Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Marissa Bracke.
We all know that our businesses depend on people, and much of the advice about growing your business focuses solely on getting more people to know, like, and trust you or your business. Scaling communications and relationships is incredibly challenging, though, and what adds to the challenge is that the kinds of people coming through your door changes.
As your blog or business grows, there are three identifiable tribes of people who will surround it:
- The people who have been around since your early days and humble beginnings,
- Those who have joined your tribe as the blog or business developed and are solidly your “right people,”
- Those who show up when you start getting Big and getting some social media attention, and bring a lot of buzz and excitement with them.
Understanding each of these tribes is essential, not just because of the marketing or sales implications (though those exist too), but because of the impact each group can have on your energy level as you approach your work each day.
Tribe 1: The Core Supporters
Your tribe of Core Supporters consists of those people you can email, DM or call when you’re energetically tapped out, creatively mired, or simply stressing over the day-to-day grind. Tribe 1 folks are the pillars of your business because they’re usually the first to know about, buy, and promote the heck out of all you do – but they’re also pillars because of the intangible support they offer. In the times when business is rough, blog traffic is down and you’re unsure whether you should keep trudging forward, Tribe 1 is there to give you a boost and help you regain momentum.
Tribe 1 is a permanent fixture. They stick around – and you’re really glad they do. This isn’t a huge tribe; in fact, it’s probably relatively small. If you were a rock star, these are the folks who wouldn’t even need a backstage pass to get past your bouncers, because they’re such a mainstay of your crew. When you think of the people without whom you’d feel downright lost, you’re thinking of your Core Supporters.
Tribe 2: The Fans
Tribe 2 is much larger than Tribe 1, and a bit more fluid. The people who create Tribe 2 are those who get past your Red Velvet Rope. They’re your True Fans and your happy, returning customers or clients.
Your Fans are also a pillar for your business, because they’re the ones financially supporting what you do. Without Tribe 2, you’d still be appreciated, cared about and creatively nurtured (by Tribe 1), but you’d probably be cash-poor. Tribe 2 is the heart of your financial viability.
While less of a permanent fixture than Tribe 1, the people of Tribe 2 are slow to move on once they’re in the tribe. They eagerly anticipate your products and services, and they’re in no hurry to rush off to an unknown “next big thing” when they feel at home in your tribe. When you think of the people for whom you tailor your services and without whom your rent would go unpaid, you’re thinking of your Fans.
Tribe 3: The Flash Mob
Tribe 3 is huge – it easily dwarfs Tribe 1 and Tribe 2. Its size alone means that Tribe 3 carries a great deal of energy, traffic and power. One day of Tribe 3’s attention can spike traffic to a blog more than a month of Tribes 1 and 2’s loyal page clicks.
Tribe 3, however, is also the most fleeting and dynamic tribe.
Tribe 3 is the Flash Mob of the internet. Its people flock to the latest Big Idea, ReTweet the day’s hot articles, send previously unknown hashtags into Trending Topic status, and create “buzz.” But Tribe 3 moves quickly, and has an notably brief attention span. There’s a lot of action and hullaballoo around Tribe 3, but not a lot of staying power. When you think about that elusive but sexy flurry of ReTweeters around a “hot” blog post or topic, or all of those one-time-only commenters on that one post that got more hits than any other on your whole site, you’re thinking of Tribe 3.
The Three Tribes & Your Energy Investments
When you first begin your endeavor – your business, your blog, your rock band, etc. – you’ve got Core Supporters. As soon as you start making your product and your art available to the world, you’ll develop some Fans. Both Tribes will probably expand as your endeavor develops. But what you won’t have, at least not immediately, is a Flash Mob.
So initially you invest your energy in your interactions with Tribes 1 and 2. Your Energy Investment in Tribe 1 always pays off tenfold – you give and receive brainstorming exchanges, challenging conversations that push past boundaries, and endeavor-furthering advice and support. Your Energy Investment in Tribe 2 is your work on products, expanding your services, and broadening your reach, and in return you receive sales, an attentive audience, active affiliates, traffic growth, and consistent social media interactions.
Then, one day, a Flash Mob arrives. Perhaps you’ve caught the eye of a Big Name blogger who linked to you. Or maybe your latest post got a whirlwind of ReTweets. Or it could be that your product just got highlighted in a national magazine. Whatever the catalyst, the Flash Mob has arrived. You see unprecedented traffic spikes, a rush of sales, and flurries of comments. Congratulations – you just got your Tribe 3.
