Social media in all its forms (blogs, status updates, forums, file sharing…) is essentially media that is designed to disseminate information through social interaction. It has evolved through the basic human need for nurturing relationships and reflects a cultural shift, enabled by advances in web and mobile technology, that is arguably as significant as the invention of the printing press.
It is an indisputable fact that people are gravitating towards social media – the extraordinary success of Facebook, which now has over 400 million active users and yet still continues to expand is evidence of this. As communications professionals, we can’t stop this juggernaut or easily drive consumers elsewhere, much as we might prefer them to visit our client’s website before they log in to Facebook or Twitter. The advent of social media has given consumers unheralded power to find the information they want from where they want, and so we have to follow them; to go where they choose to hang out.
And with this in mind, in order to devise communications strategies that are truly effective at permeating the social media space, we need to understand what truly characterises social networks; what are the common denominators that define social media and that are driving its rapid pervasion throughout modern society?
Humans conform to tribal behaviour
The word ‘tribe’ conjures up images of ancient communities in the Amazonian jungle or deepest Africa. And yet we all display tribal behaviour in everything we do. People form social groups with others who share common interests or ideas, and this is as true on the web as it is at the local health club. These clans of people display similar attributes and behaviours, and understanding and tapping into these is key to communicating effectively with the tribe in question and encouraging the spread of messages within it.
Different tribes speak different languages
Think of this in terms of your own company. Does the accounts department get excited by the latest initiative from the marketing department, or are they only concerned with invoicing and where the budget is coming from? What interests one tribe is not guaranteed to interest another, and the implication for marketers is that one approach doesn’t suit all. Your Facebook fans don’t necessarily communicate in the same way as MySpace advocates; just because you interact with bloggers doesn’t necessarily mean your messages will be disseminated via Twitter. The upshot is that information can get trapped within a tribe, as the buzz doesn’t spread between them. We must either try to overcome that friction (very difficult to do) or devise different initiatives for different tribes.
Tribes are linked via weak ties, but weak ties can be surprisingly effective
The internet (the physical and logistical connections between the world’s computers) was named the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee for a very good reason. His vision was a connected humanity where all the different ‘tribes’ of the world, though separated by geography, social class, interest and behaviour, would be linked up and interconnected, sharing ideas and information. The links between these tribes are, as explained above and by nature, weak, like those of a spider’s web. And yet studies have shown that word of mouth communications between these weak links are as trusted as those between close friends. So creating and nurturing weak ties to bridge tribes can help marketing messages to spread virally.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on tribal behaviour on the web, and what are the best methods of countering this. Please leave a comment below…
tweetmeme_source = ‘ThePaulSutton’; tweetmeme_url = ‘http://tribalboogie.blogspot.com/2010/03/tribal-characteristics-of-social_05.html’;
Like This Post? Subscribe to Tribal Boogie