The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of the book “Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust” (Wiley, 2009) by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. Looking for insight on how to build a good online reputation through social networks that helps boost your brand? This book offers answers on how a business can gain positive influence (and profit) online.
Although the general public’s level of mistrust is at an all-time high, there are individuals and companies who do successfully use the Internet to establish levels of trust in the communities where they operate. In the technology sector, a person such as Robert Scoble (circa Microsoft days) stands out as someone who, by the nature of how he communicated about his formerly faceless company, developed a strong level of trust among his online community. In the United Kingdom, JP Rangaswami is managing director of BT Design for BT Group. His blog, Confused of Calcutta, is often about cricket, music, food, and many things not related to a major telecommunications company; yet, because of his stories and conversational writing tone, we trust Rangaswami and have a positive opinion about BT.
Those who are most familiar with the digital space—we refer to them as ‘‘digital natives’’—have become accustomed to a new level of transparency. They operate under the assumption that everything they do will eventually be known online. Realizing they are unable to hide anything, they choose not to try. Instead, they leverage the way the Web connects us and ties our information together to help turn transparency into an asset for doing business.
You probably know what we are about to tell you, but it’s possible you’ve never much thought about it. For every photo that a magazine uses as part of an article, there are perhaps another 60
that won’t be used. For every quote a journalist pulls from a source for a story, there are several minutes of conversation that weren’t used. This is simply editing, and a part of storytelling. Except for when it isn’t. What if there are times when we want every possible angle, every possible description, every version of the story that we can get our hands on? What if what was left on the cutting room floor is of real value to the public? Think about moments of world-impacting news, or even moments within your company where a rumor leaks into the mainstream. It is those hidden moments, the forgotten photos, the deleted details that tell the true story.
We are in a new era of increasing transparency, and it is becoming obvious from a number of angles that the world will never be the same because of it. Information flows faster and is everywhere. Human memory is slowly becoming obsolete. We barely need to remember everyone’s name continuously when all of their information is all over the Web; it’s all in public view. Clay Shirky examines this phenomenon in his book, Here Comes Everybody, in which he explains how the barriers that have prevented like-minded individuals from coming together are
disappearing, allowing us all to transmit our thoughts and get information faster than we ever could before. Because of this, secrets are now also becoming obsolete.
First, digital photography made everyone look like a supermodel online. (It’s easy to look great when you choose the best of 100 photos.) But then, something else happened. People gained the
ability to upload their own pictures, the ability to tag themselves (affix information about themselves) to other people’s pictures; and they put all of this online. The next thing you know, all those terrible pictures of you—including the unflattering ones a photographer would have selectively edited and removed—are all over the Web. If you extrapolate forward from bad pictures of you to potential corporate scandal, or even to something as simple yet life-altering as how your online profile impacts a company’s interest in hiring you, the picture (pimples and all) becomes even clearer.
Those who are active on the Web now realize that they need to embrace this new transparency, that all things will now eventually be known. Companies can no longer hide behind a veneer of a shiny branding campaign, because customers are one Google search away from the truth. Further, they join activist groups to stay informed about new practices, so they are often one
step ahead of the people trying to profit from them. Companies must acknowledge that they are as naked on the Web as individuals are. This shouldn’t be a surprise; any new medium you jump into changes the way you are seen. But since the Web is active 24/7 and has cameras on all angles, it’s difficult for anyone to hide. We propose a different solution. But first, we need to equip you with some tools.