Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact that the internet is having on both consumers and constituents (basically all citizens). There is a revolution taking place across the country from the comfort of our own homes. I started to realize this revolution while reading “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson. I started the boook a few weeks back and it has been weaving it’s way into my thoughts since I began. If you are involved in PR, Marketing, Business, or anything related to the Internet (basically everyone), you should read this book.

There are two areas that I have been thinking about in regards to how the internet is making an impact: 1) the relationship between businesses and consumers, and 2) the relationship between congress people and constituents. I will briefly touch on both these topics, with more elaboration to come in the future.

Businesses and Consumers
Have you ever realized that often times there is a phone number and address on most of the products your purchase, asking for your feedback? Right now I’m looking at a Pop-Secret box of popcorn that holds “The Red Sppon Promise”. According to the box, “The Red Spoon is my promise of great taste, quality, and convenience. This is a product you and your family will enjoy. I guarantee it.” I’ve seen similar statements on other products as well. Have you ever called these numbers? I haven’t. Prior to the internet, this was the only way that consumers could connect with their favorite brands. Nowadays, consumers can get on their computer and blog about their experiences with the companies that are a part of their life. Sometimes they can even access a company’s blog and comment on a specific product. Their voice will be heard immediately.

The changing interaction between consumers and brands is pretty revolutionary. Suddenly, the “free market” has become the most democratic system of all (if it wasn’t already). As they have always been able to, consumers can choose what products to purchase. This is their “vote” in the free market. The only difference now is that consumers have access to a broader product offering as illustrated by “the long tail”. Additionally, consumers now have the ability to mold the products that companies provide to them through direct conversations. These direct conversations are taking place on wikis and blogs across the internet. This is in contrast to before when corporations simply used focus groups to determine where a product would be placed within a market, and then continued to heavily market each of the new products. Now we are experiencing a changing landscape, especially in marketing and PR. In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson states:

We’re entering an era of radical change for marketers. Faith in advertising and the institutions that pay for it is waning, while faith in individuals is on the rise. Peers trust peers. Top-down messaging is losing traction, while bottom-up buzz is gaining power. Dell spends hundreds of millions each year on promoting its quality and customer services, but if you Gooogle “dell hell” you’ll get 55,000 pages of results. Even the word “dell” returns customer complaints by the second page of results. The same inversion of power is now chaning the marketing game for everything from individual products to people. The collective now controls the message.
Similarly, Shel Israel states on his blog:> What is a great matter, if you are in the PR proffesion is that you will not succeed if you focus on smiling and dialing a media list of strangers, if you are intent in inject hubris into what you have to say or write. If you think you can succeed by being just cute or clever, you are living in the wrong Era.

Today, you need to join the conversation. You are part of the news distribution system, not just for your clients, but for the community where your clients would like to flourish.
We are now in conversational era. Suddenly, consumers have been given the majority of control. Slowly, consumers are starting to take advantage of it.

Congress People and Constituents
As you know, the United States is a representative democracy, providing the representatives that we elect with the power to determine what is right for the people. Once elected, the representatives interact with intermediaries, not constituents to determine what decisions should be made on key legislation. According to Utah State Representative, Steve Urquhart:

In politics, intermediaries tightly control information. Those intermediaries are (1) special interest groups, (2) the media, and (3) bureaucrats. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that those three entities exist; they can be quite helpful in proper dosage. The problem is the overwhelming degree to which those intermediaries filter content and control political dialogue.
As a solution to the problem, Rep. Urquhart has helped create Politicopia (thanks for showing this to me Leslie). According to Rep. Urquhart:> Politicopia will improve people’s access to information in my state, Utah, by presenting a wiki-based forum for the compilation and presentation of information on actual bills pending before the Legislature. If a citizen wants to learn about an issue and shape the dialogue, Politicopia will provide a quick and solid handle on the process – without the intermediaries filter. And if a legislator wants to hear unfiltered suggestions from interested citizens – instead of mainly hearing from organized special interests – Politicopia will give him or her a new source of input.
While representatives still have the power to choose where they get their information from, one can hope that over time, more information will come directly from the citizens, rather than biased power players. As I mentioned last week, Hillary Clinton turned to Yahoo answers to get the input of the people. While I’m sure much of this may be a political stunt as she moves toward becoming a Presidential nominee, it is still a good illustration of how new technology can impact the relationship between constituents and their representatives.

In conclusion, new technologies developed for the internet have exploited the internet’s true democratic nature. I believe that this is the beginning of a revolution, and we haven’t begun to see the true impact. As a whole, I am hopeful for what the future brings as people begin to embrace the technologies that are provided to them. Want to learn more about the revolution? I suggest heading over to the Media 2.0 Workgroup to read work from other bloggers that are documenting the phenomena of democratic participation on the web.