communications social networking

Trust Agents 1a – Who Do You Trust?

Written by Paul Steinbrueck

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.

arrestedPoliticians 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 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]

About the author

Paul Steinbrueck

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.


  • T — truthfulness
    R — respect
    U — understanding
    S — steadfastness (especially in promise/vow-keeping)
    T — tolerance (of the other’s preferences)

    Trust is fragile. Most broken trust situations cannot be repaired or reconciled, even after forgiveness is done.

    My understanding of Proverbs 3:5-6:
    Trust in the Lord
    with all my heart, and
    lean not on my own understanding
    or past experiences;
    in all my ways acknowledge Him
    (be thankful to/for God),
    and He (via the Holy Spirit) shall direct
    my thinking and doing.

  • In the past trust was probably easier to come by because our options were limited in refuting trust, but nowadays there is jut so many virtual thumb prints about that if there is a slip up then virtually everyone will find out. Then again it could be easier because one could plan out a set of virtual thumbprints to prove their trust. Just like the Donnie Brasco of the online world.

    I tried out Google Alerts for a while but I did not find it too useful – I was being alerted to references to people with similar names to me and not even with a close match, so I canned it. A simple Google Search on your name and or website/blog/s is interesting, well it could be enlightening or disappointing depending on your point of view.

    There is definitely a trust deficit – but it is most likely because we habitually fill the gaps of incomplete communication with suspicion and not trust.

  • Love this intro to the book. Seems people today like to be able to poke and test something to see if it’s real, how it responds. Social media opens the door wide open to this ability…both on the side of the curious, and the promoter.
    While it is true that you can hide some character flaws/identity online, but you can also do that in person.

    Like Phillip, I used Google Alerts for awhile and found it pretty useless. So I don’t have ‘listening station’. I can see some stats on my blog, and can see who mentions me on twitter/facebook. Beyond that, I really don’t know a good reason to track who’s looking me up.

    Yes, there is a trust deficit. I know I grew up hearing, “Let the buyer beware!” This became my approach not only to buying, but anything that required something from me. Suspicion before trust.

    I do have family and friends I trust. And have a few online friends whom I trust…some I’ve eventually met, some I may never meet. I trust them because we’ve shared our hearts online via video or text. We’ve prayed for each other. We’ve challenged each other. We care about each other. Like offline trust/relationships, your investment determines the level you achieve.

  • Yeah, the listening station is probably more useful if you’re well known and talked about like Andy Stanley or It also blows up if you’ve got a common name like John Smith or First Baptist Church.

    Another thing about trust is it’s not an all-or-nothing deal. There are degrees of trust. I trust most of the people in this group blog project enough that I would buy a book or try some online tool based on their recommendation, but not many I would leave my kids with for the weekend. (Though I’m listening of you want to offer. 😉 )

  • This is such a interesting conversation for someone (me) who is cynical about online trustworthiness by nature. My social media peeps and I have had plenty of conversations that begin like this,

    “I’m so tired of his/her self-promotion so I’m going to stop reading/following/subscribing…”

    about people we, at one time or another trusted for some reason.

    It seems like there is a fine line between promoting your cause/organization/soapbox and simply promoting yourself and finding that line is difficult at times.

  • It was pretty cool that tonight my Wife and I were leading Community Group about just these topics – trust and influence. Our group has just started going thru Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It’s a challenge to be constantly aware of what and who influences us and who we influence – be it good or bad.
    If we are to be a trusted influence we need to be aware of these things, otherwise we find ourselves following some path we never intended to be on.
    We were left with the very challenging verse of Galatians 1:10 -whose approval are we trying to win? God or man?

  • Great stuff! The book seems like it will be very helpful and practical. I have been trying to determine how I can use social media to spread the word about our unknown ministry that helps provide off-campus, elective Bible classes for public high school students (, and I am looking forward to the help I am going to get from “Trust Agents.”

  • BTW, I wasn’t trying to pimp my ministry there – honestly. In fact, don’t go to the website. 🙂

    I think the reason are more willing to trust someone online, even if he/she has never met the person, is because it is more personal than the corporate world. If I have a problem with my cable company and I call their support number, I can’t even speak to a real person. but social media is at least interaction with a real person.

  • Jan – I agree it seems like there’s a fine line between being a Trust Agent and being self promoting. One problem is that when a person crosses that line rarely does someone let them know. I’ve probably crossed that line myself.

    Last week I was thinking it would be really cool to have a few blog accountability partners – people who would be totally honest with me about my blogs. What’s good about them? What sucks? Which posts were homeruns? Which were strikeouts (or worse)?

    Phill – Great verse and great question! It’s so tough because attention is the currency in the world of social networking.

  • Arrrg, I tried the Technorati thing – it pops up with a number of references but it does not adhere to my quotes so I get every Gibb ever mentioned, same problem with Google alerts, tsk tsk, tsk.
    My blog name yields nothing; ha ha ha ha.

  • Very interesting topic.”Trust Agents” is a must read on my book list, although trust and the internet can be a sticky subject. Bible lover Bill I agree with your statement.
    The internet is a place where “Social Networking” is vast, a place where viruses are not your friends, you never ‘really’ know who you are talking to, a place of agendas, and hidden agendas, where stalkers and hackers are unscrupulous, a “real” place just like the “real” world where one must take precaution.

    When I believe in what I write and what is put out there in cyber space,(it can end up anywhere)it’s up to those who read to make a decision as to what they do with any enlightenment, or non enlightenment received, to engage or not engage, trust, and believe what they need, must, or have to believe.
    For instance, my blog name is in another country! Or was for a period of time. :)So, anything I may have blogged during that time may have been misconstrued, misunderstood, or taken out of context easily,
    “not trusted.” It still does simply because of my name.
    And while numbers and quotas are fun and in many instances necessary,(depends on the purpose)they are of no consequence if I have encouraged, enlightened, shared with anyone, on any given day, at any given time through the vast medium called the Internet; believe in what I blog and am true to myself.
    “Trust is not an issue when one is being honest with oneself.”__

  • Paul,

    I have set up listening posts on the keywords that are the focus of my blog. It matters to me what people are saying about my keywords so I can make sure I am producing relevant content.

    Like you, I have my own little listening posts in the form of blog comments and my social media networks. Outside of that though, I am not sure I want to know what people are saying.

    What would I do with the information? Should I confront those spreading harmful information about me, or join in the chorus of those praising me? It all seems a little self-serving.

    I like JaaKanojia’s point at the end, trust is not an issue when one is being honest with one’s self. The idea of keeping your ear tuned for the sound of your own name makes me think of a con man wondering if someone has caught on to him.

    In the end, all you can do is honestly put yourself out there. If you have offended someone through a fault of your own then rectify it; otherwise, it is just noise that does not need your voice added to it. Let God take care of it.


  • Hey Brad, thanks for your comment. I think for the most part listening to what people are saying about you online has the same pros and cons as listening to what people are saying about you in the offline world.

    We all have misconceptions about ourselves and feedback from other people – positive and negative – can help us see our blind spots. On the other hand, sometimes people say things about us that are untrue or unfair, and we have to ignore that and press on.

  • […] In this week's edition of Trailer Hitch we. Box … Mail (will not be published) (required) …Trust Agents 1a Who Do You Trust? Christian Web Trends …Chris Brogan and Julien Smith kick off their book Trust Agents by telling the stories of how FBI […]

Leave a Comment

What is 6 + 10 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)