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.