Emerals city and the ruby slippers. Representing the desire for a better world.

The Psychology Of Tribes

In my previous post on Building Your Tribe I recommended answering 9 crucial questions in order to start building a flourishing tribe. Your answers are the blueprint for building your tribe.


Today we’re taking the next step, and delve into the ‘Psychology of Tribes.’

This is, first of all, the psychology of the individual tribe members. I’ll cover the group aspects of tribes in a later post. Today and tomorrow I focus on how the individual becomes attached to a tribe in the first place.

  • What makes your readers, podcast listeners, and video viewers feel connected to you, your content, and your community?
  • What makes them feel compelled to stick with you [and your tribe], and not move on to one of the other ‘experts’ covering the same topic?
  • What are the emotional triggers at work in enthusiastic tribes, compared to communities where people come and go and rarely participate?

A tribe doesn’t flourish by itself, simply based on a nice idea. If you, as a leader, don’t put the emotional triggers in place, your tribe will get nowhere.

Think of a blog post with a boring title.

It’s not getting the attention the author would love to get. Why? Simply because the author was too lazy, or too proud, to write a title that triggers an emotional response.

[I’m aware the title ‘psychology of tribes’ pathetically falls into the boring category.]

The same is true for building your tribe. If your ‘recruiting efforts’ are lame and ignore psychology, not much is going to happen.

Boook cover: Seth Godin Tribes

The most popular expert on tribes, and probably the author who established ‘tribe’ as metaphor for online communities, is Seth Godin.

In his book “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us” Seth Godin says:

“Tribes are about faith-about belief in an idea and in a community.” [p9]

Before our future tribe member is interested in the community, she must first be interested in the idea. Godin gets more precise:

A tribe “tells a story about who we are and the future we’re trying to build.” [p27]

And finally:

Photo of Seth Godin's book: Tribes.

The Core Of Your Tribe Is A Shared Dream. Your Tribe Members Gather Around Their Shared Dream Like Our Ancestors Gathered Around A Campfire.

At this point, it might still be an individual dream.

An individual person will join a tribe catering to the dream she already has. Or a tribe leader might actually ignite a fresh dream and seek to inspire others to join the ‘new’ idea.

The Dream Has Three Components

  1. The desire to go from here [undesirable current state] to somewhere else [desirable future].
  2. Hope that it can be accomplished, fueled by
  3. A “way to get there,” which is essentially what the tribe leader is “selling.”

Number 3 is what makes you an authority in the desired field, ideally the authority. Knowing and showing the “way to get there” is what makes you the leader of the tribe.

It seems tribes are initially fueled by dissatisfaction. By a discrepancy between what someone is experiencing, and what she wants to experience instead.

If this is so, then we can learn a lot about the psychology of tribes by looking at psychological triggers used by marketers and persuasion experts.

It’s no secret that dissatisfaction and selling the dream fuels most of today’s sales and marketing. Think of the biz opportunity market, make money online, self-help, anti-aging, seduction, dieting, and many more.

On a philosophical note, dissatisfaction with the “undesirable current state” is the also root and symptom of humanity’s unhappiness. Eckhart Tolle [I pick him as example] calls it “our inherited dysfunction,” and it results in people feeling a constant “background unhappiness.”

The solution would be to become free from being dissatisfied and from longing for a “better” future.

That’s essentially the same message we were supposed to learn from Dorothy Gale.

movie quote: there's no place like home

She was dissatisfied, too, and went on a quest over the rainbow – only to come back and tell us:

“There’s no place like home.” A romantic way of saying:

  • The current state is the desirable state.
  • Be happy with what you have.
  • Don’t look to find your happiness somewhere else.

I didn’t believe her for a second.

Did you?

We didn’t watch Wizard of Oz to see the farm!

You’d swap your “current state” for Emerald City and a magical wand any time, right?

Even at the end of the movie, “home” is still black and white, and Munchkin land is Technicolor.

That’s why the dream is the core of a thriving tribe – because the underlying structure is the core of our everyday experience and psychology. The never-ending and unquestionable need for improvement is deeply ingrained in our western culture, and Asia is rapidly adopting the same model.

Given that tribes [and religions!] work best when centered on big dreams [from here to there], you are dealing with fairly heavy stuff!

The weirdest thing is that the same psychological principles are at work in a world-spanning  religion, a political party, a football club, or a blogger community.

In my next post I’ll continue this one and cover 6 psychological ingredients that work exceptionally well for people trapped in the force field of dissatisfaction and hope.

2 funny guys

This is some high-concept stuff, probably not for everyone, and not the usual ‘What’s the best time to send a Tweet’ type of post.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

    Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Ralf,

    Well said dude! Tribes meet around a dream. Lame tribe pitches mean no tribes, or little tribes. Meeting around a pulsating, living, breathing dream is what influences members to buy in and be in.

    Buying in and being in meaning people totally throw themselves into a tribe and participate. Look at Triberr. D and D are masters at selling a dream which helps you get from here to there, and you are so caught up in the idea and energy behind their dream that you simply cannot help but to return to the tribe and contribute daily.

    I do the same with my cash gifting tribe. I sell a dream. Play and prosper in paradise. People want to live in paradise. Sort of like Oz, right? 😉

    Thanks for sharing!

    [Ryan Biddulph’s latest blog post: Need More Cash? 5 Quick Tips to Help You Make Money Online]

      Ralf Skirr

      Hi Ryan,

      one thing that makes Triberr work so well is that you see immediate results, and you get immediate benefits in form of daily shares for your posts.

      The dream of being the next big super blog or influencer might be in a far distnce, but you’re getting traffic to your blog within hours after joining Triberr. It’s instant gratification and works like gangbusters.

      I never thought aout that before, but actually this might be an important question for anyone building an online tribe:

      How can I add elements of instant feedback and instant gratification to my community?

    Irish Carter

    Fantastic post Ralf. I had this very book in my hands a couple months back at B&N and put it back ONLY because I had a arm load and decided to put a few back. It’s on my future book order list. Great insight on tribes. I’m still working on that eSeries by the way. I know you suggested collaborating together. I’m looking at probably sometime late November or December to launch. You still interested?

    Irish at Dedicated 2 Life

      Ralf Skirr

      When I read the book the first time, I was a little bit disappointed because it does not have the step-by-step instructions that I love. But upon rereading it I found there are a lot of gems in Seth Godin’s book. And it has a very brief but super useful step-by-step approach near the end.

    Kumar Gauraw

    Hi Ralf,
    Excellent article with some awesome insights! It’s true that tribes don’t flourish just like that. It needs the leader of the tribe to think it through and apply some creativity to keep people engaged and make them feel connected.

    Thanks again for these tips. I found them very helpful.
    [Kumar Gauraw’s latest blog post: Why Entrepreneurs Need Managed WordPress Hosting Service]

      Ralf Skirr

      Thanks for your kind words, Kumar. At least at the beginning the responsibility for success is completely on the leader. It takes effort and dedication to get things going.

      Hopefully, after some time, a tribe will also have a few hyperactive members who help keep things going.


    Thanks for the great post! Tribes by Seth Godin is actually the very next book on my To-Be-Read-Already list.

    I especially love the idea of sharing our dreams as the fuel for gathering a tribe. If our dreams are what make us come alive, then gathering around them should be as natural as breathing. And sharing what we’re passionate about is never a “hard sell” but simply telling someone what put the sparkle in our eyes.

    Great thoughts!
    Janna at Grace Thread


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