Trust Agents (Review): Brogan and Smith

book review authored by Chris Catania

Though it may sound simple to do in the age of social media, interacting and engaging on the web in a way that's human is a skill that few have mastered.

So how do you build strong relationships on the web? What tools do you use to make lasting connections with your audiences? How do you use forums, blogs and social networks to communicate a message people want to remember and share with others? How do you successfully earn trust and use new media tools in a way that's real, genuine, and most of all, human?

With Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith aim to answer all those questions.

Joining together as co-authors for the first time, it's no surprise that Trust Agents quickly reached the New York Times bestseller list. As respected veteran bloggers, community builders and new media advisers for top brands for the last ten years, Brogan -- co-founder of new media un-conferences Podcamp -- and Smith -- a veteran trend analyst -- have translated their experiences and research into actionable and applicable steps that empower individuals and businesses to collaborate, thrive in community and most of all be human when navigating the digital landscape.

Like they do on their popular blogs and in their Twitter streams, Brogan and Smith share what they've learned in a fun, direct, conversational and approachable voice. In comparing Trust Agents to other business books, they've referred to it as the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" for the social web. Sure, that's one way to describe it.

And you could also consider Trust Agents as an indispensable guide -- whether you're a blogger, new media newbie or veteran marketer -- for understanding how "use the web to improve reputation, build influence and earn trust."

Trust Agents wastes no time getting right to the point. In the intro they level the playing field speaking to curious newcomers and seasoned veterans alike. From there they traverse through the specifics of how to become a "trust agent," with subsequent chapters explaining six defining characteristics and critical skill sets -- Make Your Own Game, One of Us, The Archemides Effect, Agent Zero, Human Artist, Build An Army -- of trust agents.

Using sociological research, personal ancedotes and case studies, Brogan and Smith practice what they preach and candidly share personal stories of success and failure to explain how they've used new media tools to screw up online and offline relationships, and then turned things around, using the very same tools, to make things right.

Touching on an unavoidable truth of being an influencer, they point out that becoming a trust agent does have its disadvantages because once you've gained trust and influence there's a reality you must address and prepare for so you can avoid becoming a trust agent who's surrounded by your "crowd" and unable to access fresh ideas bubbling up from other rising thought leaders.

To combat this disadvantage, Brogan and Smith advise "to find ways to facilitate important meetings with new unknowns, because once you've cut yourself off from developing new contacts, your value to the network diminishes significantly. You must remain present to remain relevant."

Get ready to take notes because Trust Agents is the type of book you'll highlight and want to keep handy as a reference. Side bars throughout the book break things up nicely giving you actionable steps along the way, showing how to use LinkedIN more effectively, make the most of your "150" networks, leverage social media and be a collaborative game-changer. Trust Agents pulls no punches and sets realistic expectations, which helps keep new media newbies from getting overwhelmed or thinking that improving reputation, earning trust and building influence on the web is easy. And throughout the book, Brogan and Smith are very clear about the truth that accomplishing those three things requires hard work, takes time and is a on-going process.

Brogan and Smith successfully keep the definition of a trust agent specific enough to character qualities, while also casting the net wide enough so that a trust agent can be someone who has gained trust and influence in any organization or industry. They put the flesh back on the technologies by talking about using the new media tools in "human" terms, which makes using them more approachable and attainable, as it should be, giving you a solid, applicable guide for building relationships -- online or offline.

Trust Agents is filled with calls-to-action specifically designed to help you to start, develop or tweak your new media plan. And for skeptics, Brogan and Smith share insights and strategic research to answer questions and debunk myths about how we behave on the web and why businesses need to adapt fast.

If you've followed Brogan on his blog you already know how applicable his writing is. And by joining with Smith, the two have written a book that gives readers a since of empowerment. It can be confusing with the multitude of new media tools available. But Trust Agents keeps it simple so you can figure out what's best for you -- whether that means joining Digg, creating a Facebook page, recording a podcast, starting a blog or looking to Twitter to engage in a more personal, and trusted, conversation with your audience.