The Web empowers the customer more than it empowers the organization. This shift in power is only beginning to be felt.

One of the greatest achievements of the baby boom generation is that they helped bring about the end of deference. This is according to baby boomer, Jack Straw, Leader of the UK House of Commons. We don’t tip the cap and bow the head to authority and the establishment like we used to.

We don’t know our place today. Nor do we automatically assume that the doctor, the politician, the preacher, the teacher, or the brand, have the ‘right’ answers. Yes, the brand. Because major brands used to be like a religion, a belief system. They were trusted and deferred to and left unquestioned.

Not any more. The Web gives customers the power to talk back and be heard by other customers like them. The Web strips away authority from the establishment. In fact, the Web is leading a backlash against traditional authority figures.

According to the recently released Edelman Trust Barometer:1. Trust in the Internet as a source of information is growing, while trust in TV is declining.2. Employees are more trusted as spokespersons for an organization than CEOs.3. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are more trusted than governments.4. “A person like me” is more trusted than doctors, academics and other such experts. In the U.S., trust in “a person like me” has shown a dramatic increase from just 20 percent in 2003 to 68 percent today.

“We have reached an important juncture, where the lack of trust in established institutions and figures of authority has motivated people to trust their peers as the best sources of information about a company,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO, Edelman. “Companies need to move away from sole reliance on top-down messages delivered to elites toward fostering peer-to-peer dialogue among consumers and employees, activating a company’s most credible advocates.”

Customers relish the fact that they have a voice today. They are tired of being talked at and down to. They demand to be listened to. “Perpetuating blindness or ignorance to what customers are saying about you, your products and your services is just plain stupid,” my friends at Grokdotcom state.

“If there are customer concerns out there, folks will find them,” they continue. “Awareness and understanding of how customers are talking about you-from their interests to their issues to the very language they use to express themselves-present you with chances to develop specific, necessary content that tackles matters head on. Even negative information gives you an opportunity to develop good will and better meet the needs of your customers by having the courage to address it rather than run from it.”

It used to be that organizations decided how they would like to be perceived by the public, and then they employed PR agencies to make it so. The assumption was that perception repeated enough became reality. Today, the Web is just one of the tools customers use to find out whether the organization really is what it markets itself to be. On the Web, it’s hard to hide.