Marketing professionals, such as yours truly, use social-listening analytics tools in the hope that they reveal whether customers are likely to stay loyal, buy more stuff, and say nice things about our companies and products. What these tools reveal is how people might or might not be leaning in the aggregate, under the questionable assumption that social media users are a cross-section of the target population you’re trying to engage.
Even if your entire target market were on social media, you’d be ill-advised to accept social intelligence as an indicator of how individuals truly feel about your brand. As I’ve stated, few customers declare their feelings in the form of tweets or Facebook updates that represent their semiofficial opinion on the topic. Even if people aren’t lying, everyday speech is full of ambiguity, vagueness, situational context, sarcasm, elliptical speech, and other linguistic complexities that may obscure the full truth of what they’re trying to say.