With Great Power

Bacon from Roger Smith Hotel and Chololate from 5th Avenue Chocolatiere Another point came from a conversation with Pat Phelan the other day. We talked about the notion of trust agents and what it would mean if I let my post about Timberland stand in the very negative way I had portrayed it. He brought up the fact that my blog would be indexed by Google with a negative title, and that it would impact search results for Timberland.

I want to address the many ideas his conversation with me brought about. Mostly, I wanted to share how the decisions we make as bloggers impact other people’s sites, and what it says about trust.

How Google Sees Trust (some of it)

Not all blogs are ranked equally in Google, but most of them are indexed and counted (unless you’re a spammer). Google counts links to other sites as proof that something on the other site is of value. They rate links based on the value of the site that posted the link, and ascribe some level of the originator’s page rank in Google to the target site. So, if chrisbrogan.com is Page Rank 6, and Jon Swanson’s blog is Page Rank 5, Google gives a little of my juice to Jon’s site.

So, just by linking to a site (or NOT linking to a site), I’m telling Google something mechanically about whether or not I trust a site.

(SEO folks will pipe in and tell us that there are 14.7 other things I missed. But you get what I just put out, right?)

Link Text And What That Means

By the way, HOW you link to something matters. If you link to www.chrisbrogan.com by calling it Chris’s blog, then you’re telling Google that people searching for “Chris’s blog” might want chrisbrogan.com. If you link to www.chrisbrogan.com by calling it social media resources or social media strategy or whatever (frankly, I’ve never known what to bother ranking for in search results), then you are telling Google that people searching for social media whatever might want to find my blog.

So in choosing the words for the link text, you’re also making decisions. How does that change the way you’re blogging right now?

What Your Blog Says About Trust

In a Nielsen survey, it was pointed out that 70% of people surveyed believed opinions they read about something online. It was the second highest level of trust people gave (trusting their known friends came first). So, just by writing something down online, 3/4 of the population will believe what is written. If you’re evil, this is awesome. If you’re a good person, this requires a little bit of thought.

When I write that I am frustrated with a brand, I write it as a person, as a consumer, as a user. Pat said that he considered me his trust agent and that if I’m slamming something, he’s taking that more to heart than others. This stopped me.

First, the concept of trust agent, as Julien and I wrote it, is more about the idea of someone representing a brand or a position officially, like Frank Eliason does for Comcast. We talk about how individuals can earn trust and build reputation, but it never occurred to me that people might see others (me) as a trust agent in most things. I mean, it makes sense, but then I fall into the basketball player role model problem. Know what I mean? You always hear the famous athlete saying (at his hearing), “I want kids to appreciate what I do on the court, but not to follow every damned thing I do,” or similar (I’m not making that up; you’ve seen that, right?).

So, I fall on the classic Spider-Man line, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Communities Demand More

A few people were upset with me in the comments of the Timberland post for voicing my opinion. I took offense at first, feeling that it’s my right to complain on my blog, and that I’m a frustrated consumer. Some part of me, however, is seeing their side, too. They come to me to get useful analysis. There’s some use in reading a rant of mine, but there wasn’t a lot of balance or analysis. Some friends might jump on this post and comment that I’m not obligated to do such, but I believe I am.

At the time of this writing, my blog is officially the #1 marketing and advertising blog as ranked by AdAge. (I rarely talk about that fact. It’s over in the sidebar badge there, but it’s not something that seems relevant to point out.) As such, people are looking to me for ideas on marketing and advertising. In the case of my Timberland post, I complained that the ad created demand that the retail operation couldn’t supply. It’s an advertising problem, or maybe a customer service problem, but it’s how I handled it that was called onto the carpet.

Translation

Interesting to consider for yourself, eh? Who’s looking up to your words on YOUR blog? Who is treating you as the authority? How are your efforts relating to trust? Is your blog a trustworthy source of information, ideas, and actionable items?

What about the blogs you read that you value the most? Do you consider TechCrunch to be trustworthy? Why or why not? What about Jeff Jarvis’s Buzzmachine? The blogs you value, do you also find them trustworthy representatives?

And how responsible do you feel for what you post on your blog?

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  • http://jenfongspeaks.com Jennifer Fong

    You know, it's authenticity like this that makes you as good as you are. Thanks for such a thoughtful post. It's an important message that anyone who has built influence through the social web needs to keep in mind constantly. Thank you!

  • twayneking

    Good point. Too many journalists don't think about the consequences of what they write so long as they get those hits. I've seen guys who criticize “greedy capitalists” for doing whatever it takes to make money and then turning around and pulling every kind of underhanded SEO trick to drive traffic to their site (and generate those ad “hits”) with a total disregard for the consequences.

    So now, who's the greedy capitalist?

