I first met Chris Brogan at SOBCon08 in Chicago- as a terribly naive social media newbie I really didn’t have any sense of who he was or what influence or status he had in that arena. He was just Chris, and he had a blog just like me.
I found him to be enthusiastic, engaging, helpful, and better yet, he possessed an always refreshing lack of pretentiousness.
Our first conversations were business related, centered around the concept of delivering value, and paying fairly for value. There was a very human element to his thinking, which I quite related to.
And then there was Bohemian Rhapsody.
Nothing kick starts a friendship better than an a capella duet of this Queen classic on the streets of Chicago. Yep, it was thunderbolt and lighting, and very, very frightening, but yet we belted it out with all the gusto we could muster.
And that’s how I got to know Chris Brogan, karaoke aficionado and Trust Agent.
He is the real deal, and I was quite pleased that he and his co-writer Julien Smith (who I also met back in ’08 and is a fascinating and insightful person as well) decided to put down on paper their thoughts on “using the web to build influence, improve reputation and earn trust” via their new book, “Trust Agents”.
These two have been communicating using this medium since its invention (going back to the days of “journaling” and BBS message boards), so they know of what they speak.
That depth of experience and knowledge, combined with their human touch and genuine desire to be helpful, graces every page of the book, making it nothing less than essential for anyone desiring to be an active user of Social Media, for whatever ends.
Recently I sat down with Chris to ask him a few questions about the book:
Terry: First off, thanks for talking to me today, and second, my congratulations to Julien and yourself for making the New York Times Bestseller list! I assume as first-time authors you didn’t have a huge ‘old media” marketing budget, so how have you two pulled this off? Was it a matter of practicing what you preached in the book?
Chris: Thanks, Terry. There actually was a little bit of a marketing budget, but we didn’t really do much to influence how it was spent. Our friends at Wiley made a few buys here and there, and those might have helped, but Julien and I are web guys. We know how to ask the web, or better still, to ask our relationships on the web for help, and that’s what we did. We used over 10 years of built up relationships and earned reputation, and asked during one big blog post for some help. Seems like it worked.
Terry: I was quite intrigued by the way you two spoke about “seeing life as a game” in the book. I have to confess I haven’t looked at life that way, but perhaps that’s because I’m an analog Baby Boomer. After reading further I “got” it, but I was quite curious as to how much thought and deliberation went into creating an analogy that may or may not initially sit well with a reader (especially older ones like me).
Chris: So, this is quite interesting. It’s most certainly some kind of generational rift we’ve uncovered, because of the seven (so far) people who’ve questioned whether it was smart to talk a lot about games and game theory, they were of a different generation than Generation X or Y, our generations. We didn’t intend to start with so jarring a barrier, and maybe with the benefit of hindsight, we could have introduced the concept in a few ways, ending on games. But we’re both fairly sold on the idea that games are a great microcosm from which people can see an organizational structure, see the reward systems, the penalties, and learn how to win. That analogy was worth it to us, Terry.
Terry: As an “inside the organization” person, I liked the great way you and Julian pushed us to “be on the same side of the wall” with our customers (as part of the “One of Us” section) – this makes so much sense, but those of us inside the fishbowl know how hard it can be, and how much fear is involved. Any additional advice or examples to help us get over those humps?
Chris: You and I both see customer service as such an important part of doing business. When I was working in call centers, I was always working on ideas that I hoped would transform call centers from cost centers to revenue hubs. To get over such humps in thinking, seek out the most recent case studies. Look at the biggest companies in the US, auto makers, and how their past decisions of not paying attention to customers played out. I, for one, am grateful that companies like GM are now passionate about listening. They have a chance to earn back our trust, and I’m optimistic.
Terry: As I read this I kept thinking of tightropes- one between our ambition to use the platform towards our own ends, and our desire to “do good”, and another between thinking strategically and acting authentically. Since “being helpful” has been such a great rally cry for you and all you do online, how do you think you’ve been able to navigate these tightropes so far, and what challenges lie ahead as your popularity continues to increase (and the circles widen even further)?
Chris: If you squint, all business is based on solving problems and earning a value from that. I go to the dry cleaner’s because he can fix my “dirty suit” problem. I buy airline tickets because they solve the “time vs distance” problem. With that in mind, the winners in this space will be those that are the most helpful. I flew on Virgin America a month or so back, and they’d uncovered a way to solve a problem I didn’t know I had: the “need to be treated luxuriously” problem. Using online platforms and being strategic is wonderful. But when we squint, we have to solve problems. Twitter isn’t cool. Helping people is cool.
Terry: Another theme I thought was very interesting was the “newness” you and Julian brought to the simple act of being human. To me, I could subtitle that chapter as “Everything Old Is New Again”. My question on this is – how sustainable can that strategy be as Social Media “scales” such that the “non-human” elements (the spammers, the pure sellers, the broadcasting celebrities, etc) overwhelm it? Do humans have a chance here?
Chris: Humans always have a chance, Terry. Several social media tools now allow us to curb spamming. Twitter is an opt-in communications stream. Facebook is a friend-connecting network, so that one can opt out of any user who sends spammy messages. Blogs are built with tools to help combat spam. So to me, those problems aren’t solved (I won’t be Bill Gates on this one), but they are mostly manageable. Moving into the other question about sustainability, I feel passionately that creating cafe-shaped human experiences where possible is important. Scale is for mechanization and those areas of business that don’t require tons of overhead. See, many corporations have a lot of layers of fat still on the bone. There’s no incentive to trim normally, and there’s plenty more work to accomplish, so it FEELS like we need everyone. Perez Hilton is making far more money PER EMPLOYEE than People Magazine. He didn’t have to scale. Should he expand and do more? Maybe, and that requires more people, but it doesn’t require the same organization that built People Magazine.
Terry: As you know, I am a student of leadership, and many of my readers come here for my musings on the subject. As I read “Trust Agents” I saw many elements of good leadership throughout. How would you translate the six skills you outline into a few key leadership lessons?
Chris: Leaders need to move from ass-covering case studies into Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go wherever the road may lead, but go where there is no road, and leave a trail.” That’s the Make Your Own Game story. Leaders will benefit more from their organizational structure if they can understand how One of Us matters and how Agent Zero is about extensibility and expanding outside the now-porous walls of the company to find the best networks and the best talent. Leaders need to rediscover being a Human Artist and embracing good etiquette and people skills. As the Millennial tribe enters the workforce and replaces are front lines, they treat business as a relationship sport. We can’t lead like we did in Six Sigma days.
Terry: Chris, thanks again for taking the time to chat, and once again, my congratulations on a great book for anyone looking for the right way to navigate (and prosper from) this crazy thing called the Internet- one last question: When will be taking our karaoke act on the road? 🙂
Chris: Terry, the pleasure was all mine. Your questions were great, and I found them refreshing and as unique as you. Singing? We’ll do lots of that in 2010!
Well, I’m certainly looking forward to that.
Yes, I’m his friend, so yes, I’m biased, but if your goal is using the Web and Social Media to your best advantage while at the same time following the Golden Rule, go buy “Trust Agents” now if you haven’t already.
Then become a Trust Agent yourself and make it happen.
Thanks again Chris!