We trust people who seem more like us than not. It's human nature. How do you make this true on the Web?
Being "on the inside" is something we understand in person. Go to any mid-sized corporate holiday function, and you'll see the business development folks all clustered around each other, the engineers in the corner all awkwardly tugging at their collars or shifting in their rarely-worn heels, and the executives doing their best to mingle before HR comes over and shoves them into the fray.
But how does this translate on the Web? What does it mean to build relationships and become part of a group when you do some of the work online? And how do you even begin to do it.
Be Everywhere and Create/Maintain Emotional Bonds
One way that you can start to build trust is by repetitive contact. Comment often on the blogs that matter to the group you're hoping to join. Follow the people in this group on Twitter (and if you're not sure who they are, use search.twitter.com and figure out what topics identify them; take that information, and follow some of their friends so you can build a sense of who's who). Attend the group's events and face-to-face opportunities and make your introductions. Being connected on many levels helps you build relationships of value in that group.
Find the Agent Zero
We call those people who are hyperconnected in a collection of people the "agent zero" of that group, as in the primary hub of people connections. If you seek to become part of a group, for instance the lawyer crowd in San Diego, you'll need to find the person who is typically the networking connector of that group of folks, and get to know him or her.
Seek Frictionless Distribution
Once you're inside a group, it's easier to send information around internally (provided you're not perceived as spam). Use this opportunity to spread helpful information first, make that a habit, and then you'll find that your interests and messages will be distributed much more openly and quickly inside the group. Tread gently. Again, spam is in the eyes of the recipient.
Insider Language Is Huge
Are you a runner? If I say 26.2, you know what I mean. If you're into smart phones and I say, "the 3G stinks; get on wifi," you know what I mean. Learn the group's language. Talk in their tongues. Julien Smith (my co-author) told me a story about how "all knowledge is vocabulary" and how by learning the meaning of words in their context, we can find our way deeper into business relationships.
These are four ideas to start with, when it comes to thinking about how to become "one of us" on the Web. There's more to it, of course. You'll need a decent profile for a few different social sites with pictures of you (and not your logo). You'll need to actually have useful things to say and not just talk about your dumb company or product or brand (or other things people don't really want to hear about at first). But this is a start.
Have you any more to share on the topic? I'd love to hear your take.
Read more of Chris Brogan's Trust Agents Blog
Chris Brogan is co-author of the book Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. He is president of New Marketing Labs, LLC, and lives north of Boston, Massachusetts.