How to do Tribal Marketing in Social Media


In ages past we wore tribal masks and tattoos to express our belonging. We swore our allegiance to chieftains, and championed rival clans for turf. At nightfall we gathered around the fire to share stories about our feats, and we ushered our children into adulthood through rituals. Our tribe was our home, and it provided us with everything we needed to survive.

The new world of tribalism

So, what has changed? Many sociologists and anthropologists recognize that we now live in a new world of tribalism, but rather than belonging to one tribe we belong to many. The spaces we occupy are not necessarily physical, and we cross between them with ease. One moment we will be gossiping with our Game of Throne tribe under the #GOT hashtag on Twitter, and the next we will be re-pinning images with our slow food tribe on Pinterest. While our tribes are not confined by the web, they have definitely been made more accessible. We are no longer bound to our tribes by blood, but by passion.

Tribes gather around strong passions like biking, WordPress and Duck Dynasty. The stories we receive and pass along are filtered through our tribal lenses. Our tribes affect our preferences and consumption choices. They help us define who we are and make sense of the world. Our tribes have become more important to us than our age, sex, nationality and social class.

Tribes as target groups

Yet, a vast majority of companies and organizations still segment their target groups using these characteristics. While it may have been true that middle-aged women in New York shared much in common 50 years ago, it is very much less so today. One of the fundamentals of tribal marketing is to define target groups as a tribes. A major benefit to this is that a tribe shares much in common, such as values, language, spaces and leaders.

What tribal marketing truely is about

Contrary to popular belief tribal marketing is not about leading tribes, but serving them. It is often less about building your own tribe, than reaching out to existing ones. Many social media experts stress the opportunity and importance for brands to build relationships with customers in social media. However tribal marketing does this indirectly by focusing on strengthening the bond between people. Tribal marketing is customer-centric, because it’s less about you and more about helping your customers do what they want. Research shows that people visit social media to connect with family and friends. Your job is to figure out how you can amplify that social experience, rather than disrupt it. Tribal marketing is about partnering with tribes.

The following steps can be used to kick-off your tribal marketing in social media. This assumes that you have already defined your goals.

tribal-map-small1. What tribes can we reach?

Begin by identifying the tribes that you have the potential of connecting with. You should have the mentality of a hunter, and follow trails where they lead. Semantic links are your best friend as you discover conversations about your products, competitors, and category. You can use a tool like Tellagence Discover to explore neighboring topics and themes on Twitter. Another great place to discover tribes is on Pinterest and Instagram. Wherever you find people conversating, you will often find they share tribes.

You can also find potential tribes by thinking about the meaning customers associate with your brand, and the values that they can express. Your company history, and it’s culture can also provide clues.

Find out what the passions and interests of your customers are, as well as your employers. Discovering tribes is a creative process that requires a qualitative approach.

2. What is the identity of the tribe?

Who are their influencers? Where do they convene? What do they share, say and do? What language do they use? 

It is critical that you deeply understand the tribes that you want to connect with. You need to transcend your notions of individuals and think about the codes people share. To be successful you need to think less like a fisherman and more like a marine biologist. You can use netnography as your aid to accomplish this work. (This is a good time to hire a trained expert if you can afford it.)

Discover the leaders that influence the tribe through their creation and sharing. They can be bloggers, event coordinators, or curators like Maria Papova. Identifying influencers and building relationships with them is crucial for your tribal marketing.

Researchers at the University of Royal Holloway have shown that tribes on twitter have their own language. This is of course true for all tribal interaction wherever it occurs. Each tribe has their own jargon and symbols, and they can differ across social media platforms and apply to images and video as well. Understanding and leveraging the lingo of a tribe well make your communication more relevant and native.

Tribes convene in many different places. They are not confined to a particular forum, and they even connect offline. Figuring out where they meet, and what other places their members visit, is important for selecting appropriate channels for your tribal marketing. You should also create a tribal calendar, as many tribes have re-occuring events and happenings that you should know about.

You can understand the values and beliefs of the tribe by examining what members say, and what they do. The purpose of mapping tribal culture is to make your communication efforts as effective, relevant and native as possible. Your tribal map will guide the influencers you connect with, and what you say, how you say it, as well as where and when.

3. How can we reach this tribe to market our products and services?

Tribal marketing requires a different mindset than traditional marketing. It is more about serving than targeting, and helping people build relations with others that share the same passion. Your tribal map is going to guide everything you do as you interact with the tribe, so that you are as relevant and distinct as possible.

Besides offering your products and services you can contribute by providing virtual spaces where the tribe can gather, for example on your web site or facebook page. You can also provide tailored content such as articles, experts, infographics and use cases. Conferences, events and meetups are great ways of connecting with tribes.

You should build relations with tribal leaders and influencers. You can include them in your ambassador program, and give them exclusive experiences. Boost thier social capital by helping them do what the tribe values the most. Give them platforms, otherwise beyond their reach, to be seen and heard.

While there are many practical things you can do, your brand can also deliver symbolic perks. Your brand can become a bridge for newcomers to the tribe, as well as a social glue for members within. The meaning of your brand can be used by tribal members to express who they are and who they are it with. Understanding, discovering, and designing meaning for self consutrction and belonging should be an integral part of your brand platform. Meaning is the gift of anthroplogy to brand managers, in the same way associations are from psychology.

Tribal marketing is about delivering and managing practical benefits, as well as symbolic. As a tribal marketer you should always have the tribes best interest at heart. You should have the mindset of an enabler, rather than exploiter, and constantly be on the lookout for ways to deliver stories and experiences that the tribe values.

The social media landscape is tribal. Is your company doing social media-, content- or influencer marketing? Then chances are at large that you should consider tribalizing those efforts. Companies and non-profits that want to navigate the tribal landscape should define their target groups as tribes, understand their culture, and come up with creative ways of serving them.

(Examples of tribal inititatives at the end of the haiku deck)


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