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.
What do Italians, Harley riders and Trekkies have in common?
They each have their own multigenerational sense of group culture.
Culture is the most powerful tool for developing longevity and loyalty within a tribe. Looking out across the digital community landscape, it also appears to be the most underestimated. Marketing professionals have long tried to harness some of the power of culture through branding as expressions of values, experience and identity. But we don’t confuse brand with culture. Well, most of us don’t.
Culture is tough for us to nail down, yet we know it when we experience it. We get upset when it changes or is threatened. How do you define culture?
Here are two dictionary definitions of culture from http://Dictionary.reference.com to kick us off:
1. The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
2. Anthropology. The sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.
The origin of the word is interesting too:
Mid-15c., “the tilling of land,” from L. cultura, from pp. stem of colere “tend, guard, cultivate, till” (see cult). The figurative sense of “cultivation through education” is first attested c. 1500. Meaning “the intellectual side of civilization” is from 1805; that of “collective customs and achievements of a people” is from 1867.
Looking at these references, I see three things:
1. Repetitive behavior shared across a group of people and across generations
2. Common beliefs
3. An origin referring to caring for, guarding, cultivating
Repetitive behaviors, ways of doing things, jumps out at me. Last year, an anthropologist told me that despite our perception, repetition develops first and meaning is assigned afterward. Anyone who is superstitious can attest to this! It brought to mind a cultural struggle in my own household:
My husband is German. They open Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve. We opened gifts Christmas morning. It took seven years and 3 kids to create a compromise on this issue. Of course, when gifts are opened has no bearing on the meaning of the Christmas ritual, but changing “the way” we do it was unexpectedly difficult for both of us. It felt like changing how you did it could change the ritual beyond identification.
What rituals have meaning for you? Do you have any that have developed in your family, friends or region that might surprise us?
So let me know if this makes sense:
If repetitive behaviors become rituals, are cultivated and shared with others and develop deeper, common meaning; culture no longer seems so amorphous and challenging as a goal for our online communities.
You may ask, are we really talking about developing culture around a common interest or a product?
Multigenerational interests gone cultural:
- Social gaming
Multigenerational products gone cultural:
- Harley Davidson comes to mind as a multigenerational product/culture.
- I also want to lump DeadHeads in this bucket with the pursuit of Grateful Dead music and concerts as representation and expression of a lifestyle.
Emerging product cultures:
- Sanuk, with their leverage of surf culture
In the coming posts I will talk about specific cultural examples and opportunities available in digital groups and the approach needed to “cultivate” their emergence.
I would love to hear about examples you have experienced in your online travels!
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:
To eat: Wisinin (Algonquin), Impa (Chickasaw), Turhurak a kawats (Pawnee for Let’s eat!), Wah-Num-Bra (Osage), Mitsoh (Cree)
It was inevitable, while researching my SXSW panel, that food would come up! The culture of food is so universal and fundamental to us humans, I wanted to take a moment to dig into it.
My Native American tribe has a ceremonial food. It is served at every gathering and is known to have healing powers. Most indigenous people have traditional foods for ceremonies and healing. But, really what culture doesn’t? The most common cultural item we share with one another is food.
Why is this relevant to community in Digital Times? I believe we are tethered deeply to one another through our traditions and no tradition is more fundamental than breaking bread together. Let’s stop and consider our national holidays to crystallize this. When you think of holidays we Americans share nationally, you think of Independence Day (grilling, BBQ), Thanksgiving (an entire holiday about a meal), Christmas (pumpkin pie, ham, turkey and so on), Halloween (candy). Now think about MLKjr Day, Labor Day, President’s day. What do we all share culturally on those days? There are parades and memorials, and some attend those, but many just use it as a day off for a long weekend somewhere with the kids. These are pretty cultureless holidays. Now, if there was a food associated with MKLjr Day or President’s day, I bet we would celebrate them much differently.
My husband and I have a cuisine for our own marital traditions. We eat Indian food for anniversaries, birthdays and other celebrations. It started as an opportunity to reflect on our brief visit to the Himalayas, but has grown into the thread that holds a patchwork of lovely moments together. We have a bond over lentils!
So, I am thinking that your digital tribe is missing out if there is no food/drink tradition. How does it translate from “In Real Life” (IRL) to digital communities? See the suggestions below, but remember culture comes from tradition. Tradition is what we do ritualistically, repetitively. Whatever your community does, the evidence of a community food culture is in the repetition.
1. Virtual food/drink sharing:
This medium should happen very regularly. It can be based on time of day or week (morning coffee, Friday happy hour,…). This is a low level of effort, but shows awareness and thoughtfulness for others and can be an icebreaker for folks to get to know one another.
a. This past week I noticed @prosperitygal tweeting bowls of steaming Texas chili to friends. It wasn’t just “@so-and-so Here is a bowl of chili.” She is a Texan so it was personal food that she tweeted with flair. According to her stream, these bowls were steaming hot. I could see the deep red color of a good Texas chili and wondered if there was cheese or chopped onions. I could have sworn there was real chili in her real kitchen and I admit, I wanted her to send me a bowl! It was personal, authentic and it brought the joy of shared food to Twitter.
b. Folks on #UsGuys twitter tribe offer each other #coffee all morning. It creates an atmosphere of awareness of what members are up to during their day and illustrates that they are paying attention to one another. Maybe a different tribe would share #expresso or #instant coffee. Offering #SoyMochachino on #UsGuys might reveal someone as not #UsGuys-culturally literate?
2. Remote food/drink sharing:
This medium gives weight to special events: honoring someone, acknowledging their change in status or showing support when times are difficult. Do it with personal intent! Don’t confuse this with sweepstakes, where someone wins. That is sales and marketing, not community and culture. The challenge with remote food giving is that the community doesn’t experience the tradition directly. In these cases, it is a good idea to make a ritual around the giving/receiving of the food, like a tweet up and photo or video sharing.
a. Could your community come together and send someone a gift certificate to eat out? Perhaps there is a common food theme in your community, like coffee houses, taco street vendors, BBQ.
b. Or even better, send a bowl of oranges. Think of that person sitting at their table everyday for a week, associating the look and smell with their online tribe. This bowl of oranges could be twizzlers or homemade goods. The important thing is that food is in their house for them to see, smell, eat and share and that the food is relevant to the community culture.
c. Whatever you do, do the same thing multiple times. I am not saying that you have to have the same food every time. Christmas dinner has a lot of variety, but we all have a common cultural idea of what makes the Christmas meal. Food sharing has to have an element of symbol, something that represents the community.
3. In Real Life (IRL) food/drink sharing:
This medium is for gatherings, coming together face-to-face with other members of your community. There is inherent bonding value in eating and drinking together, as we all know. When does it become cultural?
a. It is nice when a company throws a party and there is free food, but this is usually a sales pitch, seller to sellee. Plus we all know the perceived value of free stuff! This is not the most powerful vehicle to bond a group. It is better if everyone pitches in somehow.
b. As with the item above, you don’t all have to eat the same menu every time you meet, although if things developed that way, I would take that as a sign of a strong culture and bond in a group. But do have a common, repeated theme that signals, this is your community meeting. Even a joke food that everyone hates has cultural bonding significance. A friend of mine throws a Spam potluck party every year that has a cult following.
Please remember: You cannot create a culture out of thin air and shove it down folks throats. Food tradition is a part of who we all are. Given half a chance it will emerge. Maybe this post can give you new ideas about how to break bread with your community. Food for thought… (I had to, really, I had to).
Now I am hungry! I would be delighted with any examples you have of your online communities developing a food tradition.