How quickly do you have to reply to a critical tweet? How long does it take for the right video to go viral? How often do you have to update your company’s Facebook page?

Speed is at the heart of many of the questions that come up over and over again in social media. Whenever I give a social media talk or training, I can guarantee that somebody will ask about the expected pace of social media updates and responsiveness.

And no wonder, since speed is one of the core challenges that businesses face today. As my colleague Ray Poynter observes in his new ebook, The Quick and the Dead,

The latter part of the last century was the high-water mark of a focus on being the fastest person….Over the last twelve years, the focus has shifted to a different kind of speed. It’s no longer about making things go faster. It’s about moving ideas faster. It’s about delivering answers faster. (And it’s about attention spans getting shorter.)

Ray is the Director of Vision Critical University, and his ebook has been one of the most useful resources to my own process of getting up to speed in a new job. The key question is how social media fits with Vision Critical’s central product: the community panels that companies all over the world (including a third of the top 100 brands) use to track their customers’ opinions. In a typical panel, a company recruits anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 customers who agree to answer regular surveys — surveys that a company’s market research team can design and deploy themselves using Vision Critical’s software.

As Ray observes, this kind of approach is essential to providing market research insights at the speed of business today: “When a business question arises, it can be sent straight to the community, often eliciting an answer in hours rather than weeks.”

Anyone who works in social media knows how crucial it is to get intelligence that quickly — so that we can develop campaigns, replies and updates that move at the pace of online conversation. As a direct route to quickly validating or unpacking what you hear through your social monitoring program, a community panel can be one way of getting the speed of business intelligence you need, so that you can develop the right campaign, response or update that much quicker.

In my next post, I’ll suggest 6 more ways you can speed up your social media response time.