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Welcome to the Fifth Estate


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Drafted first chapter of Welcome to the Fifth Estate by Geoff Livingston before editorial review. This document discusses Fifth Estate, Long Tail and social media control theories.

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Welcome to the Fifth Estate

  1. 1. Chapter I: Welcome to the Fifth Estate<br />In life there are very few moments of clarity when you realize that things have completely changed, and that nothing will be the same. You realize, “Now is gone.” These moments vary in cause and significance, from the birth of a child or the assassination of a president to an executive departing unexpectedly or a new technology like an iPad arriving in your home.<br />For me, that moment occurred when Jim Webb won the Virginia senatorial race in November of 2006. He had done the impossible by defeating George Allen, a formidable opponent who only three months earlier was considered a serious 2008 presidential GOP candidate. George Allen was considered so safe for re-election that his initial campaign manager left Allen’s campaign to work on a race that was considered tougher. Allen was ranked as so secure in his Senate seat that he was already starting to visit early GOP presidential primary states in anticipation of an expected 2008 bid for the GOP presidential nomination. And Allen had been brought down by bloggers. <br />Allen had the misfortune of publicly stating a racial slur on film. The Webb campaign intentionally spread the video and word of it through social media outlets like blogs and YouTube. The ensuing uproar in the media and back again into the blogosphere turned a run-away race into a dogfight, and ultimately it cost the Republicans control of the Senate.<br />At that moment, I knew the face of communications has been altered forever. As a practicing communicator of 14 years at the time, this moment caused me to entirely rethink my approach to public relations and marketing. What was fun and experimental became the primary thrust of my business. The world changed for me. Little did I know I would be launched into an incredible new career trajectory. <br />Social media – blogs, social networks, localized search enabled maps, SEO, user generated video and audio – had arisen with millions upon millions of content producers. These many content creators and readers had suddenly achieved a new level of power and weight. We could change the way countries were run with one major initiative.<br />It was time to stop experimenting with new media and come to know everything possible about it. The social media boom was different than the dot-bomb era with users fueling new media, not VC backed start-ups. As a result, it’s a society-fueled trend that continues to grow in scope, scale and impact. Communications has evolved more in the last ten years than it has in the last 100.<br />Welcome to the Fifth Estate<br />Five years and one book after the Webb moment, social media users have become a force of their own, community members with a voice — not supplanting the media — but augmenting it. Since the last Now Is Gone – when it was called “new media” -- social media has assumed its place in the larger media mix. It has become the Fifth Estate.<br />The Fourth Estate – or the traditional media — got its nickname by policing the governments of France and Great Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The French Estates General consisted of The First Estate of three hundred clergy, the Second Estate of three hundred nobles and the Third Estate of six hundred commoners. The media fulfilled a new role, providing their readership with more factual information about political events. As a result, politicians were forced into a new level of accountability. Media became the fact provider, the great source of information beyond hype. When the politicians stepped out of line, the masses were informed, and protests, and in some cases, mobs and revolution ensued.<br />Since the 18th century, the Fourth Estate has grown to include broadcast media forms, too. In modern times, the fourth estate role has extended into all facets of life, from business reporting (for example, the HP Board Scandal) to entertainment (Lindsay Lohan’s ongoing woes). Perhaps the greatest moment of the fourth estate was the epic Watergate scandal, in which two Washington Post reporters – Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein -- exposed an illegal break into the Democratic National Committee’s offices during the 1972 election. The ensuing scandal eventually caused President Richard M. Nixon to resign.<br />Yet, the media has its own fallacies. PR execs swarm the traditional media (and now bloggers) to place stories. Corporations, nonprofits and politicians alike employ spinners to ensure favorable coverage, and decreasing budgets have brought newsrooms with less and younger journalists.  While still authoritative, the media no longer enjoys complete trust. According to Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer report, 30 plus percent of the population trust most forms of traditional media.<br />The Fifth Estate — citizen media — brings to bear unreported yet relevant news, and questions stated facts. Marshall University Professor Stephen D. Cooper proposed the Fifth Estate concept in his 2006 book, " Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers as the Fifth Estate." Cooper thought the new level of accountability caused by blogs was the emergence of a Fifth Estate in our social system. The social media content creators and users keep the Fourth Estate honest. Indeed, in some cases the media has welcomed social media, using it to augment its own research.  