Social media is transforming the way that we use and consume media. It is also transforming the relationship that we have with brands, personalities, politicians and institutions. Or is it?

While it is clear that there has been a shift in the desire of the audience to consume media and communications in a whole new way, it is equally clear that marketers and advertisers have yet to find a way to adequately respond to these desires. It strikes me, however, that the risks lie in wait not for the brands but for the agencies who perform on their behalf. The very clever Paul McEnany has been talking about this for some time. In practical terms, however, it seems that there are some simple steps that can begun to be put into place.

For brands there are a few things you can do. In another post I will look at what agencies can do.

1. As always, start small. Talk to someone outside of your normal roster. Go boutique. You want to reach a niche audience so start with a niche agency who understand social media. If you can’t find an agency, try approaching the legion of marketing bloggers who work as consultants.

2. Slice and dice. Your planners will have provided you with a good undersanding of your target markets and their drivers — go back and ask for the same analysis SPECIFICALLY for the growing number of interactive channels. If they can’t provide this to you, find someone who can. Remember, you don’t want to talk to everybody — that is what MSM is for — use your power to slice and dice to open dialogue with those who CHOOSE to engage with you.

3. Measure and improve. Digital media provides an unrivalled ability to measure the interactions that your audiences can have with your brand. EVERY communication can be tracked, every link counted and every comment responded to. Use this information to track the performance of your communications/messaging and improve. Remember, this should be an ongoing experiment.

4. Use your head. A social media program won’t cost you a fortune to start but it will take some time. You don’t need to reposition your entire media budget — but allocate a small percentage as well as some HEAD hours. These programs work best when they are driven by someone passionate about your brand/product/service.

5. Start NOW. Don’t be frightened to start — it is likely to take 12+ months to make some headway — and by then you will be 12 months ahead of your competitors.