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Business-minded Book Review: Trust Agents


Trust AgentsIf you recall, one of my bigger New Year’s resolutions is to challenge myself to read 26 books in 2011. A few friends have joined the challenge including Angela Gassett, Patrick Garmoe and Josh Braaten.

First up for me? Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and one of my favorite bloggers, Julien Smith. I got the book when Chris was in town in 2010. Finally got around to reading it the first week of this year.

I’m planning to write more business-minded book reviews for those books on the list this year that fall within the PR, marketing and social media industry. Trust Agents certainly qualifies. So, with that, my thoughts on Trust Agents–from a business point-of-view:

From a broad perspective, I have to say, I didn’t have a lot of “ah-ha” moments when reading Trust Agents. But, I don’t think that’s necessarily surprising–and it certainly doesn’t reflect on the insights of the book. I just happen to work in the world that Chris and Julien do–so a lot of what I read in the book I’ve already read online the last year-plus.

But, as I read the book with my business/consulting hat on, there were a number of learnings and insights that jumped out at me that have serious implications for the brands and organizations I work with on a daily basis. Here are a few that got me thinking:

Becoming One of Us is critical for businesses

One of the bigger lessons in the book is the importance of being “one of us.” What Brogan/Smith are referring to here is being one of the community of which you’re a part. Be human. Be sympathetic. Participate. You know the drill. But, I think the big impact here for brands is the time investment it takes to be one of us. That’s the big rub. Businesses are already tight on time and resources. Most don’t have the time that’s necessary to develop the relationships and participate–which is critical to becoming one of us. Where does that leave businesses? I tend to think in the next couple years we’ll see a larger divide occur–the brands that are making serious commitments to becoming one of us will succeed. And, those that don’t will putter out–and some will stop using social tools altogether. It’s just the next step in the social evolution.

Making Your Own Game

In 2009, I read a book that changed my professional life: Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. At the time, it completely transformed the way I looked at my professional life. Instead of trying to fit into a mold others might expect me to wiggle into, I instead focused on creating my own mold. One that wasn’t out there yet. That was a key message Ferrazzi relayed in Never Eat Alone–and it’s one Brogan/Smith hammered home in Trust Agents. What’s the impact for business? Instead of playing by the rules that have existed for years and adding to the existing noise, figure out how your company can create its own path. Don’t follow–lead. I know, that’s not really a new concept–but this one has a bit of a new skin on it when it comes to online marketing and digital PR.

“Lazy Ones are Usually the Best.”

One of my favorite quotes from the book because it illustrates a point that I think very few people really get. It gets at my credo of “working smarter–not harder.” What does this mean for brands? For starters, it means rewarding staff based on results–not time spent in the office (ROWE principle, for those familiar with that concept). It also means thinking a little differently about how you approach projects–and problems. Brogan/Julien talked about “hacking” in Trust Agents–but I would call it simply “doing more with less.” This concept has tremendous implications for brands because finding ways to leverage great amounts of power with very little effort is a skill brands will pay top dollar for. Why? Because it will make them money. Think about it from a business perspective. If you can find ways to solve problems faster and more efficiently, doesn’t that free up more time to tackle other challenges?

Signals of trust

Obviously, the heart of the book is about building trust. And, this is a concept brands are very interested in when it comes to online marketing. But, building real trust with customers and stakeholders is not easy. If it were, every brand would have that trust, right? So, what’s a brand to do? Stay the course. I’d argue one of the biggest differentiators for those succeeding online and those that aren’t is simple: Consistency and longevity. Look at Kinaxis–a supply chain firm based in Canada. They’ve been blogging for 6 years–and in the last few years their corporate blog has become of the industry leaders. That’s persistence. And patience. That’s the real lesson for brands when it comes to building trust. It takes a whole lot of persistence. Patience. And consistency. Remember, trust isn’t built overnight. It takes time.

Those were my takeaways from the book. If you’ve read Trust Agents, what were your business learnings?

Note: Photo courtesy of jdlasica via FlickR Creative Commons.



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