Book Review – Trust Agents

For the past little while I’ve been slowly working my way through Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust, written by Julien Smith and Chris Brogan. I’ve now finished it so, without further ado, here’s my take on this New York Times bestseller.

Trust Agents

The Good

  • It’s needed – As Chris and Julien state in the book, there really is a “trust deficit” when it comes to businesses nowadays. People don’t trust advertising. Businesses have abused peoples’ trust to the point where many people are cynical about any business’ actions. Meanwhile, research continues to show that when people trust an organization, they are more likely to both speak highly of that organization and to act on that positive opinion. That’s where this book comes in.
  • Accessible – Brogan and Smith have an accessible, easy-to-read style which makes the book easy to consume. The book manages to speak to a low common denominator without being condescending, and there’s a wry sense of humour behind the writing which comes through occasionally.
  • Tool-agnostic – Trust Agents deliberately shies away from pointing at any tool or group of tools (beyond “the Internet”) as a “must-have” tool. Indeed, many of the tips they offer refer to real-world, offline actions, which is a refreshing change for a book largely drawing on the potential of social media. As such, this book is more of a business book than a technology or social media book.
  • Good examples – Whether it’s in the real-world examples cited in the book or in the background research (I know Julien is a voracious reader so it doesn’t surprise me), there are plenty of examples of work done by other people which either relates to the concepts in the book or demonstrates them.
  • Well-structured – Trust Agents is broken into eight relatively lengthy chapters, but is sufficiently well structured that the six primary concepts of the book are easy to remember and provide a decent framework for self-analysis and improvement.

The Not So Good

  • Familiar examples – Many of the examples in the book are familiar to me… but then again, I probably know them because they’re the best examples. So, expect to hear about Comcast, Dell, and Gary Vaynerchuk… lots of Gary Vaynerchuk.
  • Basic – You may read much of Trust Agents and wonder what the big deal is about the advice – much of it is common sense. The flip side, of course, is that for years now businesses have been ignoring the kind of advice that makes you think “well duh,” hence the demand for books like this.
  • Challenging for large businesses – I can see a lot of these techniques being very difficult for large businesses. Much of the book is more likely to be adopted by small businesses. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though – more of a reflection on how far many large organizations have fallen over time, to the point where the idea of individuals becoming Trust Agents is anathema to how they work.
  • It’s not for you – I would agree with Christopher S. Penn – the people who most need this book likely aren’t the ones who would ever buy it. So, if you know someone like that, pick up a copy for them. If they have any sense, they’ll thank you for it.

The Take-Aways

The six principles of the book are simple enough concepts to absorb:

  • Make your own game – business model innovation. Learn from trial and error; experiment
  • Be “one of us” – be genuine, not a gate-crashing outsider
  • Archimedes effect – generate leverage from your successes
  • Agent zero – become the person at the centre of your network
  • Human artist – improve your interpersonal skills; empower other people to succeed
  • Build an army – work with your network to accomplish tasks

Simple… and effective.


Trust Agents is a refreshing change from many of the books I’ve read recently. Like Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation, it’s not targeted at those of us already in the social media space – Brogan and Smith clearly note that they hope to reach a completely new group of people with this book. However, just like the former, it’s an enjoyable read for those of us who may already know (at least implicitly) much of the content within.

For people new to social media and its effects on communication and business strategy, this is an extremely valuable read.

Highly recommended.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.