Trust Agents – Book Review

Trust lies in the heart of a strong relationship. It can be very hard to achieve and once you have earned it, you would never want to do anything to break that bond.  The book, Trust Agents , by Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan) and Julien Smith (@julien) teaches you how to gain trust or influence on the web, which definitely has its challenges.

In the past, I had to know people really well in order to trust them.  For me, it would take significant time, possibly years to build up trust in a relationship.  How is it possible that we can use the power of the web and social media to build this type of trust and improve our reputations along the way?  If you read Trust Agents you will find out in the six simple characteristics to becoming a trust agent.  Although earning trust is hard work, I call them “simple” behaviors because Brogan and Smith break down the complex into easy actionable tasks.  You’re able to digest the information presented and then figure out how to add these tasks into your daily regimen; great steps toward creating your own influence.

For me, Trust Agents was not “just another social media book.” Someone tweeted that very statement when I had first started reading the book. Happily I can say that I strongly disagree.  From the friendly tone of the book to the personal examples and the helpful insight in point blank, no fluff language, I feel that Trust Agents shows you how to gain influence (the right way), and teaches why you should build trust in the first place.  I don’t think you should take the simple steps lightly, and after you read the book it’s important to go back and decide how you are going to work the authors’ advice into your own trust building efforts.

Chris and Julien educate their readers by offering six characteristics or interrelated behaviors to achieve Trust Agent status, even though no one really walks around saying, “I’m a trust agent.”  At least I hope not 🙂  The six actions include:

Make Your Own Game:  A great first step and one that many of us rarely think about. It’s good to be reminded that you can invent your own rules and do something different. After you read the chapter, you’ll feel motivated to change the way you want to move the needle. Making your own game made me visualize different approaches to my business and my personal brand. I also analyzed some of the gatejumping examples I thought were interesting models that showcased how to develop your own set of rules.  It’s all about figuring out ways to create your next gatejump (moving from the old way to a new way).  You’ll learn more about gatejumping if you read the chapter

Be One of Us:  I can definitely relate to this chapter as I’m frequently discussing the idea of sociology and observing the culture of a network, in order to truly participate and find meaningful relationships.  The chapter on being One of Us is no different.  Chris and Julien do a great job scoping out how and why people fit in and what someone can do to be more human.  I enjoyed the call out boxes with additional information that ran through the chapter.  I also thought the Signals of Trust were useful (as they exist on the web and not necessarily in real life).  I particularly liked the sections that showed readers how “Not to be One of Us” by showing elitism and also the difference between Raising up and Sucking up. .

Archimedes Effect:  Of course this is a principle that so many of us know, but again rarely apply.  It’s smart business to take something that is already a proven success and build upon it.  We all know the Paredo effect and why we shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel.  The authors do a good job here instructing on the basics of how to leverage the web from introducing ways to leverage your position in your own organization to how to leverage social media and tools to manage time.  This chapter has a familiar concept, but spells out useful ways to get that leverage that you often think about, but don’t necessarily take the steps toward action.

Agent Zero: One of my favorite chapters because it goes beyond the Trust Agent, who you rely on and trust for information, a step further to Agent Zero status.  The trust agent can be Agent Zero by connecting groups or networks together.  The chapter reminds you how you can use your influence to get people connecting, conversing, sharing information and even working together.  By being Agent Zero you can help your network access grow, assist your communities and literally connect the web.  The chapter provides the steps to becoming Agent Zero with a discussion of the following:

  • Awareness (how to become visible and always be there)
  • Attention (trying new “stuff” and where to give your attention – what’s worth the time)
  • Influence (by being the priest and building the church to being a part of the “150” which is a manageable number of relationships)
  • Reputation (how the web speaks for you and links are your currency)
  • Authority (how to use the web for authority whether it’s anonymous or trusted authority, the latter being the best scenario)

The Human Artist: Another great chapter because it gets down to the basics of etiquette, which many forget on the web.  The chapter really digs into the dos and don’ts of “the friend thing” and what are realistic expectations and the right approach to building relationships.  The Human Artist has some great passages on what to do before sending emails, actions to make your experience online more effective, information about trolls and trolling, and the new customer service so that you can “empower and equip the people who choose to do business with you.”  I thought the principle of “Answer the Phone” on the web was great. Just another instance of how the authors make the examples very real with practical advice.  You’ll want to listen and to hear the social phone when it’s ringing, rather than just ignoring it.

Build an Army:  The authors point out that you can gain influence on your own, but becoming a trusted part of the community (or many communities) is the way to truly reach online influence. I thought the examples in this chapter were excellent, i.e., how GM and the Tahoe failure led to, which was a highly successful social site to how CNN iReport spread information about Steve Jobs, which lowered Apple’s stock price.  I also had never really heard Chris’ recount of the story, “When an Army Becomes a Mob: Kmart and Dadomatic.  The chapter boils down to The Social Contract and understanding your place in the army or within the social structure because as stated in the chapter, “It’s important to know what you are getting into when you become part of the group.”

I really like this book and highly recommend it to PR people, marketers, business owners, executives, entrepreneurs and people just interested in the way influence works on the web.  There may be principles that you’ve heard before, but it’s how the authors frame these principles with real life examples, helpful information and insight that make them easier to relate to and place into action.  The book also ties many examples to business (which I can appreciate) and is a true motivator when you want to try something new, work hard at building relationships, and work smart at applying the human approach to people on the web.  Trust Agents clearly stands out as a MUST READ.