The world is flat: An evening with Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

I attended a Biznik event Tuesday night with Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, stalwart authors of a new best-selling book called ‘Trust Agents.‘ It was a fun evening for all. The two of them sat side-by-side in the excellent Columbia City Theatre venue, playing off each other’s comments in an unscripted, casual, conversational format. They sipped beers during the hour and fielded questions, while offering anecdotal commentary.

Audience members seemed as if they were at times bursting at the seams to take the floor and answer each other’s questions, but our fearless leaders maintained order with a set of equally encouraging voices.

At the end of the event, a woman next to me asked a friend beside me what he learned. He thoughtfully replied, “Well, I didn’t learn anything new to be honest, but I enjoyed the event.”

When Julien Smith asked me the same question, my answer was unfortunately the same. I’ve never been one to blow smoke up, so I answered honestly. He laughed and said, “Well, just tell us you did!” And that’s kind of the underlying message I got out of the evening. Don’t keep it real – Keep it happy!

Use your friends
Now, I’m looking forward to reading the book – I just got it, so these observations are based solely on the discussion event. Much of their advice is sound common sense, good manners type of stuff, all of it applied to social media. It’s the type of stuff your parents probably (hopefully) tried to instill at a young age.

Their perspective on how social media dialog should occur was interesting, but it’s largely at odds with how I approach life and business.

Their overwhelming message during the talk was that we should be using our friends as a way to gain influence and make a lot of money.

I tend to think of my friends as people with whom I can enjoy life, rely on for help and advice, and share the good times and occasionally the bad, and I hope I can do the same for them. I do not think of my friends as my next meal ticket, or as people I should ‘use’ for anything. If I did, I would expect them to drop me like a rock because good friends are not commodities to be squeezed for every last drop of social influence.

But that’s me. Chris Brogan and Julien Smith see it differently (and you might too. The times they are a changin’).

Never utter negativity
Their other big message was that we should always keep a completely positive dialog, never disagreeing online with anyone. I see that as dangerous.

Positive dialog is a good thing. Keeping positive in your marketing communications is always smart. That said, honesty, peppered with a healthy dose of tact, is always the best policy.

If everyone always agreed, no one would ever learn anything. We would all become, well, dumb. We wouldn’t have intelligent conversations. We might even still believe in our heart of hearts that the world is flat. There is a great benefit for everyone in disagreeing and sometimes risking being seen as having a negative viewpoint. It’s generally during point/counterpoint discussions that people learn the most. Without the counterpoints, there would rarely be discussions of importance that advanced the social dialog.

I agree with the idea of always keeping the dialog positive, however, sometimes in the course of reaching the most positive outcomes, it is necessary to examine and experience the negative parts. When we learn in these types of discussions, we tend to be pretty darn happy.

Go see Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
You have to like these guys. They’re personable, natural speakers, and they will make you laugh. In fact, that was one of their messages – If you can make people laugh, that’s often more important than having any useful skills to bring to the table, and will often win you the business. I can’t really argue with that. I’ve often been hired more for rapport than skills, but the fact that I bring mad skills, 25 years of experience, and an impressive portfolio to the table is what gets me in the door in the first place, probably about 98.76% of the time.

All in all, I found myself unable to relate to the primary concepts presented at the event, while I sat in a room full of people who largely nodded along agreeably. In some ways, the event was a disturbing experience, with messages reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984 and George Lucas’ THX 1138, yet with the thought-provoking nature of the event, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.

An attorney sitting in the back expressed the frustration I hear from so many people trying to get involved with social media. He’s a successful attorney who undoubtedly expresses himself quite well in court, but at this event he was utterly flummoxed. He enthusiastically described his frustration at not knowing how to utilize social media for an undefined greater purpose in life. Social media, it seems, ought to be something we can easily grasp, become an expert in, and use to become a superstar in other ways. And that’s what many people don’t get about social media. It’s not a pot of gold, unless you’re ready to jettison your moral code. But that’s another post. What happened at the event for this gentleman? Someone in the audience knew how to help him. People meeting face-to-face, making real, meaningful connections. That’s real power.

If you’re really lost in the social media game, our hosts suggested that you create fake profiles and experiment. Learn the ropes without damaging your reputation.

How should Andy Rooney change?
You may have heard of the well-respected television personality named Andy Rooney, a regular on CBS’ venerable news program, 60-Minutes. He is a journalist who made a name for himself by calling out individuals, companies and organizations who are doing things patently wrong, particularly in cases where their errors are not in the best interests of the greater population. Sometimes his musings are small things that just don’t seem to make any sense. People love the guy because he tells it like it is. He is authentic and real. I have always admired him. His viewpoints, which in today’s dialog are seen as negative in nature, bring about enormously positive change. It’s powerful stuff.

I asked Chris Brogan and Julien Smith how they would recommend that Andy Rooney change his dialog to be compatible with Twitter and Facebook (where anything that could be viewed as negativity is frowned upon at best). They couldn’t or wouldn’t answer the question – I’m unsure which. I asked twice. They deflected both times. I think perhaps the answer is that some people are not compatible with social media, much in the same vein as some people are incompatible with Tupperware or Amway. Some people can benefit from social media, while for others, it’s just not a fit.

No, really, go!
These guys wholeheartedly believe what they are preaching. If you go to their event, you may well walk away believing as well. It may help you get over some of your long-held beliefs about the nature of relationships, and that will make you more compatible with social media tools.

If Chris Brogan and Julien Smith visit your town, I highly recommend their event. It was thought-provoking, just as I imagine their book will be. You can’t ask for more than that, especially in today’s never say negative online dialog.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

Thank you! This is going to feel good.

2 comments Write a comment

  1. Kelly… It was great to see you again at the event.

    I’ve always thought it interesting when 5 people witness an accident in an intersection and the police report contains 5 completely different viewpoints of what they just observed

    Perspective is usually colored by their base of experience. Contrary to your commentary, I pretty much disagree with about all of your viewpoints.

    Isn’t it great that you and I can still be friends and have a completely different experience at the same event. I will be posting my feelings on my blog soon.

    Why is this important as Chris and Julien would ask? Ultimately our perception is our reality. I did learn something new and I liked it.

    BTW… I don’t think Andy Rooney should change a thing. And neither should you. Thanks for being “real”. …Howard

    • Great seeing you too, Howard.

      It is inevitable that people will see things differently. We all learn differently as well. That’s what makes communities work. My grandma used to tell me that if everyone was the same it would be an awfully boring world. While I didn’t learn anything new, the event did spark some thoughts, and those are among my favorite types of experiences. That’s why I so highly recommend seeing them.

      Yes, perception is reality – that is what I love about the branding and marketing work I do, particularly when I can convince clients to leave all the ‘spin’ on the sidelines and have a real dialog.

      Take care.

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