This is exciting, because Tribe 3 generates a lot of conversation and aforementioned buzz. But this is also a tenuous position, because you’ll be tempted to significantly alter your Energy Investment.
The Fatigue of Growth Comes from Energy Expended on Tribe 3
Unlike your Energy Investments in Tribes 1 and 2, energy you invest in chasing Tribe 3’s attention is seldom proportionately returned. Unlike the steady but less explosive returns on your Energy Investments in Tribes 1 and 2, you can spend inordinate amounts of time and effort trying to target and please Tribe 3 and have no real gain to show for your trials.
The problem is that once the Flash Mob arrives, we tend to change what we’re doing in accordance with what we think will keep it near us – we forget (or we just don’t see) that Tribe 3 is, by its nature, temporary and amorphous. It’s a great burst, but it’s not a pillar of our endeavor.
Tribe 3 is, however, very vocal. When Tribe 3 arrives at your doorstep, your inbox and your Twitter stream will show it. And because you’re used to the interactions you have with Tribes 1 and 2, you respond to Tribe 3 in the same way. You attempt to forge the same levels of personal interaction and attention with the Tribe 3 people that you have with Tribes 1 and 2. But because Tribe 3 is less invested in you and your endeavor, they don’t stick around or give back to you in a way that balances the energy you’re expending.
It’s only when your inbox reaches an unmanageable girth, you’re weeks behind on responding to DMs, and you’re feeling completely unable to connect to people or get your creative juices flowing like you used to that you start to realize something’s gone awry.
That something is your Energy Investment. When you feel the fatigue of growth, it’s often because you’re spending a lot of energy on Tribe 3. And that isn’t an investment with a steady enough return to sustain you over an extended period of time.
Enjoy The Flash Mob – But Don’t Burn Out Striving For It
The Tribe 3 Flash Mob brings with it distinct benefits: those traffic spikes, those sales rushes, that glow of social media attention. Enjoy it! Revel in it. Soak it in.
And then go back to what you were doing before the Flash Mob arrived.
Keep your Energy Investments focused on Tribes 1 and 2. They’re your pillars and they’re the people who will be there after the Flash Mob has flown to its next target of momentary interest. A few folks from the Flash Mob might make the transition to a Fan and stick around. But if you’re no longer investing your best efforts and gifts in Tribes 1 and 2, you’ll never notice.
Remember: the Flash Mob didn’t show up because you would be hip if only you altered what you were doing; rather, the Flash Mob appeared because what you were doing already was hip, and they wanted to be a part of it. By returning to the solid, consistent work you were doing before they arrived, you’ll give them something to return for later.
So when you’re feeling bulldozed by the clamor for your attention and time, pause to consider from what tribe that clamor stems – remember, Tribe 3 is loud but fleeting.
Ultimately, your success depends not on your ability to hold the attention of the Tribe 3 Flash Mob, but on your continued investment in the pillars of your endeavor: your Tribe 1 Core Supporters and your Tribe 2 Fans.
Have you noticed a difference in your own energy when you invest it in your Core Supporters and Fans versus the elusive Flash Mob? What are your strategies for refocusing on your endeavor’s pillars?
Sarah Robinson says
What a well thought out post! I love thinking of the 3 tribes in my tribe and I can petty much sort them out in my head as to who goes where. And YES! We get so excited when the “flash mob” shows up that we spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to please them to the neglect of those who truly support us. BRAVO!
Marissa Bracke says
Thanks for the bravo, Sarah! The flash mob’s arrival is definitely an exciting occurrence… a good flash mob is so charged up, whether you’re part of it or receiving it, it’s hard not to be swept up in the excitement. It’s all a matter of keeping our energy flowing in a consistent direction (while enjoying the heck out of the flash mob’s buzz, of course). Thanks for your thoughts!
Melissa Mannon says
very well done! thank you!
Marissa Bracke says
Thanks, Melissa. Glad you liked it.
Jennifer Hofmann says
Holy COW, this is an amazing reframe on “right people”. I need to sit with this one a bit and see how I might adjust my energy investment. Nicely done – a BIG thank you!
Marissa Bracke says
I’m so glad it resonated! Adjusting the energy investments is definitely an ongoing process… what hits the sweet spot today might feel out of balance in a couple of months. It’s both the beauty and the beast of a growing business: constant adaptation required. (At least we know we’re in good company as we work through it, right?) 🙂
Ali Hale says
Very nice piece, and thought-provoking. Thanks! I’ve definitely not got to the flash-mob stage yet, but I do get a few fly-by visitors and emailers who take up energy and never seem to come back.
