There are only a few more topics I have laid out for this Digital Tribes series of posts. The next few are centered on group organization, because not knowing where you stand or how to influence your status is one of the worst forms of stress.
You hear a lot of social media proponents (of which I am one) espouse transparency and merit based value assessment. This is one of the great promises of the digital participation age
It can feel like a Kafka-esque nightmare when you don’t know how things work and where you stand with in a group. People will stay in terrible situations rather than dive into the unknown, because “at least” they know what they are dealing with.
Groups prefer transparent governance, whether that is a monarchy, dictatorship, federalism, democracy or anything else. When the forces that drive decisions are opaque, corruption or conspiracy charges surface along with discontent.
For the purposes of building community in this wild west we call social media, there are very real, practical lessons to be gained from Native American tribal governance practices.
(Image of Chief Quanah Parker of the Kwahadi Comanche thanks to Commons.Wikimedia.org)
In the next few posts, I will dig into the applicable tribal models of:
1. Merit based valuation
2. Consensus driven leadership
3. Tribe versus clans/ bands
Discussion of these 3 topics are intended to give online community leaders and participants a tribal foundation for their organization and governance options.
I am always looking for good, current examples to explore in my digital tribe posts. If you have any examples of community organization or governance models that went wonderfully right or terribly wrong, please do share in the comments below, or email me: email@example.com
A lot of folks, from best selling authors to us social media plebeians, use the word “tribe” when talking about our online communities. I have been thinking about what significance and implications come with this word for some time now. How is it different from “group” or “community?”
I started my search by reaching back to my own Native American heritage, to unpack my own personal definition of “tribe.” The indigenous peoples of North America know a lot about community, identity and loyalty. Native American identities have survived hundreds of years of assault on their tribal existence, yet continue to persist and even thrive.
What can emerging digital tribes learn about building strong and fulfilling communities from Native Americans? I have been working on this topic for several months, pulling from anthropology, social media and gaming communities case studies as well as from my own experiences, particularly as a Native American. Each of the 12 items below are rather large topics. I am working my way through this blog series with more detailed exploration on these items. If you are interested in more detail, you can jump back to the beginning of the series: DgtlTribe
Here I provide a summary of my Digital Tribe findings. These are the 12 most important things to be mindful of in order to create a community with the tribal strengths of:
- resource pooling
- long standing commitment
(I have grouped the 12 in to subgroups, mostly because I have chronic-bulletization syndrom-disorder, which forces me to put everything possible in bullet format, ideally in groups of three. I am not seeking treatment.)
Think of something nameless… Couldn’t do it, could you? Naming something calls it into existence in our consciousness. It creates definition. Naming is a powerful phenomenon in any culture. We name groups, events and people. Many Native American tribes have a tradition of naming people as a rite of passage, to mark transition, identify familial relations and status within the community.
1. Name your group and I don’t mean the “Quilter’s Circle of Springfield, South.” It will work if you are in a pinch, but it is better to give yourselves a name that can bear the weight of identity, something unique that defines the “us” as opposed to the “them.” Think of your favorite brands. Think about the feel of these brand names: Nike, Sanuk, Apple vs. Home Shopping Network, IBM, General Motors.
2. Name your events and I don’t mean the Quarterly Meeting, Northern Chicago Webdesigner’s tweet up. Bleh! What does Red Earth Festival convey to you? Better yet, what does it convey to the folks who attend every year? What about calling your event: Ghom? That is Klingon for “to meet.” I looked it up. This is fun, people!
3. Name your people: In modern, western society we give people titles, this is an echo of name giving, but doesn’t carry near the power of identification. Nobody actually addresses me as Director of eMarketing. Besides, those titles can and do change frequently. It is a little different in the military, but there, hierarchy is at the core of fulfilling the military’s mission.
Our avatars are great examples of the link between naming and identity, particularly in online gaming groups. (Check out this interesting post from Adriel Nation on this subject.) But imagine the impact of being given a name within a community, based on the role and accomplishments in that community. This creates another level, a deeper level, of self-identification with a group.
I learned to speak German fluently in my teens. For me, having an alternate language for expression opened up the impact of language as an influential frame around my perception. Language itself is a part of our culture interaction with one another and a core to our culture. While it is unlikely a group will develop a language from whole cloth (Klingon is a great exception!), there are options available to groups.
