Three Important Steps to Building a Killer Tribe

We’ve talked before about why you need to find your tribe — a unique group of fans, friends, and followers who resonate with your worldview.

Killer Tribes
Photo credit: Rachel D (Creative Commons)

This can be done through a blog, radio program, or speaking platform. But really, the medium is irrelevant; what matters most is the trust you establish with people.

The hard part isn’t defining the message; it’s creating a community of people who want to hear from you.

If you asked Seth Godin (the Godfather of tribe-building) how to build an audience, he’d say you need a message that is personal, relevant, and anticipated. I would agree. But what does that look like, practically?

Sometimes, it’s helpful to get rid of the jargon and just get down to the brass tacks. So here are three important steps to building a killer tribe (hat tip to Bryan Allain for coining the term killer tribe).

Step 1: Be as personal as you can be

If you want to reach other humans, act like one. Simple, right? Hardly.

A lot of people turn into robots when they get on the Internet or step into the spotlight. Either they become complete jerks or turn into formal ambassadors of snobbery.

You can be different:

  • Talk like a real person (even if it means breaking a few grammar rules).
  • Be accessible (as an exercise, try answering as many emails as possible as soon as they come in).
  • Show your scars (don’t be afraid to be a little vulnerable).

You don’t have to air all your dirty laundry or expose ever personal aspect of your life to accomplish this. Just don’t be someone you’re not. Be you and amazing stuff will happen.

I like what Chris Brogan has to say about this:

Your goal is to move your ideas through a platform to encourage a human interaction.

People like connecting with other people. It’s human nature. If you allow your fans and readers to feel comfortable, they’ll open up to you and start feeling comfortable. As they do, you’ll earn permission to speak into their lives.

Step 2: Stay relevant to your audience

People don’t care about what matters to you; they care about what matters to them. If you want to attract an audience, you need to stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about how you can help people.

Godin says it like this:

[W]hat people really want is the ability to connect to each other…

A tribe helps like-minded people find each other. It “gives them a story to tell and something to talk about.” So how do you build such a community intentionally? Here’s an idea: Be generous.

Consider the following:

  • A newbie blogger gives away an eBook he could charge money for in exchange for just an email address so that he can email you when he has another book come out.
  • An indie band offers a complimentary download of their new album for a week to start getting people talking about it so it can spread.
  • An up-and-coming cartoonist who’s yet to make the big-time releases a daily comic on his blog for all to see, with no strings attached.

Over-the-top generosity is the best marketing you’ll ever do. And nothing builds an audience faster than giving freely without expectation of compensation.

All of this, of course, is not free. It costs the creator something — a lot, actually. But in return, it earns her something even more valuable than money: trust. That’s what we’re going for here when we try to build a tribe. When help people get what they want, they’ll return the favor.

So how do you break that down? How do you become relevant in a world full of noise?

  1. Find a niche with a worldview (or go create one).
  2. Speak directly to just those people.
  3. Exclude all others, focusing on only your tribe, thus making them feel special.

Do that enough, and you won’t be able to keep the fans away.

Step 3: Create mouth-watering anticipation

Every week, someone delivers a newspaper to my house.

I’ve never asked for it, never paid money for it, and never read it. Not once. Still, someone feels compelled to drop a little plastic bag full of today’s news on my driveway. And I promptly throw it in the trash.

The mindset of the person delivering the paper, I imagine, goes something like this:

If we show up often enough and interrupt you long enough, eventually you’ll have to pay attention. We will wear you down.

Wrong. This is called SPAM, and it doesn’t work. Not anymore.

If people aren’t anticipating your message, they’ll just tune you out. You have to earn permission, speak directly to a specific audience, and deliver what you promise.

Only then will we care about what you have to say.

You must show up when you say you will, do what you say you’re going to do, and always give people an easy way to leave the community whenever they want. That’s what permission — getting it and keeping it — is all about.

Contrast that newspaper I get with a recent book order from I can’t wait for that package to arrive. It’s expected, and because of that anticipation, I take it seriously.

What this means for you

If you do the work of respecting people’s time, you earn the right to speak to them. You may find that some are no longer tuning you out, but showing up, eager to hear what you have to say.

And this is the paradox:

When you make your platform about other people, they’ll make it about you. [Tweet]

Respect begets respect. Generosity is reciprocated. Being helpful gets you noticed.

Honor these principles, and you’ll never have to worry about marketing or self-promotion again. You’ll be the kind of voice that people look forward to hearing from. You’ll have the audience you always wanted.

And if you need further help, check out my online course, which opens for registration next week.

Have you found your tribe yet? Share in the comments.

275 thoughts on “Three Important Steps to Building a Killer Tribe

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  2. This is great Jeff! I’m so going to work on it. In everywhere and everything we do, always be your self. But in this cruel world we live in, other people will like you for who you are and other will judge you. Don’t let them stop you from being yourself.

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  9. Great stuff here Jeff. personal, relevant and necessary – just what I needed. I am a newbie and don’t yet have clarity on my niche or target audience. I am hoping it will be reveal as I continue to write and get feedback. Again nice job on post and Thanks!

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  11. Amazing summary, Jeff! Love the “killer tribe” and will start implementing all of this starting next week! Hope to catch you at the next WDS, heard great things from others who’ve met you!

  12. Finding and speaking to right audience is crucial. I hope more businesses adopt your advice to speak like people, not generic corporate jibber jabber.

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