Who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
So goes the song “Who are you?” by The Who. A little mental background music for this post.
Chris Brogan and Julien Smith kick off their book Trust Agents by telling the stories of how FBI informant Donnie Brasco and con man Alan Conway were able to create a false persona for those around them. That was before Google and social media sites created an explosion of personal information online, which changed the way we interact.
But even before the dawn of the Internet, trends in media set the table for Trust Agents to emerge.
The Growing Trust Deficit
The second half of the 20th century was the mass media era. With a small number of media channels, corporations tightly controlled their message. As technology developed and marketing executives grew more aware of the psychology behind branding and selling, promotions become slicker and more polished. To compete for dollars, marketing firms had to continually up the ante with more hype, bigger stunts, and more outrageous claims. PR firms and public relations departments were the voices of their organization and always managed to put a positive spin on even the worst news. They stretched the truth and began losing credibility.
Politicians got into the act with their own hyped-up campaigns and spin doctors. Not to be out done, non-profit charities and even churches got into the marketing and PR game.
Then came the scandals. There were corporate scandals like Enron and Adelphia, political scandals with Monica Lewinski and Jack Abramoff, and even religious scandals with Jim Bakker and the Catholic Church. The people we trusted with our money, our government, and our spiritual lives betrayed us.
All of this has left us with a trust deficit. We don’t trust advertising. We don’t trust corporations. We don’t trust politicians. We don’t trust religious institutions. We don’t even trust our neighbors because we hardly know them.
Enter Google and social media.
Now anyone can post anything online and make it available to the masses. Corporations and institutions have lost that tight grip on information they once enjoyed. The rules have changed.
What does this mean?
1) Your voice is one of many. Your organization may talk about itself in advertising, marketing, press releases, etc, but your customers, vendors, and competitors are talking about you too.
2) Control is out. Engagement is in. You can’t stop others from talking about you, so you’re only options are to a) ignore them and completely lose control or b) engage in the conversations that are occurring.
3) The first step towards engagement is listening.
The first action Brogan and Smith recommend is to “build a listening station.” They provide step by step instructions for how to monitor what people are saying about you, your organization, your industry, and even your competitors in blogs and Twitter using RSS feeds and Google Reader.
Question #1: Did you build a listening station? If so, what have you learned?
I’ve had a “listening station” set up for some time now. It has not been too helpful because not many people blog or tweet about me or OurChurch.Com. 99% of the blogs that mention me or OurChurch.Com are referencing something on this blog, and I already get notification of those through WordPress’s trackback feature. 99% of tweets that mention me or OurChurch.Com do so by mentioning the @PaulSteinbrueck or @OurChurchDotCom which I can also monitor easily with TweetDeck.
The one positive thing I’ve been able to do with my “listening station” is I see when people who have created free ourchurch.com sites tweet their URL, and then I follow them.
4) You can fill the trust gap
Because there is a trust deficit and because social media gives us the ability to communicate directly with millions of people, we have the capacity to become a Trust Agent, that is a person “who has established himself as non-sales-oriented and… uses today’s web tools to spread their influence faster, wider, and deeper than a typical company’s PR department.”
The description of a Trust Agent sounds very business-related, but I believe a Trust Agent can develop their influence and use it to advance whatever organization or cause they’re passionate about including a church, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, or fighting poverty.
The second recommended action step is to “create a spectacular ‘about’ page on your blog.” Mine could use some work, so that’s been added to my list of action items.
Question #2: Do you believe there is a trust deficit? If so, who do you trust? Family? Friends? Anyone you’ve only interacted with online? Why do you trust them?[images by riot, notsogoodphotography]