Trust AgentsI am a long-time fan of Chris Brogan, so when I heard he was writing a book I was pretty excited. See, Chris is what you might call a revolutionary in the social media space. He’s been doing it since before it was called social media. He’s been blogging before the term was even coined… back then it was just called an online diary. So when Chris talks about this stuff, people listen… at least, I do.

The idea behind Trust Agents started with Trust Economies, a free ebook published by Chris and Julien Smith back in March of 2008. If you have not read Trust Economies yet, I highly recommend it as a precursor to Trust Agents. In it, they lay what would eventually become the foundation for Trust Agents… the philosophy that social media marketing is less about “marketing” and more about building real relationships (and the trust that comes with them).

Essentially, Trust Agents is about the rules of relationships (online or off). As Stephen Covey put it in the amazing 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, relationships are like bank accounts. You can make deposits and withdrawals. Deposits are selfless acts you do for others, such as helping a friend move or just complimenting someone on their new haircut. Withdrawals are selfish requests, such as asking for a favor. The consequence of breaking trust, such as missing an appointment without calling, is also a withdrawal (and a big one).

“Emotional bank accounts” might have come from Covey’s book, but the idea is as old as relationships themselves. You can only take out what you put into them.

Chris and Julien take this fundamental principle of relationships and expand on it in Trust Agents. They start the book with a discussion about trust and social capital. Essentially, a trust agent is a person who builds real relationships online, and then leverages them to help others. In return for this, there is a long-term value to the person (or their company). It’s a fundamentally different concept than traditional marketing (even online marketing). Instead of being all about you… your products, your services, your company… it’s all about them. I can see this being a tough concept for companies to understand and see the long-term value… but Chris and Julien do an excellent job at showing the benefits and convincing you that it’s the right way.

The rest of the book outlines a process for becoming a trust agent, and ends with how to manage if (or when) you actually become one. They describe six key principles, each broken into their own chapter:

  • Make Your Own Game
  • One of Us
  • Archimedes Principle
  • Agent Zero
  • Human Artist
  • Build an Army

Chris and Julien outline some tools and even go into a couple of services, but the book is not really about tools or techniques. It’s about principles and relationships.

I don’t see “Trust Agents” as a marketing book, or even a book about social media. It’s a book about relationships. Like Covey’s 7 Habits and other great business books, Trust Agents is a must read for anyone in business. Even if you have no interest in becoming a “trust agent” or Internet celebrity, the fundamental principles in this book will serve you well. It’s a timeless book that you will pull down from the bookshelf every year or two, re-read and remember why it was so important.