how to make people *not* want to join your freaking tribe




“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” — Emma Goldman

I got a kick out of this short and punchy post by online maverick Ashley Ambirge.

As she explains:

The internet popularized the concept of “finding your tribe,” and while Seth Godin’s book by the same name is right on the money, the term itself has become cliché, stale, trite, boiler plate, and fucking offensive…

I’m tired of seeing my Twitter feed, my blog reader, and every single “newsletter” that comes into my inbox be another vomit party of #sameshitdifferentday. I’m tired of seeing yet another call to, “live your best life!” (give me a break), or “Join the tribe!”

I’ve also noticed all those calls to join someone’s “free community!” so I can self-identify as a [insert cute tribe name here] and buy their products and services. As with most of the clutter that fills up Internet airspace, I’ve made a habit of tuning them out.

Blame, if you wish, Lady Gaga, who rose to stardom partly on the brilliance of her online savvy, galvanizing a deep online community of hardcore fans known as Little Monsters. Books on branding and marketing have done a deep-dive into the success stories of Gaga and other tattoo brands* —

*(By tattoo brands I mean: brands that people love and self-identify with so intensely that they tattoo the brand logo on a chosen body part. That is when you know you’ve truly made it: when someone immortalizes your symbol on their ass.)

— like The Grateful Dead, Harley-Davidson, Apple. These business books (and well-read bloggers) then break those stories down into 7 easy steps or 10 guiding principles (Give Your Community Members A Special Name) that you, Dear Reader, may follow in order to produce a lucrative ‘movement’ of your own.

I absolutely believe in the power of the tribe. As an artist, writer or creative entrepreneur of any kind, creating your much-discussed platform is creating community.

Except you don’t really ‘create’ community.

You create the conditions for it.

You offer up a cool idea – not a what so much as a why.

You express it in a way that attracts and resonates with the people whom you are meant to serve.

You embody, in some way, whatever it is that you’re talking about; if you just piggyback on a rising trend, people will reject you for someone who lives it. Authenticity has a smell. People are keen to sniff it out.

You create the bonfire that other people gather round. You give them something to talk about, believe in, and bond over. You provide a loose structure in which this can happen: a great spot on the beach, an online home, an annual conference.

I once got cocky – and tipsy – and made the mistake of saying to a friend whom I wanted to impress, “Do you know how smart I am?”

“Too smart to say something stupid like that,” he said promptly.

His point: if you have to say it, or sell it, you’re not (you’re probably the opposite). Because it’s not for you to decide or dictate how other people perceive you (or each other). Lady Gaga did not choose the name ‘Little Monsters’ and then push out emails to sell community as a way of selling her stuff. She created her stuff, and gave the people who liked it a place to go, a language to share, and a way of relating to her (Gaga is known for her frequent social-media use and her candor) and to each other.

The purpose of community is to enable self-expression and connect with like-minded individuals.

Sales become a happy byproduct.

People do not want to be sold to: it’s like the number one rule of so-called platform building.

They do, however, want to be recognized.

So they take that bonfire and make it their own.

They are not your minions. They belong to themselves. They take ownership of a vision that you have managed to articulate in a way that captures their emotion as well as their intellect, their imagination as well as their logic. Community inspires them to live into that idea or philosophy.

Your stuff – whatever it is — enables them a deeper sense of self. Which, when you think about it, is a remarkable and humbling thing. So let them tell you all about it.

Sep 5, 2014

11 comments · Add Yours

I’m going to post to the other topic (lawrence, upton et al) but wanted to say your prose has a fluid beauty which only an artists sensibility could create. I hope you focus on that, and not celebrity-hood. True Intrinsic value of anything comes from the efforts of an artist; that artist can be a painter, musician, entrepreneur, landscaper, or novelist. ‘Lady Gaga’ walks along the edge of four-on-the-floor forgotten music; the fact that she is actually a true musician saves her legacy. The staccato beat of a good deal of her songs does not generate much community…but her real self-created musical efforts do. The difference between the standard fan of One Direction and Neil Young is the difference between washable and permanent ink.


@Stephen Green What galvanizes Gaga’s community is the idea/vision she has given them about self-acceptance, self-love, freedom from bullying. Her music is her product, the *what* through which she delivers a very powerful *why*. Jimmy Buffet is another entertainer who has an extremely powerful community (his idea/vision is kicked-back island living) but isn’t exactly known for his artistry.

This post isn’t about art, or even celebrity; it’s about how Godin’s concept of tribes has been hijacked and distorted for marketing purposes. Celebrities make good examples — good ways to demonstrate your point and show it at work in the culture — because they’re part of our shared frame of reference.


Lately I’ve been thinking that I want to be a focal point for my tribe. I’ve spent years trying to “create” community, and somehow everything I’ve said has somehow gotten lost in translation. It could be that people relate to me without informing me, but I find I have a deep hunger for communication that gouges the surface and gets to the nitty-gritty. I keep trying to start conversation through my blog posts, and it occurs to me that the “trying” might be the problem.

My point is this: if I can manage to show up and convey a message clearly and poignantly enough, it’s bound to resonate with those who’re on the same frequency even if I don’t get to hear about it. This post makes me rethink my reasons for wanting a community of my own, and fuels my fire to dig out my true voice so it can ring through the cathedral of my being and pulsate in my bones.

