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Who are your tribes, and where do they hang out?

No matter whether you plan to leverage social media to enhance your product innovation process, your lead generation process, or to amplify the word of mouth that may already exist for your products or company, you first need to find out if your customers, prospects and detractors are already forming tribes in social media circles, and if so, where they hang out.

Understanding who your tribes are and where they hang out will allow you to decide how to engage them – on their own platform (e.g., Facebook group, Ning community, Twitter, or other proprietary platform), on your platform, or on a combination of platforms – a “federated” engagement strategy that most companies eventually will have to adopt. Knowing where your tribes hang out will also allow you to identify the tribal leaders and define strategies to engage those leaders across all your efforts.

Note that tribes almost never form around products, services, or companies – they form around shared passions (e.g., fan clubs), shared pains (e.g., cancer survivors), shared sense of duty (e.g., school alumni communities), or around categories based on common traits (e.g., poor frugal moms). So the Harley community is not a vibrant brand community centered around Harley, as some will lead you to believe, but rather a community based on a common sense of belonging around a shared lifestyle – riding. Tribes are also different from market segments, which are centered around categories based on individual traits, mostly geographic, demographic, or psychographic (e.g., moms who have children) and not around categories based on behavioral traits (e.g., frugal moms who love the art of the deal ).

Failing to understand who your tribes are, where they hang out, and who their leaders are, will result in misguided efforts that will have no measurable impact on your business, or worse, misguided efforts that will anger your potential tribes and their constituents.

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