4 September 2009 View Comments

Trust Agent + ? = $

4 September 2009 · View Comments

in Uncategorized

Trust Agents coverLast week I read the (now) New York Times Bestseller Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.

There are a million reasons to read the book and to give it to others—particularly those who don’t yet “get” the whole social media thing or why it’s important. Why?

Well, Trust Agents explains the value of social capital and how it can be used in our now highly connected world. It gives step-by-step instructions for how to build social capital and how to use social media tools to put that capital to best use. And, most importantly, it describes what Trust Agents are and the traits they share:

  • Trust Agents ignore boundaries. (Make Your Own Game)
  • Trust Agents stand out by blending in. (One of Us)
  • Trust Agents leverage the present to achieve the future. (Archimedes Principle)
  • Trust Agents connect within and among groups. (Agent Zero)
  • Trust Agents build and nurture relationships. (Human Artist)
  • Trust Agents mobilize people. (Build an Army)

And two attributes, central to the book (but not articulated):

  • Trust Agents are self-evident, not self-appointed.
  • Trust Agents need other Trust Agents to be successful.

These qualities don’t just show up in successful social media folk, they show up in successful humans. Which, as Jay Baer suggests in his post on the book , begs the question: Can you teach this? Can you teach people how to be human?

No. People ARE human. And you can’t teach someone to be something they’re not. Or at least, not and have it last very long. You can’t teach someone to be Chris Brogan or Julien Smith. They’re them. You’re you. End of story.

But you can teach people how to be better at who they already are. (This applies to organizations, too.) The question is, how can Trust Agents help you do that?

I’d imagine most people reading the book recognize bits of themselves all through it. “Oh, yeah, that’s me.” “Erm, no, not so good there.” I suspect that was a primary intent: to get people to realize that everyone has the capacity to be a Trust Agent.

But how do you become one? How do you move from capacity to actuality? From realizing you have potential to making potential real? How do Trust Agents make money?

As the book ended, my brain started. As Stuart Foster of The Lost Jacket says, “Being awesome is not a business model.“ Being awesome is where it starts, but not where it ends: business models, by definition, are about how to provide value you can then get paid for. Otherwise, you’re doing this.

My take is that all Trust Agents provide (profitable) value in two ways: through their relationship with information and through their relationships with other Trust Agents. People who operate as Trust Agents, online and off, provide that value very differently. Chris Brogan is a different type of Trust Agent than Julien Smith, who is a different type than Amber Naslund, or Guy Kawasaki, or Robert Scoble.

I see five different models for how Trust Agents provide this value. Models that can, I think, be business models as well:

  • The creator. The person who creates new ideas. The generator.
    Someone will always pay for a new thing, a new way to do things, or a new way to think about things.
  • The connector. The person who connects ideas, and /or people, together.
    Someone will always pay for access.
  • The filter. The person who analyzes and prioritizes ideas for redistribution. Their value comes in their ability to pick out the “good stuff.”
    Someone will always pay for the efficiency that comes from selectivity.
  • The interpreter. The person who translates ideas between groups, including from current groups to ones that don’t yet exist. The teacher.
    Someone will always pay for leverage—and understanding.
  • All four types need a fifth: the collector who aggregates information, sorts it for reference of the others, and often help provide backup (in the form of data) for others’ work. These are librarians, of sorts, whose value comes in their ability to provide both comprehensive and easy-to-use high-quality information.
    Someone will always pay for raw data, for (searchable, sortable) information.

All types need each other, of course. The best Trust Agents both recognize that and act on it consciously. Creators need Connectors to get their ideas out there, and Interpreters to get them to new groups in ways those groups understand and recognize. Connectors need Creators to provide the currency of ideas, and Filters to provide ways of making sure what they connect to is the best. And so on.

Each of us takes on these different roles with varying levels of comfort, but one form usually dominates. (Although sometimes people end up in a model that doesn’t suit them—think of the wonderful researcher who is a terrible teacher.) By understanding which model is most comfortable for you and your skill set, you can then strengthen those skills and determine how best to turn you (or your organization)—in that role—into something people pay for.

So which one will you use to realize your potential?
Did I miss any?

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Round the Square.

  • Thanks very much for the link. I really like this post. The five business models are very interesting, and I think you're definitely on to something. I'd love to see a post organizing today's social media leaders within those five models.

    Nice job on this!

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