In Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust, co-authors Chris Brogan and Julien Smith describe trust agents as “people who humanize the Web” (p. 20). They go on to organize their book around six overarching but interrelated behaviors that describe what a trust agent is (p. 28).
Making Her Own Game
In the opening chapter on “Trust, Social Capital, and Media,” Brogan and Smith mention Oprah Winfrey, as amply demonstrating the first characteristic of a trust agent—that is, being able to “make your own game.”
In popular entertainment, Oprah Winfrey went from being the local TV weather reporter to a multimillion-dollar media enterprise. Though she used traditional media tools to accomplish this, when you look back on the circumstances of Winfrey’s rise, you’ll recognize all the various points in her career where she made her own game (against some fairly daunting odds). Put another way, making your own game is about standing out (p. 29).
Applying the Archimedes Effect as Gatekeeper
Later in the book, Brogan and Smith describe how Oprah uses the Archimedes Effect—a trust agent principle about leveraging opportunities—by being a gatekeeper for her audience.
Here is a rule of thumb that works really well when it comes to leveraging your relationship with your audience: Don’t ever sell to your audience. Instead, be their gatekeeper.
Think of Oprah Winfrey. She gives and gives, constantly, and leverages that goodwill into bigger and bigger guests and giveaways. But does she ever try to sell to her audience directly? No, Winfrey leverages her audience to provide visibility: to stars, to movies, to car companies. She protects her audience from the bad stuff, and lets the good stuff pass through, making her audience even happier as a result (p. 128).
Being One of Us
For me, even more than making her own game and effectively harnessing the Archimedes Effect, Winfrey epitomizes the trust agent principle, described by Brogan and Smith as being “One of Us.” Being “One of Us,” the co-authors explain, is “about belonging” (p. 29). In David Carr’s NY Times article on Winfrey’s success, A Triumph of Avoiding the Traps, Arianna Huffington observes how Winfrey has always been One of Us:
She was transparent and authentic before those things were cool,” said Arianna Huffington. “When she went through her battles with weight, with her battles to come to grips with her past, we went through those things with her. Now with social media and the Internet, those things are the coin of the realm, but she got there before the rest of us did.
Nice (and Smart) Folks Sometimes Finish First
In my previous review of Trust Agents, I ended with a bit of rhetoric, asking myself as much as the reader, whether it’s possible for nice guys (and gals) to finish first in business. If they are fortunate enough to succeed, I wondered in that post’s conclusion, how often do they remain true to the qualities which brought them so far?
In Winfrey’s case, I find an example that shows it is possible. Here, another quote from David Carr’s NY Times article demonstrates how Winfrey stayed true to herself, and how that genuineness is largely responsible for her business success:
Yes, she followed her heart and taught us we were all pretty on the inside, but Ms. Winfrey also ignored conventional wisdom. As a novice actress, she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “The Color Purple,” but turned down role after role because she knew her talk show was the thing that would butter her bread. When she does get involved in movies — she is very much behind “Precious,” a recent release — it is a matter of personal conviction combined with commercial calculation.
Oprah, not Winfrey
And if you want really visceral proof of just how much Winfrey is One of Us, check out this ***amazing*** video of The Black Eyed Peas performance of “I Gotta Feeling,” with Oprah on stage in Chicago, kicking off her 24th season. I mean—just look at Oprah’s face—the pure emotion, openness to both her own and others’ experience, and connectedness to her audience. It’s so real, and it’s so, so cool.
Postcript: I called her Winfrey throughout the more book reportish part of this post. —But when I was looking up quotes that I remembered from the Trust Agent book, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t finding Oprah’s name in the index. Only then did it occur to me that she has a last name. But she’s always been just Oprah to me—because she’s One of Us.
Photo Credit, Vectorlyme