4. Specialty language or insider languages develop naturally over time. This is obvious in various disciplines (math, science, medicine, engineering, post-modern literary theory, etc. ). You can barely understand folks speaking within a highly specialized discipline. But it actually occurs within any group, given enough time. Pay attention to your group’s use of code language and find ways to support it, like creating a dictionary of terms, or using it in your naming practice (above.)
5. Symbolic language is also very powerful in the digital space. Interesting examples are the heraldic practices of Europe (see image above) and today’s emoticons. Logos essentially create a mini-symbolic language and name around a brand. Does your group have any symbols in practice?
Culture is a complex topic, but for the purposes of online communities, I wanted to focus on two aspects that can and should be addressed in digital groups.
6. Rituals are my favorite tool! This is any practice we do regularly and consistently the same. An anthropologist blew my mind when he told me the ritual comes first and the meaning comes afterward. So a group ritual can be anything! Have fun with this. Support what sticks and be consistent!
7. Value systems is a big, tough topic. Most important is to know that your group values are evident in the behaviors your group practices. It is great to document these, review them regularly and celebrate them.
Above all, people need to know where they stand. Not knowing the rules of engagement, how decisions get made and your own role in that is one of the worst stresses a person can experience.
8. Consensus governance: Decision making in most tribal cultures is based on consensus, not voting. This is not democratic or corporate style governance. If a decision needs to be made or a project undertaken, you have to get the influencers in the group behind it. They in turn influence their subgroup. This is highly participatory governing and…
9. Merit based: …it is based on the philosophy that people and ideas rise to the top based predominantly on merit. Social media appears to inherently support merit based activities. Merit based is not “one person, one vote,” it looks at the value of an idea and a person’s contribution and assigns influence accordingly.
10. Hierarchy: Just as we love ritual, we are hierarchical animals, by nature. There is some kind of hierarchy in your organization. Acknowledge it. Celebrate it, even! As long as you practice consensus governance based on merit, the hierarchy will feel natural, empowering and provide stability and efficiency. Native American tribes and nations are groupings of smaller clans or bands who had their own leadership and culture. As your community grows beyond 150 to 200 people, look for those subgroups. Get clarity on the hierarchical relationships in those bands and how they fit in the larger group.
11. Diversity: As is the case in neighborhoods and countries, tribes are diverse. There will be folks who don’t agree, who refuse to fall in line with behavior standards. Do you want a closed community of like-minded people or an open community that incorporates or tolerates variation, even disruption? Change is inevitable if you are aiming for a long surviving community. The naysayers often carry the seeds of a successful future, but they can also create tension and division. Reach back to your values to understand where your community draws the line.
12. Don’t Force it: You can force culture, identity, values to some extent, but we tend to refer to those instances as totalitarian regimes and they rarely result in successful, multigenerational communities. This is about being mindful of these opportunities and forces at work in your group. It is about being intentional in strengthening and deepening the community connection.
Whew! You made it to the end! If you got this far, I would appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a comment. Do you see any of these tribal attributes at work in your online community? What can you do to better support it? Have you seen groups fall apart because of a struggle with one of these dynamics? I would love to hear from you!
(This post is part of a series. To read more jump back to the beginning.)
If they are good, values discussions are tough. Values are complex, personal and highly subjective. Mountains have been written about them in the fields of psychology, religion, anthropology and corporate culture.
You are probably reading this because you are interested in understanding the fundamentals of building strong, dedicated communities. Understanding the explicit and hidden values of your group is critical to that effort.
Quick term discription:
1. Explicit Values:
These are the stated values of the group. This is what we all say publicly and proudly about a group.
Example from IBM’s website
“IBMers determined that our actions will be driven by these values:
- Dedication to every client’s success
- Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world
- Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships”
2. Hidden Values:
These are in conflict with the explicit values. We tend to be less comfortable advertising them and they are not always clearly or universally understood. Understanding them is critically important, however, because they are a source of great dysfunction when pervasive.
Example from Eastern Germany
Before the iron curtain fell, East Germany (German Democratic Republic) celebrated the values of Communism as their own, but the hidden values of control and totalitarianism created one of the largest internal spy networks on the planet. At its height in the 90s, the East German Stasi (secret police) employed almost 100,000 people and had as many as 2 million citizen informants/spies gathering information on more than 5 million people. Communism and totalitarianism are not happy bed fellows and led to a schizophrenic society.
