People first, business later

trust agents

Book Review
Trust Agents. Using the Web to build influence, improve reputation, and earn trust.
By Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.
John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2009. 271 p.

Because I read Trust Agents from the perspective of a public relations practitioner I especially appreciate its challenge to reconsider the meaning of the term ‘public relations.’ Chris Brogan and Julien Smith emphasize that PR means listening.

PR people, successful ones at least, learn to become part of a dialogue with a number of  communities, online and off. They volunteer to help whenever possible, and keep adding to the karma bank.

Chris Brogan is an author, a cofounder of PodCamp, and an unusually influential blogger on trends in social media. I have followed him for some  time. Julien Smith is an author, trend analyst, and consultant.

They address Trust Agents to marketers in particular.  As marketing professionals themselves, they critique many common practices of the profession and propose enlightened alternatives. They offer the book as a marketer’s guide to establishing credibility, and they take cues from How to Win Friends and Influence People, the Boy Scout Manual, a Guy’s Guide to Dating.

Like a single guy scanning attractive prospects at the local pub, a Trust Agent sees sales opportunities. But rather than incessantly promoting himself (or product) he takes his time and nurtures relationships. He patiently plants seeds. Through blog posts and comments, interactions online and face-to-face, and by going the extra mile for customers, the Trust Agent eventually reaps rewards as the seeds bloom.

Trust Agents embody six qualities, and each receives its own chapter:
They make their own game (enjoy experimentation, learn from trial and error)
Are ‘one of us’ (spend time with us, are genuine)
Use the Archimedes effect (leverage one success to create another)
Act as Agent Zero (bring networks together and build relationships long before business needs transacting)
Are human artists (good at ‘people skills,’ empower others)
Build an army (work with their networks to achieve monumental tasks)

Clever Trust Agents ‘make their own game’ by sizing up the system, the status quo. They identify its underlying assumptions and then decide which rules can be broken. They jump the gate; they hack the system;  they do something unique. At the same time, and this is crucial, Trust Agents do not take advantage of people. People are real, they have feelings, and deserve respect. Trust Agents watch their own ego. They promote others more often than they promote themselves.

While they’re eager to participate in networks and groups, Trust Agents are not phony. They don’t join a community they don’t care about. There is no worse crime than being fake.

You may find yourself skimming over some of the content. Several of the observations and recommendations are so obvious and so universally accepted that one wonders why they’re repeated here:  how to conduct oneself in social settings, how to use social networking sites to build social networks.

But for this reader there are some big takeaways: Keep experimenting. Keep trying new things. If you stumble, learn from the experience. It’s part of creating your own game.

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