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

Keep Young and Work the Virtual Room

Keep Young and Work the Virtual Room

Remember this question when we were kids: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? 

Here’s a modern version: If you don’t have a strong web presence, including blogging, Linked in and Twitter, do you still exist?

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately and even more so after reading Trust Agents, a new book by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, and attending the Trust Summit in New York last week.   I’m still dipping my foot into using social media, yet like many, I’ve been reluctant to jump in all the way.  That is changing, albeit slowly. Here’s why I think it’s important to take the plunge:


I remember the days when simply reaching a certain age, one was seen as old. I think Web 2.0 changed that.  My theory is that in the world of social media, people aren’t judged by simply by chronological age, but rather by adaptability to and use of, technology. It may be true that the older one gets the less likely a person is to use new tools. But age does not prohibit one from jumping in. Chris and Julien capture this concept in Trust Agents, by describing a person who is seen as connected as “One of Us."  Age doesn’t seem to a factor by itself anymore. If my theory is right, then by using Web 2.0 channels of communication we can connect and be connected, without regard to age. And that opens new doors in business for everyone.


It’s more than just about adapting to technology.  It’s also about being part of a community – one that creates trust.  I’ve watched my son play a virtual game on line and build relationships with a community of avatars representing people.  Trust is created based on how long people are there, and how people talk with, trade with and treat each other, even when they never can meet in the real world.   

 That’s not to say real world connecting isn’t important. I teach a workshop called How to Work a Room and Still Feel Good About Yourself™  This workshop is about the typical ways to network in person – conferences, luncheons and charity dinners, even in line waiting to board a plane, and addresses how to build relationships – NOT sell – in that environment.  It is still relevant to network this way in business. 

However, there are a lot of people that never get to the same physical rooms we are in.  But they are in virtual rooms.  And those virtual rooms are growing in size and number.  Those rooms include blog conversations, Twitter, Facebook connections and groups, and of course, LinkedIn.  If we’re not in those rooms, we’ll never meet the people who are, and will miss the opportunity to build relationships with new connections that “meet” there. 

And just like a connection at an event can lead to follow up, so can a virtual room connection. For example, recently, I connected with a contact I met when she commented on one of my blogs on We talked by email and then by phone.  And we’re building a relationship just as we would have had we met at a conference.   


Many will now have to operate in both the real and Web 2.0 worlds. Of course we still exist if we’re not blogging and tweeting. While the Web 2.0 world doesn’t discriminate based on age or any factor other than whether we enter the room and appropriately create relationships, only we can decide if we need to be there. But if we’re not in the room – whether virtual or physical, we’ll never even know what we’re missing. This is a benefit of social media, and why we can’t ignore it, whether we’re 20 or 65.

Trust Breakfast Part II Video: Q&A

Trust Summit Part 2 Q&AMore from the TrustSummit at the Harvard Club, New York, on October 23.  The open statements, Part I, were available on yesterday’s blogpost

Today’s Part II of the video is all Q&A: questions from the audience, and answers from David Maister, Julien Smith, Chris Brogan, and yours truly.

There is 75 minutes of video here, so to help you navigate, here is a rough map of the questions asked and the time marker at which they are asked, plus a sample quote:

   1:11    -How do you put a number on the value of engagement and trust?  (David: if measurement drove trust, we could lose weight by standing on the bathroom scale)

11:00    -What role does the fear of failure play in shutting down trust? (Charlie: in trust, risk mitigation doesn’t just cut risk–it increases trust)

16:30    -What was the best response you’ve seen to a screwup?  (Chris: Coke hit a home run; Branson hits lots of singles, so they can risk losing a few)

21:00    -Doesn’t price beat trust at some level? (Julien: intimacy is a great differentiator)

27:00    -Isn’t customer intimacy just one strategy, and you can only pick one?  (Charlie: these days you can’t pick only one; trust is actually the way you get to scale for low-cost strategies, not just intimacy.  Chris Brogan: Vanilla Ice said: stop, collaborate, and listen.  David: if people trust you, you don’t have to do all that icky marketing stuff).

35:00    -What kind of metrics work with non-profits? (David: if companies were serious about metrics, they’d post their customer satisfaction ratings) 

41:00    -How do I transfer powerful online trust to an MBA-managed traditional business?  (Chris: Let revenue do the talking.   Julien: I’d urge a healthy level of scepticism about the social media Kool Aid. It’s an experiment; try it.) 

53:00    -How does a leader teach matters of virtue, in a corporation?  (Charlie: the doctrine of competition is essentially anti-ethical. If all you do is compete with others, you have no one left to be ethical toward. "Buddhist capitalism" works better.)

Trust Summit Part II56:00    -How do you balance privacy versus transparency?  (Chris: there are times for both).

58:00    -Can this kind of cool event actually happen outside of Twitter?  (Julien: the horizon effect, everyone gets closer to everyone else–it’s inevitable).

62:00    -What’s the generational impact of all this?  (David: We’ve talked about clients, but trust between generations is a very big issue within organizations, and we’re doing pathetically)

65:00    -Is there a danger of giving priority to squeaky wheel twitterers?  (Chris: In some ways, that’s odd.  We don’t really want to wait in line like sheep; twitter empowers).

69:00    -How can I use social media to create authenticity?  (Discussion: it varies with target audiences–reaching 5 people through social media is tough)

72:30    -Why do companies pay 4x to get new customers what they’d save in retention?  (Charlie: Stupidity in this area does abound).

73:30    -Charlie describes how Chris and Julien role-modeled all this behavior in setting up this event.