Consider how CNN has moved away from Associated Press coverage and now uses user-generated iReports to augment its online offering.<br />The popularity of social networks where content and ideas can create “viral” explosions of widespread ideas with just the right spark, combined with the endless underpinning of the social web – search – have made it easier than ever for the media and rival campaigns to spot the mistakes and exaggerations of politicians like George Allen. Lest critics point out that this phenomenon is isolated to politics, the Washington Post wrote a piece on how fan-generated media was driving sports stories.  Here’s a snippet:<br />But in the arena of sports, the arbiter of what matters is increasingly shifting from the mainstream media to the freewheeling realm of the blogosphere, where impassioned fans opine about the playing field’s heroes, villains and controversies of the day.<br />Like the Fourth Estate, the role of the Fifth Estate has extended beyond politics to larger issues.  Consider bestselling business author Charlene Li’s influential role in raising the flag on Facebook’s privacy threatening advertising platform Beacon in 2007. In 2009, Iranian social media users raised the visibility of their revolution to a global level, prompting Twitter users to adopt the green avatars across the globe. Just last year, social media users learned of the Haiti crisis online, and then turned social media tools into the biggest mobile fundraising event in history for the American Red Cross. Or consider how angry iPhone 4 buyers tweeted, Facebooked, blogged and commented, evoking an admission from Apple that its product was flawed and encouraging Consumer Reports to not recommend the product. The examples continue on and on.<br />Many corporate and nonprofit executives throughout the country have awoken to the increasing power of social media, and are trying to engage in this dynamic new environment. The Fifth Estate demands their attention.<br />There now exists incredible amounts of user-generated information, content, and entertainment streaming throughout the world’s social networks. At the same time, the environment seems to be dangerous with users and networks’ flaming companies who try to sell to them, or worse ones that have public problems like BP’s horrible Deep Horizon eco-disaster, or as cited in the original Now Is Gone, jetBlue’s mass stranding of passengers over Valentine’s Day, 2007.<br />Given the complexity of conversational media and the dangers of a flawed strategy, executives find themselves in a sudden quandary. They must determine how to get their company or nonprofit successfully engaged in social media, and do so quickly. The viability of their products, services and civic solutions depend on it. Yet social media successes are not created overnight. Many organizations evolve over months and years, not with a simple tweet (a microblog posting on the social network Twitter). The tension between structured organizations working for profit or social good and the fluid nature of conversations cannot be underestimated.<br />This new book provides organizations and executives that are struggling to adopt with a foundation to help create social media strategies for their companies. It does not teach tactical line managers the best way to execute a Facebook fan page, create a blogger relations program, or how to create a large Twitter follower count. There are many books that cover the actual day-to-day marketing activities in the social media world. Instead, this book discusses the general strategic principles and major aspects of social network marketing, providing executives a primer to begin their effort.<br />The rest of this chapter discusses the general trends driving social media and their impact on business. Ensuing chapters discuss whether or not an organization really is ready for social media; the cultural challenges of social media adoption, listening and strategy; social media marketing; and finally how to stay relevant. <br />Social Media’s Impact on Business as Usual<br />The first issue organizations consider with social media remains negative commenting, a result of the open transparent dialog occurring 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 throughout an American “change-adverse” business culture accustomed to controlling their brands through traditional print and broadcast media. <br />At the same time, with the rise of social networks, consumer trust in traditional media forms has dramatically declined. The public no longer wholeheartedly believes in reporters now that there are alternative voices to read and verify contemporary newspaper stories. Thus there is encouragement for independent voices and their criticisms. The Fifth Estate is empowered. With more choices and much more content, media usage patterns have shifted. Social media users are no longer beholden to one voice (oft influenced by corporate marketing and PR machines), or a limited network of friends. It is peer-to-peer conversations at its finest, turbocharged by the viral nature of what Doc Searl’s calls today’s Live Web.