    Note, I meant it seriously when I called bloggers journalists. Just because you own the media outlet, doesn't make you any less a journalist if you are writing what purports to be news or editorial opinion.. In fact, it makes you a publisher as well and thus even more responsible for what you spew out into cyperspace. Wouldn't it be fun if lawyers started applying libel laws to what some of us small bloggers put out there.

    Thank you for demonstrating that there is an ethical element in the blogosphere. That's why this site is bookmarked on my browser.

  • avilbeckford

    Chris,

    Sometimes I wonder if I am in this world. I read your post about Timberland and I didn't think any less of you. I just thought about a company not delivering on its promise and you being upset about it. I didn't even think about it after that.

    Whitney Hoffman took your post and ran with it and dealt with it in a different way. She wasn't involved in the situation and could come to it with a fresh perspective. I understand what people are saying about responsibility, because you are now a very public figure.

    Here is my take, we are all human, and there are times when we will screw up. It's not good to put people on pedestals, and sometimes people's expectations of those in the spotlight are unrealistic. Remember, first and foremost that we are all human and will make mistakes, some worst than others. Benjamin Franklin strove for perfection and found that perfection doesn't exist, but on his road to perfection he achieved excellence.

    Let's try to put things into perspective and be easier on ourselves, which will allow us to be easier on others.

    Avil Beckford http://www.twitter.com/avilbeckford

  • http://www.eringolding.com/ Erin Golding

    Very humbling. What's posted on the web stays on the web. This is a great post for responsible blogging that will surely help me in the future. Thanks, Chris!

  • http://www.brandtailers.com Cheril Hendry

    Wow, great discussion. Most of us don't have the opportunity/challenge of a voice as loud as Chris', but we still have the platform to influence others in our sphere. Where do you draw the line between sharing your truth and zipping your mouth? Will the time come when freedom of blog speech gets challenged with a major defamation lawsuit? Seems it might come down to responsibility. Time will tell, but a few of you out there should get into your Spiderman outfit.

  • bensmithee

    Thanks Chris, likewise!!

    Just posted a short follow-up today.

    It's funny how Trust can be led from both sides of your mouth. In one post, people may have viewed diminished trust due to a negative “rant”, but then others react to your post today with a lack of trust in future sincerity.

    Realizing we can never please everyone, yet every voice counts in this environment, how do YOU personally approach these types of situations?

    Thanks for taking the time to reply Chris!

  • http://twitter.com/pnstlion Gabe Young

    I think people are sometimes too trusting when it comes to reading what's online.

    Although most folks have no reason to give a dishonest opinion, they do have some level of bias. And that's not even including those who post lies with bad intentions!

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  • wendylecot

    First time commenting here, but I am so turned off now because you may be guarding your comments in a more significant way from this point forward because of the Timberland backlash. Not sure how authentic things are going to be from this point forward and that was an important element for me in trusting the blog. Building a relationship involves frank speaking even when the “friendly brand” doesn't want to hear it as it provides feedback to improve. Chris, I appreciated your breather comment during the holiday solstice – stay your course and make brands responsible as that is service to the greater good.

  • http://www.ManishaThakor.com ManishaThakor

    Think we're in a brave new world – and that you, Chris Brogan, are doing an amazing job of being authentic, transparent, and full of integrity. I'm not sure what the right answer is terms of how much is ok to say about personal experiences like the one you had with Timberland when one has a platform as strong as yours. However I do know that the sensitive and introspection with which you are working through this experience is very impressive. Kudos to you for being the kind of person who makes other people want to be better people!

  • cogdog

    Gee it must be such a burden carrying all that responsibility, being #1blogger and all that stuff, I really don't know how you can manage such a weight.

    FWIW it was Charles Barkley who's bad ass attitude was “I am not a role model” – it was not a court hearing but a Nike commercial http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMzdAZ3TjCA

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  • inderpalwig

    Hey Chris,

    I appreciate and understand that being “Trust Agents” / bloggers that readers refer to and rely upon for information, there is a responsibility factor that should be kept in mind, however, I think the readers also have a responsibility to question, research, analyze, (test) and make their own conclusions. We all have our own unique perceptions and come to our own conclusions. As a reader, I have placed a certain percentage of my trust in your blogs, but I also recognize that I would be following you blindly if I didn't trust my own questioning, research and understanding of things. I'm sure you're a leader that wants to create other leaders, and not followers, and wouldn't want people to be following you blindly.

  • Barbara Maldonado

    Chris,

    Thank you for your post, I have enjoyed reading your work and books immensely. I actually wrote something very similar on the blog I just launched – titled The Power of an Audience.

    The question that I pose – do we need to speak every single thought, positive or negative, that comes into our minds because we know there is a worldwide audience thanks to new media and social networking tools?

    Most importantly, with all of these tools at our disposal – What is the appropriate response when we feel strongly enough to speak up?

