Embrace Your Tribe – A Discussion & Interview with Seth Godin

Note from Michael: This article & interview was originally published last year in Digitale Biblioteek.

Seth Godin has been writing and speaking about marketing, the new landscape of the Web paired with emerging social media and the increasing power of consumer “word of mouth.” His books include The Big Red Fez: How to make Any Web Site Better, Permission Marketing, The Purple Cow, Small is the New Big, The Dip and most recently Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.

I’ve been drawn to his ideas and insights for a long time, while working in public libraries to teaching library school. Librarians, library school students, information architects and anyone working to create online community around digital collections and digital library service will find useful strategies and paradigm shifting insights into what works and what doesn’t in a connected society.

Ideas have to Remarkable

In The Purple Cow, Godin argues that ideas have to be memorable and engaging to grow. Businesses have to stand out from the rest. This thinking is easily applied to libraries and the services they offer: what makes a library unique? What does the library have that no one else does?

One answer might be the strength of digital collections and the brains behind them. Localized or otherwise unique digital collections where the curious might explore and leave comments/interact certainly could make a library stand apart. Library staff professionals are also a unique feature of libraries – knowledge, insight and curiosity are traits of some of the best library workers. Sharing oneself online – via Facebook profiles, answering questions on Twitter, or the like is one way to promote and give presence to our jobs and profession.

What else is unique and remarkable about your library?

Be Authentic

In Godin’s work, I also find sage advice for how we present ourselves as information professionals in the networked world. In a time when snark is so easy, Godin urges readers throughout his works and blogging to be authentic – stressing quality over quantity. “There’s no limit now. No limit to how many clicks, readers, followers and friends you can acquire,” he wrote recently at his blog. “Instead of getting better, you focus obsessively on getting bigger.”

We’re representing our profession – and ourselves in everything we do: participating in social networks, building library presence online and in the physical world at events and meetings. Godin notes what happens to some in the quest to have more: “You’re at a conference, talking to someone who matters to you. Over their shoulder, you see a new, bigger, better networking possibility. So you scamper away. It’s about getting bigger.”

Instead, build a trusted network of colleagues and contacts in the digital library world. Share. Cite them when they inspire you. Pay it forward. The wonderful thing is now, these people can reside all over the world. It’s not unusual to have support from The Netherlands, Australia, the United Sates or England with the click clack of a few keys. Be real in these dealings. Be honest. Be yourself.

Leverage the Online World for Promotion

The online tools offer much opportunity and promise. In Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Godin notes that “Internet companies have taken the original idea behind blogs and amplified it into a set of tools that anyone can use to tighten a tribe.” Facebook, Twitter and others allow interaction and information sharing – with replies built in.

“The biggest shift is going to be that organizations that could never have afforded a national campaign will suddenly have one,” Godin writes in a recent blog post. “The same way that there’s very little correlation between popular websites and big companies, we’ll see that the most popular commercials get done by little shops that have nothing to lose.”

The same could be said about libraries – all shapes, sizes and types. We can take promotion online – make it viral. Recent online initiatives such as the New Jersey State Library’s campaign to share users’ video stories about the transformational qualities of libraries are ways to create low-cost, human, authentic marketing campaigns.

Gather Your Tribe

The most recent book takes a big picture view of the possibilities of social media and gathering people together. Godin argues that businesses fail because “they forgot to embrace their tribe”  and offers a roadmap for creating a tribe, which he defines as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.”

All it takes for a tribe to form, Godin writes, “is a shared interest and a way to communicate.” Social Web sites break down geographic  barriers. A tribe can be global or simply based in your community. Godin warns, however, that some organizations are stuck: bound by archaic rules or not only avoiding change but fighting against it.

Fear is also a driving factor: what will boss say? Will everyone get in trouble?

In this Facebooked, Twiiter-ized, RSS-fed world, Godin notes, individuals have more leverage than ever before to create change and build inter-connected groups of supporters around a common idea or cause. Godin offers principles and steps to create a movement – publish a manifesto, make it easy for followers to connect, track progress based on transparency, nurture the group along the way and be mindful not to tear others down in the process.

The promise of gathering your tribe – for your library, your community, your online collection presence? Godin notes that everyone in an organization can lead. The market rewards those organizations that change things.

Godin says: “People are waiting for you to connect them.”  How will you lead?


The Interview


Michael Stephens: I read Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us with great interest and with a focus on libraries, the people they serve, and what librarians might learn about shaping future services to involve users online and in physical spaces. What would you want library people to take away from Tribes?

Seth Godin: Libraries are no longer places for obscure books. The web is that. Libraries are places to organize the community.

MS: Your recent works have addressed marketing, message, and media.  You also write about true fans and the “depth of commitment and interconnection that true fans deliver.” As libraries go forward with broadening the library brand – “Books” to most folks – how should we be crafting the message about libraries? How can we reach our true fans?

SG: Your true fans, I think, are the curious. The library is the house for the curious. And I want to meet other curious people.

MS: You write about curiosity. I’ve used your quote in my talks for some time: “To be curious means to explore first.” What’s to be gained from exploring? Have you known librarians to be explorers?

SG: A few, but not many. Not that librarians aren’t good at seeking things out… they are. They’re great at it. I am talking about finding things you weren’t look for in the first place. What a skill that is. Teaching it to kids is essential.

MS: You write that “the timid leave a vacuum” in Tribes. I worry that our profession has been too timid for too long. How can we overcome timidity and be more visible?

SG: Once you become a leader, you will cease to be invisible, I promise.

MS: I asked my followers on Twitter if they had any questions for you as well. One person asked: What’s the best way to market change to those who are resistant to it or too comfortable in what they do?

SG: By leading. By doing. Start making waves and watch what happens!

Article Sidebar: Michael’s Ten Ways to Encourage the Tribe

  • Connect around a cause, a community or a concept.
  • Use Stories
  • Be Transparent
  • Leverage the Social Tools
  • Remember the Mission
  • The Little Things count…a lot
  • Listen & Talk (like a human)
  • Create a Culture of Caring
  • Trust them
  • Value EVERY Member

See the full post at http://tametheweb.com/2009/05/17/ten-ways-to-encourage-the-tribe/

Citations:

Infinity, They Keep Making More of It: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/04/infinitythey-keep-making-more-of-it.html

Making Commercials for the Web: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/04/making-commercials-for-the-web.html

New Jersey Transforming Lives Site: www.tellusyourstory.org.

Links:

Set’s Blog: http://sethgodin.typepad.com

Seth Godin’s Books: http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/books.asp

Seth Godin at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seth_Godin

Photo of Seth Godin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4035933108/ (Creative Commons)

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