Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thinking about Trust Agents

Trust Agents is a book by noted bloggers and web denizens Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.  It's a fascinating look at how the web and social media sites are changing how we do business not only in this country but all over the world.  The biggest change has come in the way we communicate on both business levels and impersonally.   I'm such a dinosaur that I can remember the days of mailing news releases and then having high quality prints made for sending out photo releases via USPS!

This means that today's communicators need to have a good grasp of the web and social media.  In the book they give some very good reminders about not sending what could be perceived as spam to friends.  They also talk about the differences between trust agents, consumer advocates and brand evangelists using a variety of examples from Big Business.  In their view, trust agents care more about people and work to grow relationships.  They talk about how trust agents planting seeds that might create a positive image of what ever brand they are out to promote.

They suggest finding communities of people with shared interests on  the web and on social media sites, since geography isn't a consideration anymore for networking etc.  Something that really touched me in the book is their sense of humans being more important than a bottom line.  They advocate doing nice things for people, just because, with no sense of quid pro quo.  It's almost as if these guys are trying to bring the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) into the business arena, something that is sorely needed in this day and age.

While Brogan and Smith are right on about using the web to expose more people to your products, they don't touch the subject of how to target your market on the web, especially for such "personal" products as art or theatre.  I say personal because art, like beauty or theatre, is a very subjective thing.

Providing a free service is seen by them to be a leveraging maneuver.  They also suggest using recommendation engines like Digg or Stumble Upon, so that your audience will help you spread the message.  Offering needed resources on your blog is another way to  leverage according to them.  Crowd-sourcing is seen as a way to find our audience and leverage their power.  Other suggestions include getting a personal assistant (which I'd love but it's hard to find smart, saavy people who will work for free) and by delegating work.

They suggest that a product that is both "sticky" and "spreadable" is the product that trust agents can more effectively promote on the web.  Reaching out to those who are coming up the ladder is seen as another way to marshall resources as is helping folks get the word out on their projects.

Brogan and Smith have a word of warning to PR people - they don't want a traditional press release with the who, what, why, where and when in it!  They are looking for information to interest their audiences from the PR community.

In summation, they contend that the web is just a bunch of people - like you and me - who have specific interests.  In their eyes, the web differs from other media in that the advertisers weren't "in" on it from the get go like they were in print, radio or TV.  They are right on the money there!  The internet was "created" as a way for scientists to share information. 

My only disappointment with the book is that they don't give any examples of how to locate one's audience in cyberspace for niche-type products.  But I highly suggest it for anyone who has not considered the power of the web in promotion.


  1. Ann,
    Good points and very good question regarding finding one's audience in cyberspace. What first comes to mind regarding finding one's audience are listening platforms like and The former is free and the latter is quite expensive but well worth it if you are looking to get a sense for where the real action is online. The folks at Radian6 are awesome. I would not be surprised if they offered you a discount given that you work for non-profits.

    As for socialmention, it is far less sophisticated but free is always nice. Basically, it (quoting from their website) "aggregates user generated content from across the" web and "allows you to easily track and measure what people are saying about you, your company, a new product, or any topic across the web's social media landscape in real-time. Social Mention monitors 100+ social media properties directly including: Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Digg, Google etc."
    Incidentally, Ann, I found your blog post concerning Trust Agents using

    As for Trust Agents, I'm a big fan of Chris Brogan and of the book he wrote with Julien Smith. Feel free to join the Trust Agents discussion group I moderate on linkedin.

    I hope this is helpful!


  2. Seth Rogen is great too and might inspire on the questions of infiltrating your niche market. He talks about the need for only 1000 people to become TRUE fans, meaning, they would cross a busy street to come and buy YOUR hotdogs.

    It's about Trust as these guys perfectly make known. I've said for years that art is so much about trust too. People look to you to steer them, they want to trust you, because they never feel confident enough to trust themselves.

    Recent events in my online life and given me pause to think fully about my own reputation and how trust is tied in with that. I must defend myself against anyone who'd like to tarnish that so they can relaxingly TRUST me.

  3. Thanks Hugh for your insightful comments and the info about socialmention site... will be interesting to see if visual art and photography come up in it.

    Sorg, thanks for your comments too. I do think people think differently about buying a hot dog for $1.50 and buying a piece of art for $500 or more. But I will check out the Rogen book too.

  4. Hi Ann,

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. I am just starting the Trust Agents book and have been following Seth Godin for a few months. I'll have to try to join Hugh Macken's discussion group on LinkedIn. is great too -- pointing out that "content is king". Trust, good content and really caring about people - that's my kind of marketing world!

    I keep thinking about your comment about "shameless self-promotion" - trying to see something positive about it. It just doesn't sit well with me - maybe because I work with artists. Artists have so much shame about promoting themselves. There is something diminishing, shaming and lacking in confidence about the phrase.I would rather see artists bring attention to themselves confidently with "honest self-promotion". This shows that they feel they truly have something of value to offer no matter who the customer is. There will always be people who think you are a scammer, but as you pointed out - the world is our market now - and there will always be customers who see our true value!

    I look forward to following your blog!

    Happy New Year!

    Betsy Lewis

  5. Hi Betsy... thanks for your feedback. Maybe you're right about the words.... from now on I'll try to be the queen of honest self promotion! Another linguistic change I'd like to see (and am trying to implement in my own small way) is changing our way of saying that someone has "balls" when they do something courageous or "uppity" ... from now on, people who do brave things will have big, brass Ovaries!
    happy new year to you too!