Social Sigma is the use of social networks to improve products and services. I counseled CEOs to pay attention — social will represent an important new font of data and feedback for product development and refinement.

Forrester’s data reveals the growth of social critiques — the front end of Social Sigma. 6% of online Americans post ratings and reviews of products at least monthly, up from 5% last year. 25% of online adults read these ratings and reviews at least monthly. The trend is more pronounced for young consumers aged 25-34, 32% of whom use reviews every month to make purchase decisions.

As shown in Forrester’s graphic on the left, consumers are using diverse channels, led by Facebook, to voice their opinions online.

What does all of this mean about Social Sigma for large companies?

1) Tune in. This may sound obvious. But Forrester estimates that one in five companies do not participate in the social realm, and another one in three have no coordinated social strategy. This means that more than half of you are unprepared to handle Social Sigma. Companies work in three dimensions — social needs to become the fourth.

2) Tune in lots of stations. As shown above, social feedback isn’t restricted to one or two sources — you’re going to have to listen to a wide variety of sites to create a full picture.

3) Translate data into action. Many companies monitor social channels and then fail to act on the feedback. Don’t ignore the “Sigma” in Social Sigma; feed all of that data and criticism into your product research and development efforts — don’t leave it on the cutting room floor.

Do you have examples of companies using social to improve their products? I’d love to hear about them. . . .