I am sure that some people do this in informal ways but are there any companies that you know of or work for that actively use social media and online communities to gather market research? I just read a quick blog post about Domino's Pizza doing this and I wonder if this is a new wrinkle of formal social media marketing planning.

Definitely!!! I personally have used social media as a research tool to develop qualitative findings on consumers' intent, mindset, sentiments, atitudes, and most of all plan/shape their buying behavior or attitude towards a brand. I did this manually back in 2007 and earlier before the advent of many research tools. Now, there are many tools that does this, however, even if these tools are still very good, there are certain results which should not be in those categories.

Some of the tools out there are: Radian6, Techrigy, BuzzMetrics, BuzzLogic, to name a few

Definitely!!! I personally have used social media as a research tool to develop qualitative findings on consumers' intent, mindset, sentiments, atitudes, and most of all plan/shape their buying behavior or attitude towards a brand. I did this manually back in 2007 and earlier before the advent of many research tools. Now, there are many tools that does this, however, even if these tools are still very good, there are certain results which should not be in those categories.

Some of the tools out there are: Radian6, Techrigy, BuzzMetrics, BuzzLogic, to name a few

For myself, I have done research in the Social Media channels on a very informal way and probably not at the same level as you or Domino's. Thanks for the heads up on the tools. Will definitely come in handy!