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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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!