If I’m able to look past the popular way of doing things and just speak a truth rooted in soul, then I create space for my community to find and identify with me. I’ve come to see that building a platform is a journey that only really begins when you trust yourself enough to know that your voice has value and your message is needed. This, of course, allows you to stop the comparison game and focus on the message of your art.

I suppose I’ve had lacklustre results because I’ve been somewhat lacklustre on social media, but the more I hunger for true communion, the more I decide to show up and be consistent about it, for fuck’s sake. I cannot give my people a place to gather if I don’t keep that place open, available, and spunky.

In thinking about my reasons for wanting a tribe of my own, I realise that I yearn to be part of the movement that frees women to reclaim their voices and their stories. This is part of what you do so brilliantly here, Justine, because you embody what it means to be a fierce creatrix unafraid to speak her mind and walk her own path. If enough women realise they have the freedom to determine how they act, why they act, and what they think, the global community as we know it will undergo a radical transformation.

I think the collective female consciousness is already moving in the right direction because more and more women are searching for a place to call their own, for a space that lets them be all of their raw, unbridled, fiercely feminine selves. We are hungry for a deeper experience of life, a richer sense of texture, and a more grounded approach to self-talk and body-image. We recognise that the status quo is beyond broken, so we search for the spark that lights our sacred fire, for the sisterhood that makes us feel like we’ve come home and we’re free to create the lives that call to us.

So yes, I do want to build my tribe, but more importantly, I want to call in a sisterhood that frees women to reclaim their right to use their voice any which way they choose.
This is why I write, this is why I read, and this is why I practise.

Thank you for making me think more deeply about what matters most to me.


Yes. We first need to embody the why… then see who shows up.

Our communities give to us as much as we give to them. Letting them co-create the community makes it theirs.


Justine, as someone who’s made a living off of being a community manager, I’ve never liked the title, because to your point, we don’t manage it, we don’t create it, we become a conduit for the members of the community. Recognition comes from listening and understanding. Not directing, broadcasting and certainly not managing.
So glad you’ve shared this in a way that I hope many others will listen to.


I agree with Godin’s points. To some extent yours. But I want to make sure I’m being clear myself. Gaga’s ‘tribe’ will disband within ten years. 100% REAL musicians seem to be able to hold together their own tribes forever (even after they’re dead)…witness the Stones, The Who, REM, Radiohead, Neil Young, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell, Pearl Jam, U2, The Smiths, Pink Floyd, Heather Nova, Neil Diamond, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and to lesser extents Elton John (his has been a changing tribe), Carole King (didn’t really care about expanding), Jewel (she screwed up by going pop on one album, diminishing her status among core fans), The Cure (inconsistent). Bands playing hard today which likely will maintain their tribes forever include The Killers, Foo Fighters, Coldplay, The Black Keys, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You’re going to notice that the vast majority of these acts are rock and roll…for good reason. As an aural art form, generally rock and roll is the only intelligent marriage of lyrics and melody. And it is also why the bands’ tribes will stick with them til they die.

Compare that stickiness to Any band that plays four-on-the-floor staccato, lip sincs entire concerts, posess no musical skills, have other people write their lyrics, and more or less perform dance routines while pretending to be musicians, and you understand why tribalism in music (and art) is always about genuine talent and authentic creativity. That is why Gaga’s is not a great example of that. Her tribe is fleeting. I get that she provides them an outlet of sorts…but that is for today only.

The bands I referenced are more indicative of truth.

Btw, I’ve got a further bone to pick (if you ever read this) about your stance on the lawrence-upton theft and calling it a ‘sex crime’. Thinking it over, the problem with you/others mislabeling it (exaggerating it) is that kind of gratuitous add-on crime is perhaps why we see situations like Ferguson MO. You give cover to cops for essentially painting such huge strokes of crime…why wouldn’t cops abuse their positions if the people want everything labeled a crime, or at least a deeper crime? You realize a guy convicted of a sex crime goes to jail for about 10x that of a regular thief? And so far as cops go, assume they pick this person up eventually, who’s gonna argue if they beat the shit out of the suspect, because after all this is a “sex crime”. This mentality of making everything more than it truly is is one of the reasons the state has become totalitarian.

People need to understand the power of words better..your words are written well, but the effect can be dangerous, especially in this case.


This is utterly magnificent! Thank you!


A what and a why? People you are meant to serve? I hear a lot of marketingspeak here.. And I do think it is out of place. Not that I don’t believe writes need to market themselves. Writers don’t serve though, not in th Coca-Cola way. There is a conflict of worlds here.. But I need to think about it more.


Ugh, please correct my typo’s… Thanks!


This is my favorite part: They are not your minions. They belong to themselves. They take ownership of a vision that you have managed to articulate in a way that captures their emotion as well as their intellect, their imagination as well as their logic. Community inspires them to live into that idea or philosophy.

I have believed this for so long and now only read blogs by people who, I feel, embody this belief as well. You are one of them.

Thank you!


Can I just say HELL YEAH HELL YEAH HELL YEAH!! As a business newbie the idea of saying join MY tribe just feels sickening. Especially when signing up for a newsletter isn’t so much of a community and more of a one sided pen pal. Entrepreneurship should be about being of service to others, not how they can worship you and your brilliant ideas.


Add your comment