Are You Trying to be a Trust Agent?

Yes? Then you have probably already read at least part of Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust, the new book from Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.

Most likely, you are wondering what a “Trust Agent” is supposed to be.

“Trust agents have established themselves as being non-sales-oriented, non-high pressure marketers. Instead, they are digital natives using the web to be genuine and to humanize their business.”

The main premise is that cultivating “trust” will enable you and your business to succeed. They talk about creating this trust using social networks and online media. Be a trust agent and people will gravitate towards you when they need something, and then trust you with their information and leads. The book combines some theory, with the author’s success stories, other relevant examples and actionable suggestions.

Unfortunately, I found big chunks of the book to miss the mark for my involvement on the web. My original jump into the web was to see how these tools would work as knowledge management tools inside an organization. I found these web 2.0 tools were well ahead of the enterprise tools. My approach in using the web is for personal knowledge management.

These tools (including this blog) are for me to find the information I need to succeed at my job and to organize that information for reuse. I use web tools for selfish reasons. They are really good at helping me collect information. That others can leverage my work is a by-product. That these tools allow me to stay connected with colleagues is a by-product.

Some of that stems from the nature of my job and my company. We don’t use the web to advance our corporate image. As the chief compliance officer I am not trying to sell anything, ever.

But I do like staying connected with my colleagues and peers. There are many more people outside your organization who do what you do or have the information you need to succeed, than there are inside your organization.

Trust Agents is about creating social capital. I think it could just as easily be called: “Don’t be a jerk online.” They go into a lot more detail than that and come up with six characteristics of Trust Agents.

1. Make your own game.

Try new ways of doing things. Stand out from the crowd. First movers have an advantage. They quote Warren Buffet on when to enter a market: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”

2. Be one of us.

Be part of the community. Don’t be the self-promotional jerk in the community who is continually handing out business cards and asking for business. Contribute to the community. You need to give first if you want to receive. The more you give, the better.

3. Use the Archimedes Effect

Archimedes propositioned that if he had a long enough lever and a fulcrum on which to place it, he could move the world. Leverage your message.

4. Try to be Agent Zero

Cultivate your personal networks and recognize their value. Connect with good people. Connect between different groups.

5. Become a human artist.

Learn how to work well with people and help empower people. You need to learn the etiquette and start off by listening to the community before you burst in with a full head of steam.

6. Build an army.

You can’t do it alone. You need to find people who are willing to collaborate with you.

If these concept resonate with you, then it is worth your time to read the book. If you are just starting out with web 2.0 tools you should heed the lessons in the book. Even if you are a wily veteran, you will find some useful information in this book.

Trust Agents is a bit uneven at times. In places it reads more like a collection of blog posts instead of a coherent narrative. Some of their ideas are better flushed out than others. Those six characteristics don’t have equal weight.

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This is the first book I’ve read in 2010. You can look back at the books I read in 2009.

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3 Responses to Are You Trying to be a Trust Agent?

  1. Mike Mintz January 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm #

    Nice wrap up of Trust Agents. This book had a lot of influence on my work in 2009, probably b/c I am directly tasked with doing many of the things they talk about in the online community I work for. Despite your characterization of your own work, I do think that you contribute a lot to the mix even if it is a byproduct of selfish means. Isn’t that what economics are built upon, self interest drives production that ultimately benefits others? While I am not of the koombayah camp of online relationships, which is where I think this book goes at times, the practical how-to advise of this book made it a must read on my list last year. I’m still catching up on some more classic ones like Seth Godin’s, Tribes, which for a CCO may not be high on the list of must reads, but am interested in hearing books that others are looking to read this year. One that I am anticipating is Monica O’Brien’s Social Pollination – her blog (of the same title) is a good read, so I’m hoping the book will be too. Thanks for the post.

    • Doug Cornelius January 10, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

      Mike –

      The two things I liked least about the book were the koombayah (I’ll use your spelling) approach and the use of Donnie Brasco.

      They seem to use Brasco as an example to show how we gained trust. But he was doing so under false pretenses. To me, Brasco is a false trust agent. I see many people on the web acting more like Brasco.

      The koombayah approach is just unrealistic. People are motivated by self interest. People can be altruistic, but altruism is limited. There are lots of demands on our time from our families and jobs. That does not leave much time to do things just because they are nice. That means success is more likely if you make it easy and couple with something else.

      Of course it need not be short-term self interest. There has been too much of a focus on the short term ROI of web use. Instead, I think you should focus what kind of image you want to have, how you think about yourself and how others will think about you. (By you, I mean you and your company.) That has an ROI that is hard to demonstrate.

      Given what you do, I would also recommend adding Enterprise 2.0 by Andrew McAfee to your reading list.

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  1. Trust Agents - January 23, 2010

    […] for compliance professionals, I published the review on my professional blog, Compliance Building: Are You Trying to be a Trust Agent? You can read more over […]