THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Who is Chris Brogan, and why is he so connected?

From Amesbury to the ends of the Web, he advises and evangelizes on using social media

In Amesbury, Chris Brogan is packed and ready to hit the road for another business flight. In Amesbury, Chris Brogan is packed and ready to hit the road for another business flight. (Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe)
By Joseph P. Kahn
Globe Staff / April 12, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

AMESBURY — Before this day is through, Chris Brogan will have given two media interviews and done one podcast; consulted with a pair of authors about their forthcoming books; courted a large insurance company as a potential client; put together pitches for a new Web business he is launching; written 2,000 words for one of two books he is contracted to deliver; and composed at least one new blog post for chrisbrogan.com, his main website.

All this on top of whatever tweeting, texting, Facebooking, and other social media trafficking Brogan, 41, will have conducted by day’s end.

“The excitement for me about [social media] is, it’s gone from ‘Gee whiz!’ to ‘Now what?’ ’’ says the author, speaker, consultant, and Web entrepreneur. Brogan’s online following is substantial, with over 176,000 Twitter followers, and his resume includes a New York Times bestseller (“Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust,’’ published in 2009) and No. 2 ranking on Advertising Age’s Power 150 list of marketing blogs.

How lofty is Brogan’s profile? In some high-powered circles, extraordinarily so.

In some ways, though, Brogan is as anonymous as his office hideaway in downtown Amesbury. He works in blue jeans and keeps his beard scruffy-looking. His assistant is not always on hand to field calls. His workspace, a homespun combination of marketing tools and comic-book kitsch, has management books sharing space with assorted Batman totems. On one shelf is a Chris Brogan action figure, a limited-edition model casting him as a combination alligator wrestler and helicopter pilot.

If his work is serious, and his track record proves that it is, the image Brogan projects is not entirely so.

“There’s hardly a person on this street who knows what I’m into,’’ he acknowledges. After he surfaced on a list of Boston’s top Klout scorers (a measure of one’s influence in the online world), Brogan was more amused than awed.

“I was right behind Shaquille O’Neal, but I’m guessing Shaq gets a better seat when he walks into a restaurant,’’ Brogan says, flashing a self-deprecating grin. “No one knows who I am.’’

Spreading the new word Some people are quite familiar with Brogan. During a one-hour interview, Brogan touches upon working relationships with top executives at Ford, General Motors, Jet Blue, and PepsiCo. Texas Governor Rick Perry sought his advice on using social media to better connect with constituents, Brogan says.

His reputation as a social media guru (“I hate the word ‘expert,’ ’’ he says) keeps growing, largely for helping companies use tools such as Facebook and Twitter to personalize customer relationships and expand their brands. Brogan commands big bucks for that know-how, especially from Fortune 500 companies soliciting his advice.

His daily consulting fee runs as high as $22,000, and his speaking engagements — hundreds over the past four years — have reached the point where he would prefer to cap, not grow, them.

So who is he? A native of Augusta, Maine, Brogan grew up in a family where cutting-edge technology made an early impression. His father, a computer programmer, in 1984 acquired an early model Apple Macintosh. But it was Brogan’s mother, a telephone company employee, who modeled the interpersonal skills Brogan credits with much of his success.

In “Trust Agents,’’ co-written with Julien Smith, a Montreal-based Web consultant and blogger, Brogan distills his approach to personalizing business relationships through social media. The term “trust agent,’’ the authors write, refers to company insiders who are not only fluent in the language of technology, but also adept at using social media to build credibility with the online community, where a hard-sell, product-oriented approach is often counterproductive. One example they cite is former Microsoft “spokesblogger’’ Robert Scoble, who blogged with unusual candor about Microsoft itself, as well as corporate rivals such as Apple and Google.

Trust agents “are the power users of the new tools of the Web, educated more by way of their own experiences and experiments than from the core of their professional experiences,’’ write Brogan and Smith. As a result, these individuals “spread their influence faster, wider, and deeper than a typical company’s PR or marketing department might be capable of achieving, and with more genuine interest in people, too.’’

Important people skills A decade ago, it seemed unlikely that Brogan would publish anything, much less a best-selling marketing book. A college dropout (he attended several) and frustrated fiction writer, he was working as a project manager for a telecom company, a self-described nerd who had gotten into blogging and podcasting early on.

Brogan’s familiarity with these platforms would pay dividends later on, as companies began seizing on viral marketing to reach new customers.

In 2006, Brogan quit his job and joined Web entrepreneur Jeff Pulver in an online video venture. Based in New York, Pulver is widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of Internet voice and video communication. He says Brogan’s influence, the reason so many follow his posts and seek out his advice, rests as much on his interpersonal skills as on his knowledge of social media.

“The way [Brogan] uses blogs to express his ideas, and encourage others to realize their own, makes him a role model,’’ says Pulver. “Not just a personality but a platform, a launching pad for others.’’

Human Business Works, an online company selling advice and educational tools to small businesses and nonprofits, and PodCamp, a new-media conference series, are two of many companies Brogan has either founded or nurtured.

“Trust Agents’’ earned Brogan wider attention for what he calls his social media “evangelism.’’ The book went through six hardcover printings and made The New York Times’s and Wall Street Journal’s bestseller lists, though not all reviewers embraced it. Some complained that it recycled too many real-world examples used in other books about social media and the business world, or passed off common-sense cliches as newly-minted insight.

One reviewer, Christopher Penn, an e-mail marketing expert who runs the website Awaken Your Superhero, wrote that parts of the book read “like they were written for 6-year-olds.’’ He also contended that managers already savvy about social media would find little if anything new in the book.

Werner Kunz, professor of marketing at the University of Massachusetts Boston, says he is skeptical of any how-to author who bills himself as a marketing guru (see Brogan’s demurrer). That being said, “the business-book business is a business unto itself,’’ says Kunz. “You need to be entertaining and understandable, and from what I’ve read of [Brogan’s], he is.’’ Brogan is also right to emphasize building relationships, adds Kunz, “But this is not something new. It existed pre-Internet. What he understands maybe faster than others is how to leverage this technology’’ into measurable results.

Brogan shrugs off criticism, to some degree even agreeing with it.

“You can sell common sense over and over again, because no one does it,’’ Brogan says. “When I give a speech, I promise people that at some point they’ll think to themselves, ‘I can’t believe he’s telling us to do this. It’s so obvious.’ Then I’ll say, ‘But you’re not doing this. If I go look up your Twitter account, I promise you, you will not be doing what seems so obvious.’ ’’

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.

TWITTER FOLLOWERS: 176,890
FACEBOOK FRIENDS: 3,970
LINKEDIN CONNECTIONS: 13,593
TIMES RETWEETED: 25,000
UNIQUE @ MENTIONS: 5,000
KLOUT SCORE: 81
AVERAGE TWEETS PER DAY: 17
AVERAGE TEXTS PER DAY: 30
AVERAGE FACEBOOK POSTS PER DAY: 6