Honestly, I have been stressing on how to tackle this topic for weeks. I have never thrown out as many drafts as I did on this one.
- Drafts where I try to “sum up” the vast body of work done on value systems in my own brilliant mini-dissertation (boring!). I recommend a search for “values” on YouTube to see lots of experts talk about values.
- Drafts where I lay out examples of value misalignment in various countries (I did try to offend Americans, Brits, Canadians and Germans equally). Oh, I am sure my comments fields would have exploded!
- Drafts where I exposed value misalignments in my own family! That was not going to be popular at Thanksgiving.
So, if I threw all that awesomeness out, what the heck am I gonna tell you about digital tribe value systems?
It isn’t new.
It isn’t easy.
It IS critical.
This is it: Behavior = Values
If there is behavior that does not align with the explicit values of your group, you have some conflicting value systems. These conflicting systems must be addressed, or it can derail anything the group sets out to accomplish.
Here are the 5 things to consider for a healthy set of cultural values for your online community:
1. Be “self aware.” Figure out the explicit and potentially hidden values of your community.
2. Articulate your values. Post them. Talk about them. Celebrate examples of them in action.
3. Take note when there is stress in any form in your group. Don’t just take them at face value. This is an opportunity to discover any conflicting values, even when it appears to be about personality conflicts.
4. Even though the examples given here are negative, hidden values are not always the problem. Be open to the possibility that those values you first laid down may need adjustments. Just because there are hidden values, it doesn’t mean those values are wrong. There may be needs in your community that cause those hidden values. Those needs must be taken into account.
5. If you are running a community for a company or organization, that community may have a very different value system. Let’s take Birkenstock shoe company, for example:
The Birkenstock Example:
Birkenstock shoe company became popular among the liberally minded community. Many of us that know the shoes have an image of modern day hippies. Birkenstock was established in 1774 and has a long conservative tradition with leadership that has supported consistently conservative politics. If they created a Facebook fan page that aligned with their conservative disposition, they would alienate a huge portion of their customer base.
I did want to share two more real world cases for your consideration:
1. The Military: A case of value alignment at work
The military places the highest value on hierarchical obedience and discipline. Since the purpose of the military is to serve in the crisis of war, this value is critical to success. They practice this value in the most menial of tasks. Military personnel will hold to this value while facing chaotic life and death threats that would normally trigger the trumping value of self-preservation.
2. The Catholic Church: A crisis of conflicting values
As the Catholic priest pedophile scandals unfolded, the practice of moving offending priests from one community to another to avoid exposure became increasingly apparent. This behavior stood in stark contrast to the explicit values of the monastic catholic organization: to serve their community. Service to the community was trumped by a different set of values, the values of protectionism for the organization. This continues to drive major discord within the church community.
Understanding all values in an online group is critical to the community’s efforts,
- if you are leading a community and want to increase the identification and commitment levels in the group
- if you are trying to figure out what your governance and hierarchy should look like
- even if you are trying to roll out some new initiative
In my next post, we will discuss how value systems can develop. Different types of groups will require different approaches.
(Whew! I think we got through that okay?)
Does your community have a set of documented values? Have you seen strife in a community based on conflicting value systems? I would love to hear your comments below!
I am absolutely addicted to @StephenCaggiano’s daily #UsGuys #NightShift Clock in on video on Twitter. Check it out below. It will only take few seconds.
You might not be so impressed. #UsGuys doesn’t care! It is a daily group ritual and you are not in this group. People in the #UsGuys community wait for it nightly and Stephen delivers consistently. Sometimes others join in either by tweeting a ‘clock in’ or making their own video, but if Stephen skipped a night, many of us would feel like the whole night was off, just not the same.
What is going on here? Why should you care?
Group rituals are the cement of human community. Are you interested in creating or participating in a cohesive, sticky community that has longevity, loyalty, dedicated resource pooling and a strong sense of identity? Here you go! Ritual practice generates that hard to pinpoint, fundamental attachment to a group of people that will transcend all kinds of adversity!
And look at how easy it is. What Stephen does is not complex, but it is consistent. Variation in the videos is commented upon. Was Stephen at home? Out on the town? Was he in a t-shirt, dress clothes, shirtless? Was his hair a mess, is he sick? Recognizing variation creates insider status. Commenting on those differences illustrates #UsGuys culturally versant status.
