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Illustration of people showcasing online tribes

What are Online Tribes (and Why Should You Be Targeting Them)?

Lance Concannon

Feb 22, 2023

As marketers, one of our most crucial tasks is defining the audience and target market we're trying to reach. It's the foundation to all elements of a marketing strategy, from development right through to the promotion of a product or service. 

Brands are forever seeking new and innovative ways to target these audiences, as behaviors continue to change with the speed of the web. Modern research has offered a new perspective to help understand these changing consumer behaviors, through a social context that we’ll be discussing shortly.

In this post, we want to help the modern marketer decipher terminology around consumer audiences, introduce the concept of tribes and explain the added value behind targeting them.

Table of Contents

Let’s jump into definitions.

Definitions: Communities vs. Tribes

The marketing world has been exposed to terms such as brand communities, consumer tribes, and tribal marketing for some time thanks to marketing gurus like Seth Godin.

But are the differences clear?

What are customer communities?

Traditionally, global brands have focused on building customer communities. This term describes a targeted demographic of like-minded, trait-sharing consumers that identify with their brand and its values.

One example is the motorbike brand, Harley Davidson. It was able to form a cult-like following of loyal customers that identify with the lifestyle experience it sells. The ‘average target consumer’ is a married white male, in his early 50s, with an income of around $90,000 dollars, investing in a motorcycle to fulfill his passion for the lifestyle. The company is synonymous with a sense of branded community and is world-renowned for its ‘brotherhood’ of riders.

What are marketing tribes?

Then comes tribes. On the surface, this concept appears to be similar to customer communities but the focus instead, lies on the relationship among consumers sharing common traits. 

Tribal marketing addresses consumers through a social context. It caters to our need as people to build and associate with consumption-focused groups called ‘tribes’, that are emotionally connected through their similar consumption values.

Individuals also identify with one another through their collective interests and behaviors, rather than their demographic traits. This could be anything from eco-friendly fashion, fairtrade goods, pets, sexual orientation, and music preference to dietary requirements and health issues. Think of them as micro-cultures of consumption connected by their similar interests, values, and usage.

In Seth Godin’s research, he suggests that people are drawn to leaders and their ideas, and feel the need to belong in not just one, but multiple tribes they identify with. He states that groups need just two things to become tribes: a shared interest and a way to communicate. 

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” – Seth Godin, Tribes.

A case study: the Glossier Tribe

An example of this leader-led group is a cosmetics brand Glossier.

Before founder and CEO Emily Weiss formed the brand, she connected a niche community of beauty consumers through her blog. Using a unique concept of beauty inspired by real-life - skin first, makeup second, she disrupted the cosmetics industry. And further still, each and every product has been co-created and crowd-sourced in collaboration with the Glossier online tribe.

Weiss leveraged the power of online tribes and targeted a niche group of consumers. She identified an audience, their interests and their platform of communication, all before appealing to the ideas and values that bind them with valuable content. In doing so she was able to position her brand as the leader of various tribes.

It's by understanding this new paradigm of consumer tribes that brands like Glossier select their influencers, it's also what Meltwater strongly believes is the future of influencer marketing.

How to find influencers within tribes

The use of influencers has been an integral component of traditional and modern marketing strategies.

But as technologies and preferences evolve with each generation, so do pools of influence. Social media has allowed consumers to communicate with their favorite and potential brands, but more importantly, it created a channel of communication between consumer tribes. We believe that within these groups, brands should locate the trends and topics most concerned with their target audience as well as the influencers they use to target them.

You won’t find a more of a direct pool of influence than the people buying, using and reviewing your product or services, and we can see this in Glossier’s marketing strategy. The millennial brand didn’t turn to celebrity influencers to target a mass audience, it utilized its biggest evangelists - regular customers, to target tribes.

Regardless of follower count, Glossier sees each and every consumer on social media as a walking, talking influencer. It's one example and an indication, that brands are turning away from traditional ‘influencers’ in favor of the everyday micro-influencer.

Tribe influencers, go deeper into niche groups

Continuing on, the discovery of consumer tribes brings brands to a new opportunity: tribe influencers. Thanks to social intelligence platforms, it's easier than ever to identify and directly interact with the tribes they’re targeting. The internet is full to the brim of consumers subconsciously forming tribes around every niche imaginable.

Take the following groups for example, The Cat WhiskersVegan Women Who Travel, and The Basement. These groups bond over their interests and trusted recommendations whether it be pet food, vegan-friendly vacation destinations or style in clothing. Each of these members align in some way and can influence each other's consumer decisions.

Depending on the scale of a brand and its campaign, it will often select from the macro "creme de la creme" of Instagram accounts. However, now more than ever, brands are turning towards smaller micro- and even nano-influencers.

Markerly analyzed over 800,000 Instagram accounts, with mostly a thousand followers. Here are some interesting stats:

  1. Users with 1 million to 10 million followers earned likes only 1.7 percent of the time.
  2. Users with 1,000 to 10,000 followers earned likes at a rate of 4 percent.
  3. Instagram users with under 1,000 followers generated likes 8 percent of the time.

It's one of the countless studies that correlate with Gen Z and their preference for authenticity. The simple fact is, liberated consumers, want to hear about products and services from ‘real people’ they identify with.

Take the #momblogger consumer segment for example. This mother of four is part of an Instagram community, connected through an abundant pool of tribes. Interests range from family, children, recipes, hygiene, travel, and gardening to DIY. It makes mom bloggers the perfect tribe influencers to advocate a variety of family-oriented products.

Meltwater's vision for tribes and influencer marketing

In order to innovate the best products and craft targeted messaging, you need to understand and segment your audiences.

Social media is a goldmine for consumer insights. With a bit of expertise and the right tools (e.g. the Meltwater Social Influencer Platform), you can understand consumer decisions, trends, and find the best ambassadors that can speak to your target audience.

Simply fill out the form below to get a free consultation.