<br />A world of experiences lies at consumers’ fingertips, and many simply search to find relevant information. When they search, social media sources are often listed as top content vehicles. This challenges organizational outreach campaigns, providing disruptive feedback that counters marketing and public relations efforts. <br />On April 16, 2007, BusinessWeek wrote, “Trashing brands online can also be high theater.” Venerable content brands like F@st Company launch campaigns to determine influencers, and then find themselves lampooned within 24 hours. Millions of people watch this stuff—then join in and pile on. Is it any wonder companies lose control of the conversation? <br />Origin of Brands author Laura Ries commented, “As quickly and as easily as PR can build a brand, PR can take a brand down. Negative PR is incredibly damaging. And with the growth of new media, mainly the Internet, it can happen faster than ever. Look no further than Don Imus, jetBlue or Taco Bell for proof of this fact… non-famous people or brands can be annihilated by even mild scandals. If you’re not famous, you seldom get a second chance.”<br />How far will the pendulum swing? Nonprofits and businesses alike increasingly find themselves forced to communicate to their customers in their preferred social media forms. Instead of businesses trying to find customers, this time businesses are trying to play catch-up with their customers. To date most efforts have been limited to content publishing, with mediocre results, and conversations lacking. For every socially engaged LIVESTRONG, there are ten American Cancer Societies who fear the real negative whiplash an online conversation can bring.<br />Like many things in life, this fear represents only a very small part of the story. Organizations that leverage social media intelligently have great things to gain, including positive relationships with loyal community members and brand advocates, better communications, new buyers or donors that consider the organization part of their community, significant movements towards innovation or social change, increased brand loyalty, longer relationships and much, much more.<br />One of the original and most respected marketing bloggers, Toby Bloomberg, provided some insights:<br />Social media is more than a passive Web site strategy. The most beneficial aspect is the ability to engage directly with customers and other stakeholders. Social media opens the doors for businesses to listen to the unfiltered voices of their customers and to track those conversations. Social media also provides opportunities for the people within the company join in on those conversations and talk directly to customers. Taking an active role in creating a dialogue with customers about issues that they care about, at the moment in time when they care about those concerns, is the heart of new media marketing.<br />I have seen this phenomenon over and over again with many brands small and large, from Ford Motor Company’s meteoric rise to online popularity thanks to a social media team led by Scott Monty to the amazing work the Humane Society has done integrating social media as a core part of their advocacy and fundraising efforts. New start-up brands also dominate the social web, from measuring tool Radian6’s prominence amongst bloggers and social media communicators to social media darling Charity::Water’s rise to prominence with the Twitter community. On and on the stories continue. Social media allows organizations to create valuable online relationships.<br />That creates a big problem for corporate marketers and PR practitioners who are used to playing by the rules and having defined methods of engagement with customers and the media. Heretofore, they could issue whatever content they wanted and it was taken, because there were controlled forms of communication. Media is now out of control, being created by millions. Add to the mix the complications that lawyers, IT professionals, and general executive training brings to the table. Finally, organizational cultures – both in the business and nonprofit sector – revolve around stand-alone silos, not internetworked transparent conversations. The equation creates hard cultural challenges for the corporate world.<br />With each passing day, the gap between out-dated tactics and current marketing needs widens. In 2007 when the original Now Is Gone was published, traditional nonprofits and companies could afford to sit on the sideline. Today, they all have flaccid social media beachheads where they publish links and talk with no one. The situation becomes more demanding as their efforts to communicate the old way fail.<br />It’s incumbent upon organizations to learn the new mobile-enabled social media world, not just from a theoretical level, but also as community participants. Without social media our ability to effectively do business is incomplete. The social media revolution’s impact on real organizational communication campaigns demands our professional attention. <br />To reach these new audiences, executives and marketing communications professionals must steer their organizations correctly. To do so will require a new approach to marketing, a different mindset and one that will not only dictate the way social media is used, but also new principals of communicating in general. Authenticity, personality and transparency – buzz words long associated with the comeuppance of social media – turn into new internal challenges, constantly standing as the primary pathways to increased online successes. <br />The Long Tail of Media<br />When I wrote Now Is Gone, Long Tail theory was prevalent throughout social media conversations. Applied, WIRED Executive Editor Chris Anderson’s economic theory did a great job of visualizing the ascent of new media forms in context with old traditional media. Since that time, social networks and mobile media postings have arisen to assert their place within the world of media. <br />Just to recap what Long Tail theory is: With a large population of customers, their selection and buying pattern results in a power law distribution curve (Pareto distribution). A market with a high freedom of choice will create a certain degree of inequality by favoring the upper 20% of the items (“hits” or “head”) against the other 80% (“non-hits” or “long tail”).