You can see the video here.




Trust Summit Summary and Video – Part I

Last Friday, October 23, New York’s Harvard Club was host to the Trust Summit.

Put on by myself, David Maister, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, and moderated expertly by Robin Carey (CEO of SocialMediaToday), it was a breakfast, panel discussion and Q&A session with 300 of our closest friends.

OK, maybe "Trust Summit" is a little grandiose, but I think the 300 didn’t mind much. And after all, Chris and Julien did write the very hot Trust Agents. And David and I (and Rob Galford) did write The Trusted Advisor, which has proven to have legs.

And we all, very much, talked about the same thing. Trust is vital in a new economy, just as it was and is an old economy. In fact, if anything, new social media are making trust even more central to successful business.

Robin asked at one point how many people there were on Twitter; about 99% raised their hands (excepting David, I think). More tellingly, when she asked how many signed up through the Twitter channel, the answer was remarkably similar.

Big thanks to Marvin Bzuro for making the video available to us. Thank him yourself, at marvin "at"

Today, we’re posting Part I of the video: it consists of opening remarks by Robin Carey, and by we four panelists. It runs to about 25 minutes. Tomorrow we’ll post the (lively!) Q&A session.

To see Part I of the video, click here.

The Twittersphere was hugely active before the session. And after. And during, for that matter. You can see the entire twit-fest on Twitter with a hashtag search: look for #trustsummit. And while you’re there, check out @chrisbrogan, @julien, and @charleshgreen

If you don’t want to do that, several twitterers did yeoman’s work summarizing for the sake of the rest of us. At the risk of ticking off all the others, I’ll single out @amandarykoff as the most re-tweeted summary. You can find it here. But honorable mentions also go to Fred Abramson, Andrew Marshall,, and Articu-Blog.

And if that doesn’t satiate your appetite, then go watch the video again. And come back tomorrow for the Q&A.




Trust and Golf: How Neither Makes Sense

I’ve been reading Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.

I was particularly struck by the way they told Robert Scoble‘s story (a success story, but not usually painted as a trust story).  They call Scoble one of the first trust agents ever on the World Wide Web. 

Though hindsight is 20-20, many people watching Scoble’s moves at the time would have labeled him at best irreverent, irresponsible, and committed to career suicide … at worst a complete idiot. But looking at him through the lens of what it takes to become trustworthy, I’m siding with Brogan and Smith—what he did was brilliant.

The Scoble Story

In 2004, Scoble, then a Microsoft employee, took to blogging about serious issues Microsoft and its end users were experiencing. He even candidly sung the praises of Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer competitor.

Not only did Scoble not get fired, he got readers. And Microsoft got business. Brogan and Smith report, “People began eating up everything he said. If his very next blog post had praised Notepad as ‘the best app ever,’ his readers probably would have said, ‘You’re so right!’”

Scoble attributes part of this phenomenon to something he learned when he helped run retail stores in the 1980’s. If he told a customer that a competitor had a better selection, they often came back and asked to do business with him anyway, “’cause I like you better.”  (Maybe he got it from the Macy’s Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street, who recommended competitor Gimbel’s on occasion).

What’s Golf Got to Do with It?

One of the reasons trust is so hard to get a grip on is that it’s rife with paradox. For example, the thing we’re most afraid to say or do is precisely what will build the most trust. Or, in Scoble’s case, the best way to generate sales is to have the courage to be brutally honest about your product’s weaknesses and your competitor’s strengths.

Here’s the link to golf (pardon the pun): I am not a golfer. To me, the only logical way to get that tiny little ball to travel hundreds of yards off the first tee towards that tiny little cup is to hit it as hard as possible. If you’re a golfer, you just shook your head in dismay because you know what my strategy will yield: a nice left hook into a thick forest of trees.

Scoble came to be seen as someone who could be trusted because he knew that building trust is like a golf swing: hype your product and you hook the ball; be honest and land it square on the green.

Golf Aside, Motives Matter

Leaving the golf metaphor behind for a moment, it’s important to remember that motives really do matter. Buyers have a sixth sense for manipulation. Had Scoble been talking trash about his products with the intention of closing deals, his strategy would have backfired. Which leads us to another paradox: the more you try to build trust with the intention of closing deals, the less deals you close.

Take a look at your business model. How might the lessons of golf—and Scoble—improve your game?

Trust Summit: October 23, New York City

I want to let you know of an upcoming event you might want to attend.

Chris and Julien are co-authors of the current best-selling book Trust Agents. David is my co-author, along with Rob Galford, of The Trusted Advisor.

I first met Chris and Julien as they were writing their book. I found them very engaging, and masters of new social media.

But what has really impressed me is their ability to apply new media technology in service to greater trust in business. They are walking role models in that regard – they walk the talk.

It was Chris’s idea to have this meeting, and I enthusiastically supported it.

We’re looking forward to a great breakfast with spirited dialogue between the four of us, but most importantly between us and you, 300 of our closest friends.

CNBC and Teeing it Up

As long as we’re on the subject of marketing, let me offer you a couple of links,

First, my article of earlier this week, titled Wall Street Run Amok: Why Harvard’s to Blame.

That intrigued the good folks at CNBC, who put me on October 7 with the header "Is Harvard to Blame?" Host Melissa Francis played up the Harvard angle with mock outrage, but it’s all in fun—and a pretty good (albeit fast) take on how we create business environments that nurture trust.

Both—I think—are good entrees to teeing up the broader issue of trust we’ll be discussing in New York.

Hope you can make it.