Chris Brogan on Trust and Social Media (Trust Quotes #9)

Chris Brogan needs no introduction to some TrustMatters readers. Some of you caught him at the Trust Summit last fall; Others may never have heard of him. I’m about to do the second group a huge favor.

Chris is co-author (with Julien Smith) of Trust Agents, CEO of New Marketing Labs and an active speaker and blogger. 

But that’s nothing. Chris is a guru in the new social media space; a Twitter deity; and an all-round major influence in the emerging new world of commerce and social interaction.

I find Chris doubly interesting; not only does he have solid things to say about trust, he lives them in a most authentic and high-integrity way. He is a genuinely, really, really nice guy—and I think he’s as famous for that as for anything.

We caught up with him right around his 40th birthday; rather young for the life he’s lived already.

CHG: Chris, how do you define your work these days: is it new social media? Marketing? Trust? Public speaking? Who is Chris Brogan anyway?

CB: My work is divided into a few camps right now. My company, New Marketing Labs, LLC, works as marketing consultants providing strategy and execution for online and social media marketing for Fortune 100/500 types. My media business, currently thought of as, is where I do public speaking, blogging, book authoring, and the like.

A few months after this interview, I’ll be announcing something that will make it just a bit more streamlined and unified. But my work, if I were to tidy this answer up, would be to educate and equip others for success in doing what I call “human business.”

CHG: You finished writing Trust Agents nearly a year ago. It hit NYTimes best seller territory, and is still ranked #3,000 today. That’s very successful. For the uninitiated, what is Trust Agents about?

CB: Julien and I wrote Trust Agents about how to be human on the web. We wrote about this new type of business application for social tools, which, when used by talented individuals (either in a company, or a church, or a nonprofit, or as a solo entrepreneur) can help people gain awareness, build reputation, and earn trust. We talk from the high concept all the way down to actionable steps about what elements people seek to attain trust via the extended digital world.

CHG: Have you developed some perspective on it yet? Do you see some aspects of it as more important now than when you wrote it? Less?

CB: Great question. I think both Julien and I believe that the most important part of Trust Agents is in building and maintaining your network. We’ve learned since the book came out that the most applicable parts for people to follow were about the way they interacted with others, and how they transferred value back and forth along their network (and we could define “value” as anything that improves the experience of a person in the network – such as helping a friend find a job).

CHG: My impression is you’re synonymous with Inbound Marketing. Is that right? More importantly, my strong impression is that in any case you conduct your life according to those principles. Can you share a little about both the definition of inbound marketing, and how you practice it? I’m thinking of things like 12-other referential tweets for each one of your own, or the way you once responded to a taunt/challenge from Robert Scoble.

CB: The folks at Hubspot coined the term “inbound marketing,” partly because Seth Godin has a copyright on “permission marketing.” In all cases, we all believe that beating people over the head with your needs and desires to sell products or services isn’t a successful strategy any longer. We look to build relationship-based selling models, such that we turn audience into community, and we guard our relationship with our community as an asset, every bit as much as we guard our trade secrets.

My personal definition? Be helpful. The way I built my own personal brand was delivering information that others could use to improve their own lot in life. And I promote others at least 12 times as much as I promote my own stuff on various social networks.

CHG: We hear an awful lot of talk these days about the decline of trust in institutions today. I’m sure you understand that, but do you also notice that and experience it yourself? In fact, do you find significant areas where trust is in fact increasing?

CB: The big revolution that’s brewing is that we, the people, are sick of being numbers. We want to be seen and heard, and treated as individuals. The oft-cited example in the US for trust improvements are places like Comcast, who found their customer service approval scores a bit higher since the efforts of Frank Eliason and his @comcastcares Twitter efforts.

There are lots of anecdotal examples along these lines. Dell Computers has been in the camp of more trustworthy and more human, ever since 2005, when Lionel Menchaca came on the scene to humanize them. Significant areas, though? Not yet. I’m hoping this is the year we start demanding more trustworthy relationships.

CHG: Are you optimistic about prospects for trust in the emerging economy of our time? Can you explain a bit about why? 

CB: Interesting question. I think one way we’ll see more trust bubble up is through the creation of all these Internet businesses and Internet-born brands. No one had heard of Gary Vaynerchuk a few years ago, and now, if Gary says this is a wine you need to try, thousands and thousands of people will buy that bottle.

Trust developed to make up for a younger brand relationship might be the big lever that gets older organizations to have to rush in and follow suit. It’s how I see it potentially shifting. Look at car companies. In this new landscape, they KNOW that trust is one of the only ways to settle up and move forward.

CHG:  Is trust in the new social media world the same as, or different from, trust in the old analogue world? How can they cross over?  

CB: There are some weird differences in trust in the social media world, but in a way they parallel the way (western) society seems to be evolving.

We have no long-term memory any more in this country. Sins of the past wash away a lot faster, it seems, in many situations. We also seem to demand a more gritty, three-dimensional reality from our brands. Further, we want an entertainment factor to our education and information delivery.

All these traits in the analog world translate quite nicely into how social media delivers interactions around relationship-building, media making, and community environments. This new web is a lot more social, a lot more touchy-feely, and a lot more insistent on a more human interaction.

For me? Good times, and I hope that’s how others see this opportunity. We buy from people we know, and these tools allow us to build strong relationships before the sale.

CHG: Chris, many thanks for taking time out of what has to be one of the busiest lives on the planet; it’s always a pleasure, and I really appreciate it.

CB: You’re very welcome.

This is number 9 in the Trust Quotes series.