This reminds me of the odd South by South West Interactive Conference ritual I stumbled upon. At 3 am every year at SXSW in a hotel lobby, this happens:
No one could tell me what it was about, but the large crowd was dedicated to the experience. “Stick around, you won’t be sorry,” I was told.
Quick Bit of Context:
This is a blog series that addresses how to strengthen our digitally based communities by leveraging the wisdom found in Native American tribal experiences and beyond. This post marks the halfway point in the journey through the Three Pillars; three tool types you can use to increase identification, loyalty and resource pooling for the longevity and cohesion of the group.
A Step Back:
Pillar 2 is Culture / Ritual. Here I am focused on my absolute favorite tribal aspect, Ritual. The term ‘ritual’ often carries a religious connotation, but it is really any sequence of acts done in a set manner, repetitively. Pledging allegiance to the flag before the ball game is a ritual ceremony. We have personal rituals, family rituals, community, religious and cultural rituals. My own Native American tribe gathers multiple times a year for late night stomp dancing around a fire that has burned without interruption for untold years. It is documented that the fire survived the Trail of Tears in the 1800’s until today, under 24 hour supervision. Powerful stuff, no?
Last year, I was surprised to hear from an anthropologist that rituals often develop meaning after they are established. The repetitive action happens first, then comes meaning. We have so many rituals we practice without being intentional about the meaning, yet we wouldn’t skip them without great gnashing of teeth! I would be delighted to hear about rituals you feel strongly about!
So let’s get to some more examples:
My cousin has been in a guild of between 50 and 80 people on EverQuest for more than a decade. Their guild is extremely dedicated.
Some of their ritual practices:
- They have met on the same nights every week for more than a decade. Some nights are raid nights, others are planning nights.
- At the end of a raid they “buffer” each other which means they give each other various forms of strength for the next log in.
- When someone in the guild has a birthday, they “kill something big,” to quote my cousin.
The people in this guild have been at the hospital for major medical issues before family members showed up. Legal and engineering talents in the guild have offered support to other members when they were in need, free of charge. This guild inspires enormous resource pooling and commitment that translates into “the real world.”
2. The TwitterChat phenomenon
TwitterChats are everywhere on Twitter. I have noticed a common practice on many of the chats. There is a good 7 minutes of greetings and welcomes before the chat gets started. This is the opposite of every meeting ‘How To Guide’ you will find: ‘Get to the point, rock through the agenda, make the meeting relevant and a good use of people’s time.’ But on TwitterChats we like to work the room before we settle in for the agenda. If you cut that short, your chat will feel bumpy and wrong somehow. Dedicating those first several minutes to welcome chatter is culturally versant.
In fact, TwitterChats have a ritual aspect by virtue of the weekly rhythm. People organize their day around a chat time.
I also love how folks do imitations of real world physical gestures in TwitterChat greetings, like “*waving* across the room” to bring another level of real world meet-n-greet to the experience.
3. There are all kinds of rituals on social media communities:
- #FF (whether you like it or not)
- Regular giveaway days, like Luxor Casino’s Facebook Fridays
Ritual will cement a community feeling like nothing else. Ritual practice is powerful and fun. Things to remember:
- You can’t force culture and you can’t force ritual. Try something. If it doesn’t take, it wasn’t meant to be.
- Keep it simple and extremely consistent
- Allow others to participate, but remember, anything that is reliant on the participation of the group, while the most powerful, is the hardest to get off the ground.
Please share the rituals you have encountered on and offline! Digital tribes are still in their infancy. We are learning together.
I love social media. I love the DgtlTribe topic that this blog series is about, but I have been away from both for a while. I am a rather private person who believes strongly in the tenants of professionalism. But after thinking about the SoMe themes of authenticity, transparency and consistency often discussed on #GetRealChat, I thought I should write this post.
We recently found out that our 3 year old daughter has a rare autoimmune disease called dermatomyositis. We don’t know enough about it, yet. We see the pediatric rheumatologist on Monday.
The good news:
- It isn’t a lifelong condition. It seems to run a 3 year course and then you are done with it.
- We caught it early which is the best indicator for controlling the severity
- She doesn’t really have any pain (yet)
- I have a very supportive work environment
The bad news:
- It is attacking her muscles
- There is a lot we don’t know, yet. How bad is it? What kind of effects will the drugs have on her development? What will the next several years look like?
