Book review: Trust Agents


Anyone who's been in shouting distance of me since I tore through the first 75pp of Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith's hot-diggity-damn-dog book on the wherefores of social media already knows that this is the one book I'm recommending to anyone who's trying to wrap their head around the web.

And the reason why is exactly because it's a book about wherefores, not "do these!" (although there are plenty of actionable tips and explanatory sidebars; they just manage to be supportive and unobtrusive, not glaring and Dummies-like). The authors finally wrote the book I've been praying for when I'm met with the hungry eyes ringed ever so gently with panic: that look that says, "Oh, god...I'm really going to have to learn about this Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn stuff, aren't I? Please direct me to some real help and/or a spoon with which to gouge out my hungry, gently-panic-ringed eyes."

The full title of the Brogan/Smith opus is Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Relationships, and Earn Trust, and right there, you have your main wherefore. The web does not exist for you to sell yourself; it exists to facilitate connections and communication. To initiate them and to deepen them, in tandem with real-life meeting-up-in-actual-person, not to do drive-by shilling or scoop the digital equivalent of a fistful of business cards into your pocket. One of the more delightful parallels the authors draw more than once is that of the social web meeting to the real-life, business networking event: don't be "That Guy" on the web, glad-handing and hard-selling and speed-networking your way through life.

Almost everything about this book is an unqualified surprise and delight, from the bazillion-notches-above-your-typical-business-book quality of the writing to the examples Chris and Julien use to point out right (and very, very wrong) use of the social web to the actual structure of the book. It's carved up into six main chapters, each of which explores a different characteristic of what they've dubbed "Trust Agents" (i.e. people who are using the social web the right way, to do the stuff they break out in the book's subtitle). About the only part I took any issue with at all was a mercifully brief foray into the ethics of paid blogging, nothing (thankfully) that most people who need to read the book even need to read about, and a reasonable discussion of which is simply beyond the scope of the book. And in the interests of 100% disclosure, any book (or post, or article) that looked at posts-for-pay on 99.99% of blogs as being okay I'd most likely look at with suspicion at best and loathing at worst. Commerce is cool, but only within very, very narrow and well-defined parameters for this stinky hippie.

A quibble, really. The book is outstanding. It's not a web book so much as it's a marketing book, which is why I love it so (well, that and the great writing, which I'm a sucker for, I admit). Every speech I give, every client I advise, every line about so-called social media that I write, I do my best to tie to the underpinnings of the works, which is marketing, baby.

So if you're looking for a great book about marketing, buy Trust Agents. And if you're looking for a great book that will explain how to do (some of) your marketing on the web, buy Trust Agents.

It's the book I'd have written if I'd gotten there first...


Photo of Julien Smith & Chris Brogan by ambernaslund via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.