The entire series can be found at:

Recent posts in this series include:
Trust Quotes #8: LJ Rittenhouse
Trust Quotes #7: David Maister
Trust Quotes #6: Anna Bernasek

Bettelheim, Suicide and Online Social Media

iStock_000008859658Small.jpgDepending on who you talk to, TwitBook, LinkFace and their ilk are responsible either for:

a. the death of attention, intimacy and civility; or
b. the coming of the Age of Collaboration.

We have seen this movie before, and it’s interesting to re-read the reviews from the past.

Does Living in a Highly Interactive Society Make You Neurotic?

In 1969, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim,  in Children of the Dream, wrote about children of the Israeli kibbutzim.  As Wikipedia summarizes it:

[Bettelheim] concluded that a kibbutz upbringing led to individuals’ having greater difficulty in making strong emotional commitments thereafter, such as falling in love or forming a lasting friendship. On the other hand, they appear to find it easier to have a large number of less-involved friendships, and a more active social life.

Makes sense in a simple kind of way. More interactions makes you good at shallow relationships, worse at deep ones. Presenting psychological problems are largely neurotic. A society that mistakes familiarity for intimacy.

Does Living in Highly Isolated Society Make You Psychotic?

About the time I read Bettelheim, I also read Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip,  a disturbing book that combines 19th century photographs taken in Black River Falls, Wisconsin between 1890 and 1910, with archival frontier newspaper articles from the same era. 

The result: old glass negative plates of a 6-year old in a tiny coffin, juxtaposed with news articles like:

"Mrs. Carter… was taken sick at the marsh last week and fell down, sustaining internal injuries which have dethroned her reason. She has been removed to her home here and a few nights since arose from her bed and ran through the woods… A night or two after she was found trying to strangle herself with a towel… It is hoped the trouble is only temporary and that she may soon recover her mind." And

"The 60 year old wife of a farmer in Jackson, Washington County, killed herself by cutting her throat with a sheep shears."

Lesy himself, according to a former student quoted in the Amazon book review, stated that in assembling the book, he was observing “an American holocaust.”

Makes sense in a simple kind of way. Fewer interactions may make you powerfully vested in a few relationships, but unable to interact easily on a casual level. Presenting psychological problems are largely psychotic. A society that mistakes intimacy for ease.

Must We Choose Between Social Media and Intimacy?

Is this a trade-off?  If you’re a kibbutznik or you tweet, does that mean you’re bad marriage material (what about to other twitterers?).   And if you’re capable of deep emotions living alone with a few people in closed quarters in the long frontier wintertime, does that mean you’re hopeless when it comes to simple social skills like having conversation?

I hear the arguments pro and con. I wish we could reframe the problem away from a zero-sum, either-or trade-off problem, to one that dares to be great: how can we harness both?

How can we get really good at getting along—and not only not lose the capacity for deep connection and intimacy, but make it grow stronger right alongside?

I will note this: Bettelheim predicted the kibbutzniks would be massively unsuccessful; but as the data showed, Bettelheim was massively wrong. They were exceptionally successful. 

Methinks there is hope for us.

Are You Connected? Or Just Linked?

Are you connected? Or just linked? You know the difference when I phrase the question that way. It’s obvious.

• If you’re three degrees of separation away from someone on LinkedIn, you might be a Linker—but you’re not connected.

• If someone’s birthday is in your Act or Outlook database, and it links to their MySpace page and auto-triggers digital happy birthday emails from you to them, then you might be a Linker—but you’re not connected.

• If someone picked up your business card at your tradeshow booth, you might be a Linker—but you’re not connected.

We all know the difference.

But we all forget it—frequently, regularly, unconsciously. And we all suffer because of it. Here’s what I mean.

The ability to “link” is what freed up the mortgage industry. When a local savings bank sold loans to a larger aggregating bank, it “linked” to them by a financial contract; you pay me X, I give you rights to a mortgage. Ditto for that same savings bank paying mortgage originators to find mortgages. And for the aggregating banks to securitize their mortgages, and link to buyers of mortgage-backed securities.

The links, in every case, were one-off contractual transactions. They replaced connections. Connections were relationships, not transactions. They were ongoing, not one-off. They were between people, not just between corporate entities and lawyers. Connections presumed lots of links; but links alone don’t presume connections, any more than one night stands presume relationships.

The wholesale replacement of connections by links is a key feature of the economic landscape today. It is by no means all bad.

“Linking” has been key to outsourcing, and to globalization. Chop business processes up into smaller and smaller pieces, then Link them to a third party, maybe in Bangalore, maybe in North Dakota. The result is global scale of processes; global markets; and global risk-sharing. All good, per se—as far as they go.

“Linking” has meant greater efficiencies of the things being linked. Ten companies all with separate HR departments cannot run HR as efficiently as one company outsourcing HR services to ten users. One does a dramatically better job of forming markets for daters than a thousand bars in the Naked City could ever do.

There’s just one thing wrong with Linking. If allowed to entirely replace connection, linking will destroy connection.

If no one is connected across the whole mortgage business—if no regulators or companies or customers have stakes in the system as a whole—then the “market” will eat itself alive, as everyone maximizes their own good. The Invisible Hand simply does not work in a Linked-only system—it works only if someone has a stake in the market as a whole, and over time. A market of strangers linking once-off and then disappearing into the haze of transaction-land is what you see in dating bars at closing time, operating by rules of caveat emptor.

This is why eBay has buyer ratings. This is why stocks go up when governments intervene after linking-only has gotten pathological enough. This is why the internet (and new media channels) will drown in spam if they are nothing more than links. To be vibrant, these new marketplaces must find community—a sense of connection.

Our financial markets right now don’t suffer from just liquidity, or even solvency. They suffer from lack of trust. And nothing kills trust like the drowning of connection in a sea of links.