Take Nielsen's new undertaking, Hey! Nielsen. From what I can gather, though I haven't actually used the system still in "stealth," Nielsen is creating an online social media community that will be able to better capture the data of the dialogue occurring on its social network about new television shows, celebrities, etc. Fantastic!
Social media, at critical mass and when facilitated and monitored correctly, is the voice of the people intending to consume, and influence others to consume, entertainment content (and all other goods and services, for that matter). And all of this feedback is in real time. Today this might mean deciding what TV shows to do more marketing for, and how to shape that marketing message. But, going forward, it could mean deciding even what shows to produce, or what story line to take with popular shows.
It doesn't take much to apply media's usage of social media to brands' abilities to leverage social media to improve product or services. Brands have been using focus groups forever; social media just allows brands to increase the size of that focus group to a much larger population.
The issue, of course, aside from capturing and interpreting the data, is creating a critical mass of social media dialogue around your brand or offering to begin with. For this reason, the key will be finding the balance of properly incentivizing participation and discussion from your own social media communities, focused social media communities (such as Hey! Nielsen) and, to the greatest extent possible, creating and monitoring dialogue within social media communities that already posses the critical mass necessary to provide effective feedback.
Again you can see media companies spearheading efforts in this area, but in the end we are still in the early stages of understanding how social media will affect brands' ability to deliver messages, and are only just beginning to attack the challenge of unlocking social media's ability to shape effective brand messages. But, in the end it may be that all the messaging in the world won't prove to be a competitive advantage for brands when faced with competition from those that can effectively shape their products and services by creating conversational marketing campaigns and listening to consumers through social media.