I was initially unmoved by the news earlier this week that McKinsey is doing a joint venture with Nielsen leading the management consultancy to take over BuzzMetrics, one of the many firms out there that analyze what people are saying about companies online. There’s been so much acquisition action in that monitoring space over the years that it was hard to get excited.

But then this morning I read some late coverage of the announcement in the Financial Times that woke me up to the significance of the deal.

What the FT told me that I didn’t know is that NM Incite, as the new company will be called, is the first time McKinsey has attached its name to another company. “We have never done a joint venture of this magnitude before,” McKinsey’s Dan Singer told the FT. That detail got me thinking about how far the incredible popularity of social media has traveled upstream into corporations.

For a company like McKinsey to share its still powerful brand is telling of how much the vast quantity of consumer sentiment available on the internet is changing the game. This isn’t simply some new social media agency or guru hanging a shingle. Too many of those have popped in recent years, many of whom would be happy to get a meeting with a brand manager. This is McKinsey, a company whose consultants have the ear of CMOs and CEOs, getting squarely in the game of listening to its customers. Which can only be a good sign for anyone interested in more responsive, accountable corporations.

Imagine if BP had its ear to the ground. Actually, let me rephrase. Imagine if BP didn’t shove its thumbs in its ears, close its eyes, and scream so it didn’t register the tsunami of outrage that formed in the early days of the Gulf crisis. Maybe if it truly knew how badly it was being criticized and knew that that criticism arose partially from the company’s opacity in a time of crisis it would have let some light in.

Big-time management consultants are paid to be big-picture business thinkers — or at least they have been historically. They’re prized for their ability to understand models, markets and corporate organizations. MBA stuff. What they haven’t been asked to do is really understand the marketplace of consumer opinion and build that understanding into product development, marketing and those org chart.

Deals like this could change the very nature of corporate counsel, turning it from a set of insights that emanate from case studies and cold, detached business analysis to those that come from the real world of real people’s thoughts, feelings and opinions. Ideally, NM Incite and the imitators you just know will follow will fully pull c-suite executives out of the ivory tower and get them cleaning up those oily birds.

Matt Creamer is executive editor of Breaking Media. You can follow him on Twitter at @matt_creamer.