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Is Social Media Making Us More Tribal?

In recent months I have noticed that I have been invited with increasing frequency to  join different tribes from the UK to the USA and Australia. I haven’t had to attend initiation ceremonies, shave my head or tatoo my torso. Is Social Media Making Us Tribal?

These tribes are not local or indigenous but global and the shared theme is not indigenous but of common interests, shared goals, aspirations and passions that span countries and continents.

If you lived in the village and enjoyed ‘Dragon boat racing’ but no one else shared your calling, you had to grab a pony and start your quest to find other dragon boat racers that shared your passion.

Paddling a boat on your own is much slower than a group of rowers and also not as much fun, so finding a tribe to paddle with is much more fun and you achieve so much more.

On Twitter, people that share your passion will retweet your content and pass your message along that engages the power of the tribe. People also create lists on Twitter that are a snapshot of the different tribes that they are monitoring, sharing and engaging with.  We don’t belong to just one tribe but many.

The effectiveness of your marketing is dependent on your ability to engage and empower tribes of individuals connected by a common interest. This is not an easy thing and the challenge is how to facilitate that as the global social networks and platforms continue to evolve. The emerging global social networks are connecting and empowering us in many ways that we have never experienced before and we are grappling with how best to share and cooperate.

A presentation by Mike Arauz ‘Design for Networks” hints at some frameworks and foundational elements for engaging and empowering tribes for the individual and common good.

His takeaways

1. Most experiences now take place in the context of a network of connected people

2. Understand the values, behaviours and shared vision of the people you want to connect with

3. Look for ways to share, cooperate and organize collective action

This emerging tribal and social activity is changing behaviour and facilitating tribal activity that is changing the way we work, market and mix with our fellow human beings.

The challenge is finding ways that work for the group and the individual.

So how are you engaging wth your tribes?

Jeffbullas's Blog


  • Great article. I think the concept of tribes has always been embedded in us since our ancestors started coming together to form communities. We have this innate ability to follow and join others with similar interests. Using social media has allowed our tribes to expand from local to global and & makes it easier to move from one tribe to the next & still interact with both.

  • Personally, I find tribes helpful, especially since I have so many interests that are very different. People are social creatures and tend to assimilate with groups that have similar interests. I think we are just simply evolving and as we do so are using the SM tools to continue to advance. However, your article does do a great job of reminding us of this. Thanks for the post!

  • Jeff,
    This is 100% the way forward, especially for someone like me-an independent artist. It”s not a new concept, but one that can be easily maintained and built via social networks-Facebook, twitter, etc.
    Other forms have always existed. Drums beating, smoke signals, telephone………now we have a better way to quickly get the tribe moving.
    I love it.

  • Cathyby

    Simply joining a tribe doesn’t mean you’ll agree on everything. I’ve found that once the conversation moves outside the area of common interest, I disagree on other matters (politics especially). I find that more on twitter than irl where people share similar backgrounds, incomes and personal circumstances. And where people discuss intelligently I’m glad of it,

  • I liked the article, but have a question for Mr. Arauz and you and your readers, which is “Why are cooperation, organization and collective action treated as new methods of achieving results (including creating/interacting with new tribes?).” There’s nothing new to any of these interactions…the only “new” component is the current social networking apparatus (fb, twitter, etc.) and even these aren’t really new…and those are only variations on communications (primarily involving the internet) which we’ve been experimenting with now for more than a generation.

    Not, I guess, that it matters, but I wonder if people think, when they answer your question “How are you engaging with your tribe?” that they are engaging in much the same way they always have? Or does the addition of facebook and twitter make them feel that their interaction has changed appreciably?

    I like the possibilities and some of the conveniences offered by the new social media and attendant opportunities for social networking, but I worry about what we’re giving up for those advantages. I will worry even more if people unthinkingly give credit to social media for the achievements that would have resulted from their interaction without said media. It’s not fb or twitter that makes a tribe. It’s you. Me. Each of us.

  • BTW, it was nice to meet you.

  • Thanks for this article! Besides throughly enjoying it personally, I felt it complemented a recent presentation I have completed for postgrade research on alternative economics theory at the University of Auckland. I feel there is some real key insights we could all learn, but particularly from a organisational behaviour and leadership perspective from the indigenous communities value and market structures. Being in New Zealand, the research I was focusing for this was the early colonial interactions and power structures in the Maori culture in the context of entrepreneurial behaviour and Entrepreneurship in a young New Zealand culture (my presentation notes for reference- just in case anyone is interested.. can be found http://url.assistnz.com/indigenous)
    Being that I consult with Kiwi organisations primairily in the areas of Social Media Planning & Policy, I have first hand seen some of the biggest impacts of social media & Facebook in particular (which is the popular medium by far in our part of the world) appear to be corresponding with those tribal social structures. I would be interested in knowing if others would also percieve some potentially valuable in overlap the considerations of indigenous value structures and social media in current economies. Particularly in terms of how business structures and processes could be designed more appropriately considering these two insights?

  • Interesting article… Tribes are synonymous with “belonging” and the ability to share common interests, beliefs, and rituals. So too is knowledge (management) associated with storytelling, another common tradition shared by tribes, or net…works. Interestingly enough, tattoos are also similarly associated with tribes… Now, our tribes are digitally enabled and the tattoos? Twitter, Facebook, etc.

    My former tribe? U.S.M.C.

  • DeRochier

    This post resonated with me. I think social media is making us more tribal. I have already met like-minded individuals on Twitter that I expect I’ll be in contact with for a very long time. It’s fascinating to me that traditional tribes were geographically/genetically based and new tribes are virtual and global.

  • Definitely! Seth Godin wrote a thought provoking topic on the idea of “Tribes”. Check it out!

  • Jeff,
    A very interesting post. I’ve become somewhat jaded with the notion of all things tribal in the context of the digital realm. Last year I was fortunate enough to read a trilogy of papers written by Allison Aldridge Saur. Allison is a member of the Chickasaw nation, and also happens to have a wealth of experience working within the digital realm. Her papers were published through the eConsultancy Digital Winner program. I became fascinated with the notion that Native American tribal practices could be applied in non Native settings, and that these foundational elements can provide a sound starting point to build upon. Allison has also done research within other communities, ranging from gaming, to airline loyalty programs. We were fortunate to have her on our radio show, here is a link.
    Here also is a link to the first in her series of three papers.

    Anyway, I do hope this perspective will add value to this important subject.
    Cheers, Jeff.

    • Thanks Marty for that insight on the native American take on tribal and I will pop over and check it out.