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I Have This Trust Agent, Now What Do I Do?

Posted on : 27-08-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media



During my travels over the past few weeks I have had many discussions with people on many intriguing topics.  Many will become blog posts in the coming weeks.  One of the topics of conversation with Brian Solis can be summed up on his blog post “Who Owns Social Media.”  I fully agree with his post, with the exception of one word: influencers.  This is because I believe in this new world order, ALL Customers have the ability to be influencers.  Of course that will have to be a post for another day.  It is always fun to see friends and continue hotly debatable conversations.  One topic that kept recurring resulted from my last blog post “Are Companies Ready for Trust Agents.”  The discussion referenced Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s New York Times best seller “Trust Agents.”  Speaking of trust agents, I want to wish Jeremiah Owyang and Deb Schultz well with their new positions with Charlene Li at Altimeter Group.  I am sure he will see continued success.

I did not intend to continue the trust agent conversation from the prior post, but it seems to have warranted more attention.  I will take a stab at it in another post.  As discussed in that post, trust agents will happen whether supported by the company or not.  The fact is employees are already out there.  Some of the recent discussions were about branding of individuals verses the corporate brand.  I have a firm belief that social media is about individuals and relationships; it is hard to have a relationship with a logo.  Part of this belief stems from my Customer Service background.  I am not aware of any company that does not attempt to personalize a call with the name of the agent.  Even emails from companies are usually signed by someone.  Why should social media be any different?

The larger conversations investigate what a company can do when the groundswell is attracted to a trust agent representing the brand.  What do they do to prevent them from leaving, or losing equity if they do leave?  I am going to attempt to provide some thoughts to assist companies that may find themselves in this position.   The best approach starts by encouraging all of your employees to be a part of social media.  Many are probably out there already.  Hopefully you are building multiple trust agents associated with your brand.  If one decides to leave, you will have many others still out there helping your Customers and further strengthening the brand.  This has been my approach.  For those that pay attention you will notice that I am not on Twitter as much as I was when we first started these efforts.  This is to allow my employees to earn the trust of many people out there.  This is their opportunity to become trust agents.

There are other ways companies may want to consider protecting their interest with these trust agents.  Nothing fancy, but simply using reward and recognition tools and tactics that have been available to businesses for years.  First it all starts with respect and fairness.  Understand your employees and what drives them.  Some are driven for the “fame” and they will be thrilled that they are being recognized.  Others may be motivated by the job itself, and helping Customers.  Some may like to take on additional responsibility.  Reward them with that, they will continue to be happy with the organization.  There will be some that will be driven more financially.  This is a little bit harder, especially in tough economic conditions.  The trouble is everyone feels they are worth well more to the organization then maybe what is reality.  Here you have to be a little more careful in your assessment.  What is the value to your competitor to have someone like this person on their staff?  Is there a market for this individual?  What is the lost value if the person leaves the organization?  Is there a way that you can develop a contract with this person to ensure they stay?  This could also be a way to limit where the trust agent may go, if they do decide to leave.  Vested stock options are another way a company can strive to maintain a relationship with a trust agent for years to come.  These questions have to be thought through, but this is true of anyone that is a asset to a company, no matter the position.  As you can see this is nothing new, companies are always striving to retain top performers.  The only difference here the deciding factor is more due to the groundswell then internal assessment.  Social media does cause companies to lose a little control to the groundswell, but the right tactics will ensure continued success for most organizations.

What would you do to retain a trust agent?