Twitter, for example, allows businesses to quickly detect a problem with a service or product before that problem turns into a full-blown crisis. But social media monitoring is not limited to keeping a lookout for sudden online developments. It also involves tracking data that are both quantifiable (the number of times your information is shared or retweeted) and qualitative (the tone of the conversation surrounding your brand). Here are just a few of the benefits of social media monitoring, as the practice is called:

Develop insight into how your brand is perceived. No matter how you feel about your company, the perception that the market has of it — the only perception that matters — may well be different. Social media monitoring can help you to gain some real perspective on how others see your company and how passionate they are (or are not) about your service or product. It is a great way to take the pulse of your audience and identify your brand strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Build new business relationships. Social media monitoring enables you to identify like-minded business owners who may want to combine resources for a cross-promotional marketing campaign or a joint project.

Scout your competition. Companies sometimes divulge information on their social networking pages that provide insights into their priorities. The information may be as simple as your competitor’s online fans and followers. But sometimes the information can be more telling than that — like photos and names of your rival’s investors on, say, a Facebook page. By monitoring the social media space, you can learn as much about your competitors’ weakness as you can about their strengths.

Improve customer service. Social media monitoring provides another platform for you to have a direct one-on-one exchange with the customer. That kind of responsiveness is not only a way to earn brand loyalty. It also gives you an opportunity to turn satisfied customers into brand ambassadors. A study conducted by Maritz Research shows that customers who received responses after tweeting about a company improved their perception of that company 83 percent of the time.

Achieve a competitive advantage. Any avid social media user can tell you that online audiences are enthusiastic critics of everything, from service at a restaurant to the usefulness of a new product. This kind of constant appraisal and feedback can be valuable to business owners trying to assess the strengths of their own company or industry. Indeed, the conversations occurring online could shine a light on potential voids your company might be able to fill, thus providing a competitive advantage.

Manage your online reputation. Social media monitoring enables businesses to manage their online reputation in real time. That is important because social media can serve as a kind of echo chamber for consumer opinion, both good and bad. It is essential that you react quickly to any opinion that undercuts or distorts your brand before that opinion spreads suddenly. 

If you have a presence in the social media space, incorporate monitoring into your overall strategy. The information you gain may be just what you need to take your business to the next level.

Shrita D. Sterlin is chief executive and brand officer of Penn Strategies, a firm based in Bethesda that specializes in branding, public relations and marketing.