So how do we access our customers?
Funny thing - I would avoid using the language of customer or client - and consider the people who are speaking about you and/or your brand as evangelists and/or fans. We all have the experience of someone commenting/complaining about some product/brand/service at a time that they are no where near any media outlet.
Companies and corporations are discovering (or rediscovering) that branding is about making a personal relationship with their enthusiasts/evangelists. Technology has made the cost of communication a lot less expensive - and the access to the medium (through PCs, Internet, mobile phones and sites like Facebook) very easy. But the real power is the reduction of friction from information going across a community. When people like content, when they can benefit from sharing the content - the technology makes the sharing a very low social cost. Thus, information spreads much faster because the barriers to information are much more permeable.
Why are people doing the "I just had eggs for breakfast" tweets?
While there are some who are aiming for some level of notoriety with these amusing tweets, I argue that these tweets are often the first foray into learning how to "speak" social media. Remember, you did not instantly know how to walk or speak your language. Learning another language is also a great analogy to "speaking" social media.
I have heard numerous times "I tried twitter, but just did not understand why it was such a big deal." I would suggest that a technology - as a technology - is not the end-all/be-all. Technology is like any other tool - when we have a need for using it, we develop our skills in using it. And just like any other tool/skill - you must start out small to learn how to use it and if you can use it. I suggest that these silly tweets/posts are more about learning and experiencing rather than ego and amusement.
Isn't social media more about damage control than engagement?
I would agree that social media's entry into the corporate consciousness has been (especially from 2004-2008) about damage control. Stories like "Dell Hell" and the Comcast Repairman Video turned the attention of the mainstream media to social media and the power of using these low-cost, easily shared pieces of media that could impact brands in a dangerous fashion (see Dell's stock price soon after Jeff's post).
But today, since people have access to these tools - and can have an impact on brands - especially when people are unhappy, brands are now focusing on being in a relationship with their enthusiasts who can be there when the negative conversations are about to begin. Likening this to a sports fan, once you have their minds or their commitment (e.g., bumper sticker, tattoo, etc) - rarely will you see them stand against the brand and often defend their brand in the face of facts and personal cost. I would suggest the Republican ability to distract people from their problems in support of policies against their personal good (see What's Wrong with Kansas?) is very similar.
One thing I forgot to point out is what I coined "the Infinite Memory of Google". Remember that everything you do on the web, in email, on mobile phones and twitter - all gets stored somewhere, in some fashion. This social record - social exhaust - does not dissipate with a stiff breeze. Rather, it takes time and other content that becomes relevant to cause the content to lose relevance and fade into the background. The challenge - how to address the bad content when you can not erase these digital footprints. The answer - understand the problem and learn how to address it with proactive engagement and positive commentary.