    I remind myself every day that the moment I am in the company of someone else or posting my thoughts/opinions online – I have placed a message, impression, a thought in the minds and hearts of my audience. Those words can empower just as quickly as they can undermine. Whether it is the strategy that works for everyone or it is something that is appropriate for the personal brand I am building for myself, I have found that the more accessible I become online, I am compelled to censor my thoughts and think carefully in the off-chance that particular post becomes the first and only impression that reader has of me.

    I look forward to reading your posts and learning from your example and insights.

    Continued success,

    Barbara
    @bmaldonado

  • http://www.beginnerblogger.com/ Sarge

    Chris – I didn't see your original writing of the Timberland (why do I always keep thinking of Justin Timberlake when I hear 'Timberland'… anyway) but I'm assuming you used the anchor text in a bad way to link to something to do with Timberland or something like this.

    I think you've got every right to have a vent and you leave a good message to other businesses out there – if you're advertising a product on TV you would expect it to be in stores unless it clearly said 'online only'.

    Here in Australia, our local video store had a tag line 'get it first time or get it free' meaning that if the video they had advertised wasn't in store when you visited then you would be able to rent it out for free the next time it's in store.

    This hopefully avoids the problem of having an unhappy customer as they're getting a free product in the end.

    I think it's ridiculous that all stores and affiliate stores (not online) didn't have the Timberland (almost said timberlake there) in stock, actually not even in store yet when it appears it was such a highly advertised product. What a waste?

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  • Anna Olson

    It was refreshing to read this, yet sad that I am so surprised and impressed to hear that someone puts thought into what they put out there and understands the impact of their actions and opinions on others. This is a great example of personal responsibility in action. You certainly practice what you preach and are taking your responsibility as a leader very seriously.

    I think this concept should translate offline as well. We need to be more conscientious of our impact on others by being deliberate and responsible in our words and actions because all of us are leading someone: at work, at home, in our communities. I think we need to be authentic and honest in our communication with others, including how we handle our mistakes (we all make them), but especially when in a position of power. Thanks for caring enough to post this, Chris.

  • http://www.olindaservices.com/osblog Lisa Olinda

    I do agree that you need to be careful about hurting someone else's brand by what you say but I also believe that brands need to be careful in the expectations they build up and do not fulfill. It is a fine balancing act providing information for consumers and holding brands accountable.

  • http://www.bruceflinn.com/blog/ Bruce A Flinn

    After reading the Timberland post my immediate takeaway was that they failed – period. Whether or not Chris somehow let me down or swayed me to dislike Timberland because of his juice in the bloggers world never crossed my mind.

    It was a perfect case study in what not to do when putting together an ad campaign. Just because the ad was not through the social media channels doesn't mean we can't learn from their mistakes.

    Chris saw the ad on TV – it worked by creating the desire to purchase from there it all fell apart because somewhere in the Timberland chain a link broke.

    The stores were not properly supplied with the boots and or even aware that that model existed. What procedure is in place to coordinate the supply with the
    campaign? Does this teach us something? YES. It does no good to advertise something we're not equipped to sell. This is marketing 101 be it new or old media.

    Case in point. We're all going to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving. Oops no one told Grandma and she's not home, no turkey, no pumpkin pie…get the picture?

    The store personnel dropped the ball by not following up with the S.O.P. that says “Can I get your name and number and call you back…”. Where is the staff training manual and why is this person on the floor or behind the counter? Does this teach us something? YES. Test, test, test and test some more until everyone knows the basics. At the very least if you don't know then the response is “let me get you someone that I know can help you”.

    We can learn more from posts like Chris's Timberland rant (I use that word loosely) because it takes us back to the basics of any enterprise. Do your due diligence when planning any kind of campaign. Be prepared and make sure all of your sub-channels are prepared to deal with the response. Plan, test, review, adjust, test, and continue that loop until you're ready to launch.

    The lesson in the Timberland post is not what influence Chris has and that he should temper his posts because of it. No I say rather it is because of his influence that this type of post be put out there for his reach is great and we need constant reminders of the basic marketing principles that govern the B2C marketplace and what good customer service is.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with you HAHA ” that loop until you’re ready to launch.”

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  • christinagammon

    Thanks for the article. This has given me even more to think about as I work on my three blogs and website. I can't wait to start trying the information about anchor text links. thanks Chris!

  • christinagammon

    Thanks for the article. This has given me even more to think about as I work on my three blogs and website. I can't wait to start trying the information about anchor text links. thanks Chris!

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    First time commenting here, but I am so turned off now because you may be guarding your comments in a more significant way from this point forward because of the Timberland backlash. Not sure how authentic things are going to be from this point forward and that was an important element for me in trusting the blog. Building a relationship involves frank speaking even when the “friendly brand” doesn't want to hear it as it provides feedback to improve. Chris, I appreciated your breather comment during the holiday solstice – stay your course and make brands responsible as that is service to the greater good.

    • Anonymous

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