarak fall. We've seen Gaddafi fall. When will the first corporate CEO fall because his company's not doing enough to listen to employees, to customers?"

Data sourced from ClickZ, AdAge, San Francisco Chronicle, Direct Marketing News; additional content by Warc staff