I just got back from a MITX Social Listening event. Afterward, it occurred to me that the answer to the question "Why should brands use social platforms to listen?" is really quite simple. Brands should use social to listen to their customers, employees, vendors and competitors because they can learn valuable things they might not know otherwise. What happens when companies don't listen? Dell didn't ask its customers what color they wanted their new Inspiron laptop to be until the company had already manufactured it in 8 different colors. To Dell's credit, before they launched the Inspiron, they asked some customers which of the new colors were their favorites. As it turned out, the majority of customers wanted white. Dell sold out of that color. But, they could've saved a bundle by manufacturing only 1 color instead of 8. As reported by the New York Times, a confidential survey of workers on the Deepwater Horizon in the weeks before the oil rig exploded showed that many of them were concerned about safety practices and feared reprisals if they reported mistakes or other problems. If BP had created an environment where the workers felt their concerns were heard, could the Gulf Coast oil disaster have been averted? If the SEC had listened to Harry Markopolos in 2000 when he tried to alert regulators to Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme, the biggest investment fraud in U.S. history might never have occurred. If banks had listened to home loan applicants closely instead of rubber stamping their mortgage applications, we might not have record foreclosure rates. So what happens when brands do listen? Avaya follows up 1 lead on Twitter that results in a $250,000 sale. A community of 12,000 fans helps NASCAR reduce research costs by 80%. The American Red Cross uses Twitter and text messaging to raise $32 million worth of aid for Haiti. Relationships are built. Sales are made. Opportunities aren't missed. Crises are responded to. Listen. Because you can't engage or shape the conversation unless you're part of it. Because your competitors are listening when you're not. Because these days there has to be something in it for everyone. And everyone will tell you exactly what that something is. All you have to do is listen.