So the time came once again for me to be the “reader” for the next HMA Public Relations book club. Lots of positive chatter on Twitter about Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. I figured I’d give it a try. And with a couple hours to kill on an airplane, it sounded like the perfect read.
And it was – very quick but some pretty powerful messages. With the sub-title Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust, I share with you some of what I think were the best take-aways.
So what is a trust agent? According to the book, they (or dare I say we) are power users of the new tools of the Web. We know what we’re doing because we use the technology, not because we necessarily went to school to learn about it. We learn by trying, we recommend, we connect, and we’re honest.
Trust agents believe in people and the value they can bring to the conversation.
There is a whole group of people out there that have never known the world without access to the Internet – they are called digital natives. They assume (rightfully so) that everything will eventually be online. And if we all can agree on that assumption, then businesses need to leverage that information and figure out a way to make valuable connections via the Web.
All of us graduates of journalism/communications programs remember “the medium is the message.” What Chris and Julien believe is, from a trust standpoint, the medium has transformed the message. Social media is media not so much because it helps us communicate but because it extends relationships. And because of social media, we are all the “media” now.
By being on the web, you create value for others, whether you know it or not. This is called social capital and social capital has real value – it is powerful and long-lasting.
And a great place to create value is your blog. This idea really resonated with me: How often are you asked the same types of questions: what do you do for a living, what kind of services does your business provide, etc. You’ve probably answered these questions hundreds of thousands of time. Why not write a blog post about it? That way when you’re asked, you can send the link to your blog post. You’re providing the information requested but you are doing it more efficiently AND you are adding value because the answer will live on forever on your blog.
The book is about establishing trust – yours for another person and theirs in return. Comments on blogs are a great way to reinforce your reputation and demonstrate your “trust” attributes. You are interacting with the writer of the post as well as those that follow the blogger. Another great way to add value is to use links. Links are a form of currency on the web. According to the book, links are the “21st century equivalent of the name-dropper.”
And to me, this one seems so simple, but could possibly be the most important take-away of the whole book. Being a trust agent means you need to be competent and reliable. So whether you have thousands of fans/friends or a few, bond with them and always BE HUMAN. Trust agents are about people, so reveal things about yourself and reach out to people.
As a sidebar – Chris and Julien summarize where they think the “communications” business will be in the next few years (pg 258-260):
Advertising as it was from 1950s to 2000 will continue to decline. Instead, a focus on activities that drive a more unscripted relationship between companies and their target audiences will be important.
Public relations becomes more of a listening, reputation and communications management function. We’ll need to be interacting more with bloggers, brand facilitation and where a company’s story needs stewardship. It is less about control and more about being a part of the dialogue.
Brands will need to earn a place in our heads with a sense of personal intimacy as well as consistency in order to be trusted. This is why it is important to have a human being behind the brand’s social interactions.
Take the time to read this book; I believe you’ll find it valuable. Trust me.