Book excerpt: Welcome to the Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate, as Geoff Livingston explains in his new book, is citizen media. It’s changed the way we consume news—and the way companies communicate.

The first social media issue organizations must consider is negative commenting, a result of the open, transparent dialog on the Internet. “What if they publicly say our product doesn’t work?” “How can they question whether their donations are being used in Africa? We are spending the money appropriately!” This fear seems endemic in an American “change-averse” business culture accustomed to controlling its brands through traditional print and broadcast messages.

With the rise of social networks, consumer trust in traditional media forms has declined dramatically. The public no longer believes as much in reporters now that there are alternative voices available to read and verify contemporary television and newspaper stories. With more choices and much more content, consumers’ media use patterns have shifted. Social media users are no longer beholden to one voice (often influenced by corporate marketing and PR machines) or to a limited network of contacts. It is peer-to-peer marketing at its finest, turbocharged by the viral nature of what Doc Searls calls today’s Live Web.

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