Like you, I have read a lot about the groundswell, and how social media is being used to put pressure on companies and organizations that formerly would just ignore their customers. But until recently that was all theoretical. Now, however, I have first-hand experience and have seen there really is something to it.
Without getting into a lot of details, the girls fastpitch softball team I coach tied for third at a tournament in July, 2008. At the time I was told that the one trophy that was on-hand had been given to the other team, and ours would be sent to me. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Around September or October I began contacting the organization that ran the tournament to ask what the status was. Over the course of many months I received a few promises, and was ignored a lot.
Finally, after a year of patiently waiting I decided to enlist the groundswell to see if it would make a difference. I put up a post on my softball blog that included the contact information for the three people who ran the organization, and asked my readers to call or email them to "encourage" them to deliver on their promise. Within about a week and a half I suddenly was getting a flurry of emails from the organization, and am happy to say that within less than a month I received the trophy.
The people from the organization weren't happy about it, and I'm sure weren't happy with me. But in the face of public pressure, and with their inboxes filling with messages, they finally took action.
So if you're wondering whether you need to pay attention to the groundswell, I can tell you the answer is a definite yes. The old '60s dream of "power to the people" finally has a mechanism to make it work. Ignore it at your peril.