A conversation with a Trust Agent

jon and chris at sobcon 08I’ve known Chris Brogan for several years. We met in the comments on a post. We see each other a couple times a year, we talk in between.

Chris and Julian Smith have a book coming out in August, 2009  called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. Chris and I have talked about the book occasionally, but it didn’t begin to resonate for me until the two of them presented the key points of Trust Agents at SOBcon 09. I began to understand that this book is going to have impact on what I do, working as I do in an area that both needs and lacks trust.

I decided that in anticipation of the book, I’d ask Chris some questions about what I’m hearing about the book and the concept of trust agents.

Chris graciously agreed.

Here’s our (email) conversation.

Jon: I didn’t like the name “trust agents” the first time heard it. (or the second, or third or fourth). However, I’m finally coming around to it. Is that part of the trust part of a trust agent? That they are the kind of people that, though you may not agree with what they say at first, there is enough relationship that you stick around to listen?

Chris: I’m presuming that no one will actually seek this title directly. It’s like “guru” that way. No one sensible *wants* to be called a guru, because it’s a presumptuous term. A trust agent is that kind of person who knows how to build and maintain relationships through the online medium, and who shares those relationships with those he or she trusts. These people make great conduits for how businesses can rehumanize the web. If you and I are to trust a person like this, it means they have to have demonstrated some signs that draw our comfort levels open a bit.

A trust agent doesn’t presume to be a guru or any kind of ultimate expert. Instead, they are the connector of good things. They are the humans who relate to you in a way that you prefer, and who are the keepers of knowledge about resources. It’s not what you know; it’s who you know, and how you connect that information to others.

Jon: In a video you talked about trust agents being at the elbow of connections. However, I’m guessing that part of what trust agents do is build connections between people without having to be an ongoing part of those relationships. For example, across our relationship, you’ve introduced me to a circle of other people like-hearted to me. We have ongoing conversations, ongoing projects, that don’t include you (They don’t exclude you, but you are no longer pivotal to their growth.) Do I understand that right?

Chris: You’ve got it right. Being at the elbow of every deal simply means being the person who gets the relationship started. I can’t scale as it is. Imagine if I felt that I had to be the center of every relationship. I would be knotted up within weeks. Instead, I love finding the right ingredients in other people, stirring those together, and then getting out of the way. Brilliant and meaningful experiences happen all the time without me there. I just try to get those started before I move on, such that there are new interactions that had nothing to do with me.

Jon: I just performed a wedding for our nephew. (not yours and mine, Nancy and Mine). I tweetsourced part of my message, and then put the whole message back on my blog. I was thinking about how much context was needed for parts of that message to make sense. I thought, “almost everything I say out loud (preaching, teaching) I want to be so suited to that audience that context is needed for anyone else.” How does that fit with the Trust Agent idea of writing everything down, capturing it digitally?

Chris: Our idea of “putting it all on paper” is to say that there are all these moments that are useful that should be captured. It started from the premise of how sales works on the web. Marketing for a product the old way meant being there all the time. It meant that once the lights were dark, the sales stopped. Now replace ‘sales’ with ‘useful information’ and you can see why having information captured can mean so much more. People sharing an important event might be able to convey the importance of that event to others who can’t be there physically.

In your line of work, it means bringing the Word out to people who might not be able to make it to a place of worship in person. I love this usage. I think it’s a great way to express the value of sharing relationships out in the open.

Jon: A guy named Andrew had a brother named Peter. After Andrew heard about Jesus, he went and told Peter “This is the guy.” Later, when there were 20,000 people without food, Andrew is the one who said, “Here’s a kid that brought a sack lunch. What can you do with sardines and biscuits?” I’m guessing that Andrew did lots of linking but other people got the credit for significant influence.

Do trust agents have to be widely known or are they often just widely, but quietly, influential? Can we get misled by number of readers rather than paying attention to which readers we have?

Chris: Ah, here’s where I get my Venn diagrams all messed up. Trust agents don’t have to be famous or in the spotlight, but they have to be trusted. Famous people aren’t necessarily trust agents. Some trust agents are as famous as they are gifted at being a trust agent. The Andrews of the world, someone like my friend @Ed on Twitter, are a powerful trust agents who never seems to get to the shining lights of the stage. He deserves more praise than many famous people, but doesn’t exactly get it. But he’s a more powerful trust agent than some famous folks I know. [Jon: I agree completely about @ed]

To the other point, yes. Numbers are rarely a great measure. Sometimes, numbers allow a faster end to a search, but the numbers are never as good as the distilled goodness of finding and building relationships with those who are most connected to your interests, your passions, and your desires. Note that I don’t have the requirement of preserving the entire flock. I can cull. Your mileage may vary.

Jon: Do people set out to be trust agents or do they just set out to do well, to be effective at whatever they are doing?

Chris: I think people set out to do well, and those who can blend a powerful ability to work with people with a strong sense of how to use the web’s latest tools get a better shot at being trust agents. It’s not that we all want the same things, but those of us who learn how to make their own game instead of following a preset path will have a better chance. Those who choose to be one of us instead of standing apart will have a better chance. Those who know how to use leverage, how to network, how to be a good person at heart, and how to work well with others will be the best of the trust agents. It’s my own aspiration. We wrote the book to try and help others see the same thing.


Trust Agents isn’t released but is available for preorder at Amazon – Trust Agents (disclosure: this link orders it from my Amazon store, allowing me to earn a bit toward SOBcon 10) or at Barnes and Noble.

Photo courtesy Chris Brogan


10 responses to “A conversation with a Trust Agent

  1. great stuff! thnx ed!

  2. oh ed sent me, a friend 🙂

  3. Another thumbs up for @Ed … great example, especially if you have the privilege of having met him on twitter. I like the Biblical example too. 😉

  4. thank you for stopping by, Gary. I know Ed, too.

  5. Thanks Adam. I like it for ed in particular.

  6. @Ed is the BEST!



  7. Jon, Thanks for the great interview with Chris on the book. It’s great to get a preview of the concepts before it hits the shelves. Also, thanks to Chris for mentioning @Ed. I’m an early Twitter user and try to connect people whenever possible, but I’m surprised I hadn’t come across @Ed until now. So thank you for bringing me that introduction, and being a trust agent in connecting us.

  8. thanks for stopping to comment, Adele. glad to help make connections.

  9. Pingback: trust is not camouflage « Levite Chronicles

  10. Pingback: 5 questions « Levite Chronicles