I always wondered about the representativeness of online buzz. So many brands jump into it (or told to do so) thinking it's what the consumer thinks, period. It's representative of what a certain type of consumer thinks. These consumers had the will and the time to find the social media area and they had the courage and the drive to write about their thoughts about the brand.
Despite the potential skew in representing public opinion, I do see a lot of value in checking out online buzz about brands. At least you know if there is a problem. The nay-sayers and those with harsh words can reach far more people than those who are pleased with their brand experience. Consumers expect to be pleased when they shop. Anything that succeeds or fails beyond expectations make the news. And negative news travel further than positive ones.
That's why I like Noah Brier's Brand Tags Project - a site that displays cloud tags about hundreds of brands. Site members are shown a number of brand logos and are asked to type in the first words that come into their mind. The site does some magic and aggregates the responses and voila, you get the picture of what people associate with each brand. The words emphasized in cloud tags may or may not match scientific brand awareness studies' results. But they do show any negative sentiments that a sub-section of consumers feel towards the brand. This tool could be a great conversation starter with a client and it could provide many ideas to test through surveys.