by Adam Ostrow (MASHABLE)
One of the best uses of social media for business is being able to monitor your brand. Services like Twitter () search and Facebook () search make it easy to see each time someone mentions your company, while third-party applications like TweetDeck () and Seesmic Desktop () allow you to get real-time updates pushed to your desktop and instantly reply.
But what if you want to proactively get feedback about your business, new product ideas, marketing campaigns, or other issues relating to your company? You could simply publish out a question to your connections on a social network of choice, but there are far more methodical ways to gather feedback – some free and others low-cost – that can be a valuable aid in your decision making.
Add a Survey to Your Website or Blog
Feedback forms have long been a part of websites. But now, there are ways to create them and obtain organized feedback without any programming knowledge. WuFoo is a service that lets you create virtually any type of form – from open-ended questions, to polls with radio buttons, to multiple choice – and then embed it on your website or blog with cut and paste code.
Then, through your WuFoo account, you can get real-time reports on the results, as well as add or update poll questions on the fly. The service offers a free edition that includes up to 3 different forms and 100 responses, plus subscription plans for users that need more forms or more responses.
Add a Poll to Your Facebook Page
If your brand has a Facebook Page, adding applications to it is one way to both keep them engaged and gather feedback. Involver offers a Facebook polling application that will not only ask your Facebook fans a question, but also let them share their vote with friends, which can help attract additional fans to your page.
Poll Your Twitter Followers
If you’ve already set up a feedback form on your website through an app like WuFoo you could simply share a link to it with your Twitter followers. However, there are some feedback apps designed specifically for Twitter that are worth checking out.
PollDaddy, which offers a polling solution for blogs much like WuFoo, has an app built specifically for Twitter too. Set up your question, login with your Twitter username and password, and PollDaddy will automatically tweet your question to followers.
TwtPoll offers similar functionality, and has a built-in option that allows poll respondents to retweet your poll question and in turn give your poll a wider audience.
Post a YouTube Video
Want feedback that captures more emotion than a text response? Post a YouTube () video. Doing so is now as easy as recording from your webcam and uploading – all directly from the YouTube site. YouTube now allows for “video responses,” so users who see your video can post a response in the same way they’d post a text comment.
As a network targeted at professionals, LinkedIn () is an excellent place to get feedback for your business. Its LinkedIn Answers product is actually specifically designed for this purpose, letting you pose a question to your connections and get feedback. On the flip side, answering questions from other users is a great way to build new relationships on the site.
Gather Feedback Responsibly
While the social web makes gathering feedback and conducting market research exceptionally efficient and low-cost, it’s important to remember that you’re also potentially broadcasting your next move to competitors. Thus, social media based feedback programs should be designed such that they give you the information you need without telegraphing your strategy.