Written by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust is for everybody, including folks who think that they have already achieved the status of being “trust agents,” and who believe they know all the ropes and tricks of the social media business. I say this from the start because a young entrepreneur was telling me that this book addresses people either looking for Trust Agents or hoping to become one. “Do you see yourself as a Trust Agent?” I asked. “Kind of,” he responded somewhat coquettishly, immediately mentioning that he had thousands of followers on Twitter for his company. He “had a reputation,” and he had “earned it.” As if any reputation were a “good” one by default (the internet version of “any publicity is good publicity”)! As if a “good” reputation at any given time entitled anybody or any company to be trusted in perpetuity. Madoff was a “Trust Agent” in his field, and remained so for a long time mainly because people are so scared at the idea of trusting people that they are even more scared at the idea of questioning the trust they have placed in them… All of this to say that this book addresses anybody: the perpetweeters who feel like inductees into the Web-pantheon — yet can be dismantled as easily as any statues – and, of course, those who wonder how to expand their influence.
The book is structured around the six main features of a Trust Agent:
1. They make they own game. Nothing to do with ego packaging. They are the people who set new rules and provide a novel or interesting perspective on things.
2. They are “one of us.” The expression “social media” maybe somewhat redundant, except that the Web can also be the playing ground of antisocial nerds and weirdos. Trust Agents are people we can relate to and care about others.
3. They understand the principle of the lever – or the Archimedes effect (”Give me a place on which to stand, and I will move the earth”) and empower others.
4. They are marvel-ous connectors — they have the power of an “Agent Zero.” “No matter where they go, trust agents have a desire to connect good people together.” They are not mere networkers and are more like relationship facilitators.
5. They are human artists. On the Web, we are deprived on 93 percent of all the human signals (38 percent vocal tones and 55 percent body movement), which exposes anybody to a number of blunders. They understand the subtle aesthetics and the etiquette of communication.
6. They know how to “build an army.” You can’t do it alone. But how can you best convince thousands of ronin and lone rangers to join in and follow? The loyalty of people is first and foremost your loyalty, as a Trust Agent, to them. The Kmart incident (http://www.chrisbrogan.com/advertising-and-trust/) let the authors realize that “there are agreements, often implicit, between people and that these social contracts need to be clear and understood at all times.”
The chapter “Build an Army” ends with an interesting statement: “Most of the meat of the business isn’t in using these [social media] tools, but rather in how they are applied uniquely to your organization.” The how requires a new type of skill, and tellingly enough, the conclusion of the book starts with an interesting statement: “Business, it feels, is becoming an art,” the art of humanizing people that you may never see, and at looking at a random collection of people as real human beings emotionally connected by what the authors often call a “social contract.” Push marketers are doomed to belong to another age, and social media marketing, still kind of a sidekick in marketing organizations, will be the cornerstone of the next marketing age – one governed by a completely new understanding of the value of customer service.
I like this book for many reasons. It’s pragmatic and offers actionable advice to individuals and business leaders. I like the underlying assumption of a good-natured, transparence-driven popular sovereignty of digital natives that trust agents must respect to remain trust agents – and not turn into a body of traders controlling the social media business. I was interested by the fact that it is written by two authors who end up complementing each other as they express the complexity of a social media scene, the strange confluence of behaviors that we have caught from living on the Internet for the last 15 years, playing computer and video games (from the first SimCity to MMO games), reading American comic-books while still breathing in the real world.
A little while ago, Julien Smith offered an interesting tweet: “if websites were people” with an image from http://imgur.com. Each individual may be all these personas at once — yes, building effective social marketing campaigns will require art and science.
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