<br />Head of the Tail<br />Let’s go back to the power curve for media now that the dust has settled with the ascendancy of some new media forms. The above chart [to be professionally rendered for the book] plots the effectiveness or the weight of various media tactics in the current 2010 media environment.<br />Red hits have the most impact (top 20%), while the long tail (yellow, 80% of media) still makes up the majority of the media marketplace. This chart defines the marketplace as word of mouth power and readership.<br />This chart is subjective and various earned media forms have disparate degrees of weight. General classification is the best we can do without the correct measurement tools using a real world full on case study with all types of earned media opportunities. Further, this assumes PR owns social media within a company. As we know, social media is often divided amongst the larger marketing department.<br />As you can see at the head of the tail we have the following media forms:<br />National broadcast – ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX<br />Major newspapers – New York Times, USA Today, etc. <br />Top magazines – BusinessWeek, Fortune, WIRED<br />Major social networks – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, etc.<br />Top cable channels – CNN, ESPN, etc.<br />Top 100 blogs – Huffington Post, Techcrunch, Treehugger, etc. Generally speaking, blog content can vary from print to video.<br />The Turning Point and the Tail<br />At the turning point in the tail, roughly the 20 percent mark, you have several other forms of traditional media, which reflects the fall of some media, and the rise of new online and mobile media.<br />Major trade journals – Obviously, the powerhouse in any industry still holds sway, but the secondary journals have suffered quite a bit<br />Secondary social networks – For every FourSquare, there’s a Gowalla, not as popular, these secondary networks still drive tons of traffic<br />Regional newspapers: You don’t hear about the Denver Post much nationally. Still very powerful in the Rock Mountain region.<br />Secondary cable & TV: A&E, TBS, VH-1, etc.<br />National radio: ESPNRadio, FOX, etc.<br />Leading vertical blogs: And the winner here, no question. In PR for example, Brian Solis (who wrote Engage, and the intro to Now Is Gone), will get as many or more reads as a Secondary PR journal.<br />Major “influencer” profiles: Finally on some of the social networks, you have highly “influential” profiles which either through mass followers or strong engagement can set of tidal wives of action via their profile<br />After that, you have the long tail, the vast majority of content. From the old world, I think you can list the following: Local TV, local radio, local newspapers, secondary journals, corporate web sites, email newsletters, and press releases. From the newer social media world, you can list: Social network profiles, secondary blogs, videos, photos, maps, and mobile updates & check-ins. <br />The Taxonomy Problem<br />The issue with this chart is the taxonomy, which seeks to isolate individual media forms and tools and their weight. In reality — given today’s fractured media environment — one hit in any of these areas can trigger successive hits in others. The Fourth and Fifth Estates are intrinsically tied together. When a word of mouth campaign has actual substance it usually cascades. Smart communicators understand this. That’s why integrated outreach — not just social media or traditional PR & advertising — matters so much.<br />In Chapter Four of Now Is Gone, we talk about this “ping pong match” between traditional and new media outlets. From the draft material in June of 2007:<br />One great way to promote your new media initiative remains traditional media, who often use well-respected blogs as sources or even the subject of stories… [Social media attention] drives information into the spotlight forcing traditional media to pay attention – or look like they’ve missed the news, and most importantly the conversation. Blogs [can be] a more effective way of reaching and inspiring traditional media to react than most PR professionals and wire services combined.<br />Ping-pong matches demonstrate that weighting one tool by its actual total community and eyeball impact fails. As Seth Godin said in Meatball Sundae, “It doesn’t matter if the socially generated earned media only gets one percent of the hoped for attention if it’s the right one percent.” <br />Another issue that we have seen is the degradation of quality of information. Many traditional media outlets have lost staff and have to do more with less and younger staff. And with blogs and influencers filling the void, general journalistic standards have suffered. While some blogs like Mashable have strict editorial guidelines, others are at the whim of the author, who may or may not have domain expertise. Discerning quality information will continue to be a big challenge for our society over the ensuing years.