- She is 3 years old
So many parents know the fear that I, that we, are currently fighting.
I had a day where I was a complete “dear in the headlights” wreck. Then I moved into the beginnings of knowledge and a plan. I thought, “We can do this.” Then my body started to hurt all over. I was sporting a low grade fever. I forgot stuff I was supposed to take care of. I got really angry at someone for nothing. My house is a mess and I can’t seem to tackle it.
This low hum of fear vibrates through our house, under our conversations and silences, in my “Mommy snaps” to my two older children if they don’t immediately do as told. It is like I am in the room and standing behind a 2 way mirror at the same time.
At the moment, I don’t care what caused it, where it came from. Scientists don’t know. I just want to understand what we can do. I know the anger is coming though. The Why my sweet, sunny daughter? What kind of life is this? What kind of universe? It takes me a long time to get angry and once there my rage is ruthless. It takes me a long time to cool down. I am afraid of that anger, afraid of what might break in me.
This all has me thinking very deeply about Easter. Since having children, I felt I understood the significance and power of sacrificing the only child. But this situation, the visceral experience of a very real looming threat of pain, suffering and bodily harm to one of my kids is changing everything, is changing me.
I don’t want to lose the SoMe friends and network I have begun to build. As I have indicated on this blog, I believe that the DgtlTribe can be a framework for community as powerful as those in “real life.” I have made very real friends in the ether and I don’t want to lose those connections because I may not show up at the old stomping ground as often. I may be slow to respond in a realtime environment and have little to say when I am there or worse be testy or overreact to irritants. I won’t always want to talk about how my family is doing. But please believe, I am interested in what you are doing, what you are building, what you are thinking and I want to be supportive. That is who I am.
I don’t know what is going to happen. Things may look eminently manageable next week, even. But I wanted to say, I appreciate your support, your prayers and (with emphasis) your patience.
I am starting a series of blog posts on what the Native American experience can teach us about building strong tribes in a Digital space. I am very grateful to all who have explored this idea with me, in particular my SXSW Interactive co-panelists, Lou Ordorica and Dr. Circe Sturm, and want to expand this discussion in a public dialogue.
The genesis of the idea came from two observations:
- The term tribe is quite liberally applied to online groups and communities. Two books: Bernard Cova’s Consumer Tribes and Seth Godin’s Tribes, also apply the term more broadly to people sharing a common interest, identity or objective. The term tribe doesn’t really have a solid definition in these contexts, but definitely implies that people are gathering online in search of stronger connections and community.
- Native American tribes have survived centuries of attacks & challenges as well as the single largest paradigm shift in their collective existence with the arrival of Europeans. In addition to attacks on Native resources,culture,beliefsystems,familial ties (see Indian Termination Policy) and, of course, their very lives*, Native American tribes had to learn how to navigate and in many cases adopt the European/Christian/Nation-State world view.
Those thoughts led me to these two questions:
- Many Native American tribes, mine included, are enjoying a kind of renaissance in pride and commitment to culture. What makes up these Native American experiences and enables the tribes to continue and even flourish after such long and varied challenges?
- Can digital communities achieve the same kind of strong bonds, loyalty and sense of identity through the realization of the practices of indigenous peoples?
My research so far leads me to believe that online communities that are developing strong bonds, identity and organizations are employing techniques also found in Native American tribes. I do believe that the exploration of the Native American tribal experience can lead “neo-tribes” to the kind of loyalty, longevity and rich personal commitment that is experienced by indigenous peoples.
The subsequent posts will explore the role of leadership, mission, language, culture and governance as well as platforms in the development of tribes in online communities. I look forward to your feedback, examples, critique and additions!
*I recently read Little House on the Prairie to my daughters and skipped the repeated line “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
This is the image I chose to represent the discussion of What Digital Tribes can learn from Native Americans. I like this image because it was on a 1000 year old pendant found in Southeast United States, my tribal homelands. The image meaning is unknown.
I like to think it represents an alliance of various groups. Woodpeckers may have represented war, so perhaps it was the formation of a tribe or alliance to do battle. The square flows like an eternal river around the sun. Perhaps it is a reflection on the passage of time and a lasting commitment to established bonds.
This art was created by Burkhard Saur. Visit him on Facebook: