Tribes, marketing guru Seth Godin’s 2008 book, is all about the groups people identify with. Godin posits that the Internet helps make it easier for individuals to be leaders and form tribes with others who share their interests, be it for work, faith or fun.
It’s got me contemplating my own tribes. There are the obvious ones – my extended family, the parents of children my kids go to school with, friends I went to high school or college with.
Then there are the writing tribes I belong to. When I worked at a daily newspaper, the other reporters were my tribe.
When I went freelance, not only did I lose my full-time paycheck, I lost my tribe. Instead of being part of a pack of 300, suddenly I was on my own – at least that’s what it felt like at the time.
It’s partly the reason journalists – anybody really – feel discombobulated after losing a job. Suddenly the tribe you’ve identified with for as long as you held that job has vanished.
But as Godin points out, the Internet is the perfect tribe-making tool because it makes communicating so easy. First it was through email listservs, then IM and chat rooms on online services like AOL, then the Web, blogs, and now the ultimate tribal circles, social networks like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Ning, LinkedIn and so on and so on.
Today, I’m part of several writing tribes. Knit them together and they’re the buddy system I lost when I left the newsroom. They’ve become intrinsic to my professional identity.
Freelance Success – A subscription-based writer’s community with a weekly newsletter and pay-rate database. For me and many of the hundreds of professional writers who pay the site’s $99 annual fee, the best part is the message boards, which are active, civil and cover topics such as magazines, corporate writing, blogs, travel writing and books.
#EditorChat – A weekly online chat on FriendFeed.com hosted by Motley Fool finance writer Tim Beyers and business feature writer Lydia Dishman that takes on all manner of subjects writers and editors care about. #Editorchat happens Wednesday nights at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. The latest discussion covered the types of work or household tasks freelancers outsource to buy themselves more time to work – or would if they could afford it. Earlier discussions have covered the New York Times’ decision to have columnists teach online classes, writing for content aggregators and hyperlocal news.
Twitter – Writers use Twitter many ways – to connect with sources, promote a story, showcase a blog. Another is to synch up with fellow writers. I follow several hundred writers and editors and am followed by a like number. We use it like a mini-message board, to share tips, answer quick questions or exchange atta boys. If you’re a writer, follow me at
@MichelleRafter and I’ll follow you back.
Portland digital media scene – A collection of writers, bloggers, podcasters, software developers and other media types with one thing in common – living and working here in Portland. This is probably the most loosely defined tribe I’m in. Portland’s media tribe hangs out at the Green Dragon on Fridays for Beer and Blog, goes to WordPress user groups meetings and WordCamp Portland (the next one’s Sept. 19-20 at Webtrends), and congregates at Mediabistro.com cocktail parties (which, BTW, somebody needs to resurrect – Mediabistro, if you read this, I’m happy to volunteer). The area’s digerati coalesced in the biggest way ever when more than 150 locals got together at the Digital Journalism Camp in August to listen to panels on hyperlocal news, new revenue models, podcasting and more.
Online News Association – This trade group for professional journalists who specialize in digital media has benefited from the demise of traditional (print) media in the past year, witnessed by a major uptick in membership. The group holds an annual convention – this year’s is in San Francisco Oct. 2-4 and I’ll be there – regular online and in-person classes, an online journalism awards competition, member discussion forum and offers other benefits and resources.
These tribes have become the places I look for help, bounce ideas off people, blow off steam when I’m frustrated with a story or editor or visit when I just want to talk.
As more people work freelance – not just writers but all kinds of freelancers – expect to see more tribes. That’s what all the fuss is over social networks, which ones are the best tool for creating tribes. It’s why Facebook and Twitter are such big news, why investors still pour money into social network start ups and everyone from job boards to media outlets are tacking on a community component to their websites – think of it as tribal warfare.
Are you in a tribe?