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Home » Run Your Business

Are You Building a Tribe or a Community?

Tribe or Community

During my time at Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon last weekend, I was lucky to get into one of the breakout sessions by Pam Slim of Escape from Cubical Nation. The session was about creating content maps and in the context of that she described the process of how to determine what content you should be creating for your readers. One of the topics on her map for Escape from Cubical Nation is community.

During the Q&A section of her session someone brought up the Seth Godin idea of building tribes and questioned whether or not that was the same as community. Further, she wondered if we shouldn’t all have community as part of what we create for our visitors.

I responded to the discussion by pointing out that I believed tribe building and community building were two distinctly different things. The whole thing got me to thinking about tribes vs. community and prompted this post.

Tribe vs. Community

We can play semantics all day long on what we mean when we say Tribe and Community. So for the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to make an executive decision and use those terms. Your terms might be different but the concepts are what we really want to look at.


When I think of a tribe I see a group of individuals with a leader at the helm. All of the tribes-people have come together for a common cause or theme based around the leader. The individuals in the tribe may or may not connect with each other but they connect strongly with the leader and the cause/theme. The leader may or may not connect with the tribes-people but their message is the basis of why everyone has come together.

I’ll use Seth Godin himself in this example because he doesn’t have a forum, he doesn’t take comments on blog posts, he doesn’t engage on twitter and yet, he has amassed a large following of tribes-people who subscribe to his way of thinking and share his ideas. They do not create the ideas, they simply share in them.


Communities thrive on the connection of the group individual to individual. Although the community does have a leader, that leader becomes one of the group in a participative way as well as leading the charge.

I’ll use Pam Slim for this one because community is her specialty. For her site, Escape from Cubical Nation, she has created a forum that welcomes the idea of connection between individuals in her community. Participants can engage one another and Pam can be a part of the conversation. Pam regularly participates in the forum to foster relationships with those individuals in the forum, it is not just about her community members. Another method she uses at the web site is to ask readers to help respond to comments on blog posts. She will respond, of course, but she uses the power of the group to make sure people who can help others are asked to do so. It makes for a very community-oriented place.

Which and Why?

So which type of setup do you have? What kind of setup do you need?

There are three things to think about when you prepare to determine which model your business should use.

1. What do your readers need and want?

It is important to make sure that your readers want, need and will use a community before starting one. At the beginning, when reader count is low, a free test forum is a great way to “test” the waters. It is very possible that your readers, customers, etc. aren’t interested in participating in one. They may simply want resources or how-to information.

Knowing what they want means asking and watching.

2. Do you have the time and resources to devote to a community approach?

Creating a community takes much more time, less introversion and more connections. Creating a forum that no one ever uses is not a community. More importantly do you have the time to participate in it? Communities need some management. As much as we’d like to think it’s just a group of like-minded people, someone still needs to take charge and manage it.

Creating a tribe on the other hand takes much less time. As per our definition above, clearly one can remove themselves from interaction altogether or simply closely control it. Many businesses are run this way.

3. Which model aligns best with your brand?

Depending on the type of business you have, the customer/reader wants/needs and your ability to create a community (time) you should be able to determine whether or not having a community works with your business model. Not every business needs to build a community. And, for some businesses a tribe will be too restrictive.


An example of community comes from Big Red Tomato Company, right here! Matthew spends time working to create a space for like-minded entrepreneurs to come together to connect. He has recently created a Linked-in group [Feel Free to Join!], he responds to comments and welcomes guests to write for his site. That all spells community. I feel a forum coming…

My site, Red Hot Momentum, on the other hand is more aligned with creating a tribe. Since my target customer/reader is one that needs knowledge and support, they benefit from the information presented and services provided. These business folks are busy and may not have time to participate in a forum. The newsletter I’ve created is designed with those needs in mind as well, it presents a simple task that should take 10 minutes to complete every week to grow/build their businesses.


Of course you can have any combination of these two models. One mash-up or hybrid example is Lady Gaga Tribemunity. She has a tribe for sure but the tribe has created its own small communities. Fans hang with fans. The tribe may never get access to the tribe leader (Gaga) but they can fulfill the need for connection by building and participating in their own communities locally, on Facebook or on twitter.

The Bigger Picture

The point is this, for each business the choice between building tribes and communities will be different and for each business their choice of tribe and community building activities will be different.

So it’s up to you, how will you begin to build your business model?

You’ll need to have connection if you hope to build a lasting business with repeat, long-term customers/clients. Remember that fostering those relationships in some way will build lasting connections.

Which model resonates with you, your business and your customer base and how are you building it? Tell us in the comments.