Book Review: Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust

By Chris Brogan & Julien Smith

In 1937 Dale Carnegie published “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. It contains lots of common sense advice on ‘what works’ in human relations. Carnegie offers practical advice on how to become genuinely interested in other people, what to do when you screwed up, etc. Since its first publication, this book has sold over 15 million copies.

Reading Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust is like paging through the digital twin brother of Carnegies landmark.

Brogan and Smith make use of simple concepts like “One of us”, “Not that guy” and offer us the game-perspective in order to make their point. Like Carnegie, they are not afraid to hand out practical advice for social media etiquette. And they make it all very tangible through the analogy of a cocktail party. The reason why it is important to underscore etiquette at the digital level is because all of the interactions on social media are human by definition. But on top of that, in the digital world, we completely lack the feedback of non-verbal cues.

Some additional things that sparked my attention and that I will take away from this reading this book:

  • How to say “no”: “Yes, and”
  • Lurking is recommended as a starting strategy, instead of rushing in and stumbling over all the social norms
  • The dynamics of politeness and honesty are no different in the binary world than in the atom world

A final note on why I think this book may be a landmark worthy of Carnegies’ bestseller. The application of basic principles of human interaction to social media is also a refresher in the reversed sense. Because let’s be honest: when we teach our children in ten years from now how to behave socially we may end up using their frame of reference. I imagine myself saying : “Don’t just stare blank when anybody asks you something at a party. You don’t do that when somebody sends you an email either. You reply politely.”

In short, this book is packed with welcome advice for beginners in social media, but also for people who are ready to take the next step, i.e.: to become a platform of whatever they are good at.

One thing is certain: those who thrive in the social media world are generally those who are prepared to fail.