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Can Social Connectivity be Taught? My Thoughts on Trust Agents

Authors: Jay Baer Jay Baer
Posted Under: Social Media
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trust agents reviewTrust Agents, the new book by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith is storming the bastille of business wisdom, shooting up the NY Times bestseller list. (A rarity these days for a book not about vampires).

The book has been reviewed by a ton of smart people, including Christopher S. Penn, Amber Naslund, Jason Falls, Eric Brown and a ton of others – befitting its popularity.

There are four reasons for the success of this book.

First, the authors have very sizable personal networks and were able to move a lot of books based on those connections – ironically proving the ROI of the methods they describe.

Second, the authors ate their own dog food and marketed the book masterfully, including the incredibly successful “Trust Agents” group on Facebook, which pre-dated the launch and continues to thrive after publication. (this is not dissimilar to the 4 Hour Workweek community that exists as a satellite to Tim Ferriss’ book of the same name, although Trust Agents is largely devoid of the MLM hucksterism that 4 Hour seems to attract).

Third, the concept of the book is incredibly appealing. On a business level, sure. But more importantly, on a human level. Who doesn’t want to “build influence, improve reputation, and earn trust” as the cover promises? Unless you’re chronically anti-social, Amish or both you’re probably interested in improving the depth and breadth of your connectivity online. This book gives you a compass for that journey.

Lastly, this is the first major book (apologies to Tara Hunt’s excellent The Whuffie Factor, which is dynamite but didn’t have the mainstream attention), that takes social media and makes it personal.

The Company of You

And that’s the thing. In truth, this isn’t a business book. It’s a self-help book. If you’re looking for specific strategies to help your company or organization succeed using social media, Trust Agents is not the field guide you need. Clearly, there is a mountain of advice in Trust Agents that could help an individual practitioner of social media and digital connectivity improve their efforts on behalf of a brand. And indeed, given that the very root of the social media success equation is humanization, and to make it about people, not about logos, I agree with practically all of Trust Agent’s tenets.

Paraphrased liberally, they are:

Recognize that modern relationships are driven as much on trust and perception as they are on data.

Recognize that this trust is a currency that is as real as the dollar, only earned and spent indirectly.

Recognize that gaining the currency of trust is not accidental. It is not kismet. It is a byproduct of actions and activities of your own choosing.

Recognize that gaining trust requires you to recalibrate how you think about timelines and the synchronicity (actually, the asynchronicity) of relationship-building.

Recognize that the best social connectors are those that live the Golden Rule and focus on being helpful at all times.

Don’t Follow the Puck. Know Where the Puck Will Be

Among the many excellent passages in the book, the one I like the best and feel will be the most transformative for many readers is the concept that you need to develop relationships before you need them, not when you need them. The book uses a great example of Greg Cangialosi from email company Blue Sky Factory, and how he spent time with and supported Chris long before Chris was a customer.

Social media is a long putt, not a tap-in and Chris and Julien articulate this very well in the book.

They’d never say it directly, but really the concept of Trust Agents is to try to teach people how to act like Chris and Julien and several other folks of similar constitution and online success that they cite.

And that’s where I struggle with it.

Interesting, Yes. Achievable, Maybe

Yes, the book is full of good advice and mini case studies and tips and guidance. But, it’s certainly not a step-by-step walk-through. Creating a specific “formula” or “system” and dimensionalizing social success at a granular level is anathema to the spirit of today’s “make it happen” social media environment – and certainly would be out of character for Chris and Julien.

But frankly, I think that would have made for a more useful book. Because as I finished reading it, I started thinking about who I knew that could really put the lessons into practice. Who could meaningfully change the way they operated in the social space, and earn greater trust as a consequence. And my mental list of beneficiaries got pretty small.

Why? Not because the book isn’t good. It is. Very. But because I’m not sure the skills they are trying to teach are entirely teachable. Of course, you can get better at social connections. We all can. But all the trust agents I know just ARE that way. They don’t think about it as a “how can I be more helpful?” or “how can I be more likable?” or “how can I mix up my transmission methods for greater impact?” They just instinctively know how to make that work. They have the instruction manual in their heads, not in their hands.

I might be wrong, and I hope that I am. But to me, trust agents and their ways and norms stem from passion more than experience. I believe trust agents have always been born, not made. Maybe the power of Brogan and Smith can change that.

If you’re already a trust agent, this book might make you think “Ah, I’ve always done that, it helps to understand why that works.” If you have trust agent tendencies, and the requisite passion for social capital, and need help structuring and extending your connections, this book may be among the best you’ve ever read. If you think you want to dive in to social connectivity, but don’t feel it in your bones, you’re likely to be excited by what Trust Agents offers, but I don’t believe it will meaningfully change your outcomes.

Some old dogs are just old dogs. And that’s okay.

Disclosure: I know Chris Brogan a bit, and he’s referred opportunities to me, and I to him. I’ve met Julien and am connected to him on the social Web. I know Greg Cangialosi and consider him a friend. I was given a free copy of Trust Agents by the publisher to review, but have subsequently purchased copies for a few friends and clients.

(Social graph photo by -Cavin-)

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