Wikipedia defines the term digital tribe as slang for an unofficial community of people who share a common interest, and usually are affiliated with each other through social media or other Internet mechanisms. The concept is closely related to social networking and dates back to at least 2003 when was launched.

Traditionally, each tribe has a campfire around which they gather. These campfires tend to enable the following tribal activities:

  • Cooperation
  • Communication
  • Cognition

As the social networked age evolves we find ourselves daily fending off a deluge of content – updates, notifications, alerts, etc. As a result, many people are reconsidering their digital habits and are beginning to edit themselves by unsubscribing, unfollowing, and unfriending marginal connections. And, as people become more interested in relevant content, rather than simply collecting contacts, we are witnessing a rising trend for a less riotous and more considered online experience. While our basic human need to relate to others in a meaningful way surely remains, as does our desire to learn and improve our station, how we go about this is rapidly changing.

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Matthew Bryan Beck, a NYC-based journalist and advertising strategist, wrote about the birth of ‘mobile-tribes’ and a move from the major social networks to mobile villages. The ubiquity of smartphones is the major driver of the creation of online ‘social-tribes’ where folks band together based on demographics and shared interests, choosing whom they wish to connect and share with.

Knowledge Tools

In response, the leading social networks are beginning to unbundle their mega platforms to allow people to create personal tribes and to deliver meaningful content to these groups. Mark Zuckerberg stated in an interview with Wired “…over a five-year period, people will start thinking about social networks not just as communication tools, but also knowledge tools.” The challenge facing Facebook is how to make existent knowledge easily discoverable and ultimately useful to tribe members.

Marketers need to find ways to address these digital tribes as they seek to strike up relationships that build brand loyalty. A recent KPMG study highlighted two areas that optimize engagement with digital tribes.

UX (User Experience)

Brands that present a positive user experience show respect to their users by reducing frustration. Positive word of mouth then spreads through related communities, compounding the positive effect.

Attractiveness of content

Coupling usability with attractive content creates an irresistible combination. Publishing content that transparently addresses a brand’s attributes may help influence customers when deciding to purchase their product or service.

Including digital tribes in the marketing landscape represents a move from the old interruptive style to an integrated approach to marketing communications, whose importance will only increase exponentially in the near future.

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A Tribal Uprising

Certainly social platforms will continue to evolve and new niche platforms and apps will emerge to offer content targeted to these rising digital tribes. These developments fly in the face of early predictions that the Internet would be a homogenizing force. Instead, the growth of digital tribalism will promote a decentralized and more personal user experience.

Obviously, tribes are not a novel concept – they date back to the original three Roman tribes and before that to the dim Paleolithic, but the Internet, and especially social media, is enabling us to become members of our own personal tribes–communities in which we actively participate but may never actually encounter a fellow tribesperson in the flesh.

While we consumers wait for technologists and entrepreneurs to facilitate this accelerating movement, the way we connect with others, consume content, and share our lives on social media will continue to foster the growth of Digital Tribalism, along with a whole host of unforeseen consequences for brands and society at large.

Image: Christian Battaglia