Trust Agents

Using the web to build influence, improve reputation, and earn trust
by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
ISBN: 9780470743089

The authors have turned the notion of “this is going on your permanent record” on its head: what’s on your record is something to embrace, not fear. You should seek to embrace and expose — help write your own record. Comments are open.

Given how long we’ve used the metaphor of paper for the web (it’s all pages, right?) it’s not that surprising. Chris and Julien (their tone is so conversational and approachable, referring to them by last name seems wrong and oddly distancing) make sense. They offer encouragement and practical advice about using social tools, but they don’t walk you through every step, just the key points.

That’s what I want to focus on, the (for me) key points in the book:

“Writing everything online, where it is eternally visible to everyone, forever, has value.” It’s an opportunity — even if only a few people see it, to “build up influence”. And it scales: you write once, post it online, and it becomes discoverable and infinitely shareable.

It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being human. “Since most of the Web isn’t trying to complete a transaction (things like spam not withstanding), people have the tendency to feel closer to each other there. People speak like humans on their blogs … Though it’s a part of trust many don’t take into consideration, intimacy is one of trust’s most powerful elements.”

The importance of being a real person online shouldn’t be obscured by the network: “Social networking is not about getting attention for attention’s sake, but rather about being a part of the network, making other people aware that you are there — and that you’ll be there in the future, too.” This reminds me of my favorite definition of community — you are part of community if they’ll go looking for you if you are missing.

So, it’s a philosophy of altruism. Self-interested altruism? “… helping others is probably one of the most effective ways of helping yourself. By spreading ideas that help others, you get credit and people get the help they need. It’s win-win. What a change from the scarcity mentality most people live with everyday, isn’t it? And that’s one of the best things about the social web; people are deeply interested in sharing with each other.”

All this new stuff — twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, etc. — is disruptive. What it is disrupting is an artificial way of doing things. We have the ability to move away from the old permanent records you feared because you couldn’t see or control them, and transparently write our own. As Chris and Julien put it, “Why we trust people is the same; it’s only the ways we come to be trusted that have been changing. And that’s because communication has been changing.”

That’s the philosophy. The book offers a framework for action based on it. There’s six pieces to it:

  • Make Your Own Game Decide which rules are relevant, and which ones you need to create for yourself.
  • One of Us Act like you belong, and you will. You do.
  • Archimedes Effect Leverage. Understand it, how to use it.
  • Agent Zero Have a wide network, by connecting with several smaller groups.
  • Human Artist Treat people right, always.
  • Build Armies Think you don’t scale? You do if you can train, inspire, and lead others.

I think the framework is solid because it isn’t based on the latest and greatest tech, but on behavior. By being mindful, paying attention to the right things, taking small actions that matter, staying in learning mode — that’s how to understand and take advantage of new tools, instead of being put off or baffled by them. They are preaching to the choir with a reader like me, though.

Their ideas may not appeal to everyone, but for folks trying to get their heads around how the current crop of web-based communication tools can help them, or working through what web 2.0 stuff means from a practical or business (vs technical) perspective, I highly recommend it. Anyone looking to be persuasive and use new/emerging tools should pick up Trust Agents. It has the virtue of seeming like common sense when you read it.

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