I have some wonderful core supporters (Charlie’s amongst them) and I’d frankly rather pay attention to them!
Marissa Bracke says
The Flash Mob’s size is variable, I think… a flash mob might be tens of thousands when you’re at the Seth Godin level of things, or it might be a sudden boom of 60 people when you’re at the early stages of the endeavor. I’ve had the smaller-scale flash mob experience, though certainly nothing at the level that the A List bloggers experience. I think the energy investment paradigm still holds, though, even as the actual size of the tribes varies.
Also, I second the count of Charlie as a wonderful Core Supporter!
Cath Duncan says
Charlie’s in my “core supporter” team too… yikes, who’s helping Charlie manage his energy and all the support he gives 🙂
Oh yes… that’s his superpower.
Great post, Marissa!
Marissa Bracke says
And I suspect that many of the core supporter relationships that Charlie has are reciprocal. I know that’s definitely the case for me–the people for whom I’m a Core Supporter are Core Supporters for me as well. Those relationships tend to balance out nicely that way. 🙂
Catherine Caine says
Great post, Marissa! A good reminder of who is worth giving the most and the best to. My Core Peeps.
Marissa Bracke says
Thanks for the nod, Catherine!
Michelle Marlahan says
Great post, Marissa!
I recognize that I do get all a-flutter with Flash Mob. And I can totally see how that has no long-term payoff AND disconnects me from my steady supporters. I think I reason that I’m trying to convert those Flashers to Fans. Hmmm. So great to notice.
Marissa Bracke says
Noticing is really the key. Certainly not looking to dampen the flutter from a good Flash Mob (flutter away–I’m right there with you). But noticing it’s happening and being mindful about where you’re making your energy investments is the important thing–it helps ensure there’s more to flutter about later on down the road!
Thu Nguyen says
Tribe is definitely the buzz word to call what you have now. I was recently introduced to Katie Freiling who markets on this idea aside from Seth Godin who coined the term, correct me if I’m wrong, but your breakdown of the tribe’s innards are really interesting. This really puts into perspective why I’m really affected by the Flash Mob who usually leaves me with temporary highs and goes away once the glory’s over. A truly well-thought out piece.
Archan Mehta says
Thanks for the lovely post.
I have been a cheerleader for Charlies since the dawn of time and onset of civilization.
It’s just that nobody knows about it yet.
To clarify: I have cheered via on-line comments, not the real deal.
If I were a real cheerleader, I would have the po-lice on my back in no time, charging me for public indecency: I would look so ugly. It doesn’t help when you’re a guy!
Just so you know, I was a cheerleader in high school. Seriously – there are pictures on Facebook about it.
Who knew that I’d continue to be a cheerleader when I grew up?
Julie Daley says
I love this post, because it gives my mind such a good mental model of the flow of people in my work. I love the feeling of a good flash-mob…it’s such a hit of energy, yet I have noticed it comes and it goes, and it’s what remains that counts…just as in awareness itself. Thanks!
Archan Mehta says
Seriously: were you a cheerleader in high school? Now how come you never told us?
Then again, why am I not surprised?
With you, anything’s possible.
Rest assured, though, I am not going to check out your photos on Facebook.
I would have a heart attack, I am sure, and it would kill me.
Oh, I can see it now: shocking images of Charlie trying to look as sleazy as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader….
Really short skirt, pom poms, and shake that body…and yell, go team.
Dear Lord, save me and take me higher.
The things a guy has to endure to be a fan on this blog. Spare our lives, Charlie, please.
On the other hand, maybe I will use those photos to scare off the wild dogs living in my neck of the woods.
One look and those dogs are gonna be yesterday’s news. You know what?
You may just read about those dogs in the obituary section of your local newspaper.
Andrew Lightheart @alightheart says
I’ve got a bit behind on blog-reading the past month, so missed this – sorry Marissa.
Blimey – this has REALLY clarified things in my head.
SOOO much social media advice is on attracting Flash Mob attention. And I’ve felt uncomfortable with it for a while.
And now I have a framework.
This totally helps me to look at my supporters and it’s utterly clear how writing/creating for my Pillars helps me produce my best work, and looking after my Fans feels like a nourishing investment.
I’ve been monitoring my energy level recently, and this is gonna really really help.
Thanks Marissa (and thanks Charlie for hosting her).