Just like prehistoric tribes were centered on survival, today’s online users gather together around an idea, except it can range from fans of kitten furniture to political groups.

Seth Godin, the famous marketer and internet thinker, talks about the idea of tribes. The internet's ability to connect everyone has not made us all homogenous. Instead, it's allowed people to segment off into groups. These groups, which Godin calls tribes, are all centered around some theme or idea.

The huge opportunity here is that leaders are in demand. There are tribes for almost every topic you can think of. But without a leader, many of them are little more than locker rooms for gossip.

So who should make up your tribe? Why should they follow you? What would you do with your own small online army?

There are four important steps that, if taken, will reward you with your very own tribe of fans.

1. If They're Your Customers, Lead Them

Your customers are a community, even if they've never spoken to each other. They are all united by the idea you offer. It's a brand's job to offer a platform for them to further this idea. Brands that champion an idea (and not just sell something) are the most successful.

Think of Apple's remarkable top-of-mind brand awareness when it comes to tablets and smartphones. They didn't achieve this industry leadership by increasing sales. They did it by advocating ideas important to their fan base, such as simplicity, ease of use, state-of-the-art technology, a fun user experience and making the best innovative products.

You don't need Apple's marketing budget to create the same excitement around your company's ideas. Provide a platform where your users can meet, such as a forum, blog or Facebook page. Then, get them excited about whatever it is you stand for. Chances are they want to stand for it too.

There are probably millions of posts on Twitter and Facebook about your company, so finding your customers is doable. However, in order to find them without spending thousands of hours searching, take advantage of tools that search for relevant conversations to your brand, whether they are positive or negative conversations.

2. The More Specific You Are, the More You Learn About Your Tribe

Make your community as specific as possible. This lets you dig deep inside your customers' heads.

Instead of having a community about "puppies", your community should be about "puppies with lyme disease put up for adoption." This is so you can learn why these owners adopt these specific dogs and what motivates them.

Being this specific rewards you with a deep psychological understanding of your tribe. Instead of answering questions like "Why do you like dogs?" you'll be able to answer more actionable questions like "In what stage of life do most dog owners adopt these diseased animals? Is it retirement, first home, marriage, first child?"

The second question can lead to some deep insight about your fans. It's more than likely that you'll understand them better than they understand themselves! And that's the point. As the leader, you should know what your tribe fears, what it aspires to and what it values most.

And once you know that, you'll offer them exactly what they need, when they need it. Isn't that a powerful way to get people to follow you?

3. Make the Party Popular


No one likes an empty party. To have a flourishing community, invite everyone you can that fits your community's theme. In the world of social media, this means infinite opportunities for finding your future fans. There are probably millions of people that could be interested in joining your tribe.

In order to grow your tribe into a formidable force online, you have to proactively hunt down your fans and invite them to join you. That means a consistent effort in reaching out to your future fans on social media.

This is where big data tools for social media become a necessity. Big data tools that filter out irrelevant conversations can save you thousands of hours of scrolling through conversations yourself. What you need is a way to quickly view the people most likely to join you, at the exact time they are ready.

The best tools to use will have a way to filter out the meaningless chatter, yet deliver the important conversations to your social media team automatically.

Routing these conversations to your team should be specific. If someone is tweeting about problems with the costs of raising a puppy with lyme disease, that conversation should get sent to someone on your team that deals with prices. If someone posts an article to Facebook about charities for sick puppies, that should be routed to a team member that works on fundraisers.

Those members of your social team can then engage those folks with the value they need. Once you've won their trust, it almost feels wrong if they don't join your group.

4. Bribe for Participation

What's in it for your fans if they contribute? If they receive nothing, they'll contribute nothing. And why should they? Their life is busy enough without joining a group that doesn't give anything back.

In order to encourage participation, offer them something they either want or need.

If you've done Step 2 correctly, you should know what motivates your tribe. If you know what motivates them, you know how to please them. Offer them things that send positive emotions.

You don't have to invent anything here. Try to project on them exactly what they revealed in your psychological investigating. If you found out they admire the courage shown by puppies with lyme disease, offer them pictures and stories that exemplify this courage.

Act as a mirror that reminds them why they like this idea. It might seem redundant, but in this fast-paced crazy world, they probably forget daily why they are passionate about it.

From Step 3, you will learn a lot about the problems faced by your fans. Offer them solutions to their problems. Some of your fans might not even recognize the problems until you point them out. Now that's a leader that looks out for his tribe!

Start with these, but don't limit what you offer your tribe. One personal finance blogger offered his tribe free tickets to any city in the world. Why? Because he knew his readers valued the freedom that came from being financially successful. He gave them an early taste of that freedom they sought.

Free tickets are nice, but a more realistic bribe can simply be quality information and extraordinary customer service. Again, using a big data tool for social engagement at scale through a social engagement center is the best way to do this. You’ll be able to find the fans that are frustrated about something, then quickly provide value.

Focus on using tools that let you scale the social conversations, yet maintain the human interaction.

Building your own tribe is a skill that can be learned. And there’s really no better way to spread your brand and your message than by getting others to share it for you. So do your brand a favor, take the reigns and lead!

Image courtesy of Katie Brady.

Editor's Note: Want to read more on how communities are like big parties? Read Maria Ogneva's Community Design is Like Throwing a Good Party - It Takes Planning