<br />“There’s No Market for Messages”<br />In 1999, four advanced thinkers – Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger -- wrote a book called the Cluetrain Manifesto, which touched off the online conversation revolution. At the heart of the book was 95 theses, similar to Martin Luther’s famous proclamations, and an incredible statement targeted at the heart of organizational communications: “There’s No Market for Messages.”<br />In many ways, the original Now Is Gone is the direct product of Cluetrain’s unrelenting view that controlled and contrived business brand messages — nonprofit or corporate — have no place on the Internet. Cluetrain represents a great hope: That business can be done differently. It believed the Internet and social media can become the elixir to revolutionize corporate cultures from exploitation as evidenced by Blackwater, BP, Enron, the collapse of GM, Goldman Sachs, Halliburton, and WorldComm, and refocus corporations on communities, responsibility and authenticity, causes, and service to actual markets. <br />Cluetrain captures the essence of the uncontrolled business environment and the need to provide authentic, real dialogue based around the market’s needs. Without understanding the fundamental dynamics of the social media form and the inherently uncontrived two-way conversations it inspires, communicators are lost in the darkness. They have lost control, and find their messages falling on deaf ears, or worse publicly rejected. The Fifth Estate does not have to accept organizational messaging. This is a fundamental, cultural struggling point that most organizations wrestle with throughout their social media adoption cycle.<br />It doesn’t matter if you have a compelling cause or a public interest, or if your company contributes to society. If your organization relentlessly delivers messages to people, they will likely turn their back on you. It’s like entering a party and spamming people with solicitations, stale lines, and hucksterisms. <br />The 20th century industrial approach of communications is over, regardless of medium. Mass communicating at people no longer works. We live in a networked communications world online. Even Super Bowl ads are starting to lose strength now, thus Pepsi’s $20 million Refresh program.<br />Whether its social or not, organizational executives and communicators should retool their strategic approach towards messaging. What we learned in business or communications school has changed. The old dynamics of media, specifically the concept that there are limited channels of media that people get information from, no longer applies. <br />Look at messages as conversation starters. You won’t control the dialogue, but the fact of the matter is your organization already lost control and some experts argue, you never had it. Instead, at least when it comes to online media, let’s focus on having real interesting conversations that matter to us (organization and person), and our stakeholders in online communities.<br />The rest of this book deals with the pragmatic basics of social media and integrating it within a larger marketing communications effort. It assumes that a company or a practitioner has at least a passing interest in social media, that they have reached a point where there’s a very real possibility of engaging in a social media strategy of some form.<br />Chapter 1 Snap Shots<br />For most people, social media represents a sudden shift in the way communications is done. Whether that realization occurs with a moment of clarity like mine with the Allen-Webb election or in an educational manner over time, it creates a turning point. A new empowering form of communications has arisen, which requires a completely different grassroots-oriented approach.<br />The Fifth Estate<br />Citizen created content fills a information void that the current power establishments in government, industry and the media have left open. This new “fifth estate” keeps traditional media and power accountable by pointing out fallacies and creating its own power dynamic where it creates stories that the traditional media reports.<br />Impact on Organizations<br />Unable to “contain” negative commenting or successfully communicate in conversational media, organizations find themselves forced to change. This is a much larger cultural adoption matter than simply learning new communications tools like the fax machine. Now executives must unlearn decades of strategic management approaches to communications in order to succeed. <br />The Long Tail<br />Social media generally is not as well read as most popular forms of media with the exception of the most popular social networks. Yet the “long tail” of lightly read media can create sudden movements of information and force media leaders to report and communicate about these hidden stories. The resulting ping-pong match has created a new media ecosystem.<br />No Market for Messages<br />At the heart of corporate communications is the message, meant to be delivered, disseminated and controlled. Because of two-way communication methods, online markets reject messages, instead preferring customer feedback and opinions on products, services and solutions. At best the role of the message in social media environments is that of a conversation started.<br />