How to build a tribe of followers from scratch

Deepika Singh
Aug 8, 2018 · 11 min read

The psychology and method behind how to build a tribe of people who love what you do.

Image credit — Unsplash

The desire to spend time with or exchange ideas and knowledge with like-minded people has forever been a strong human trait. Religion, Sports, Politics, Professions, race, Schools, country — name it and you will realize you associate yourself strongly with a few of these “areas-of-interest”

and stronger this feeling, stronger is the pull towards the community that focusses on what you’re passionate about.

As a marketer, I often see the idea of community being hyped as the way into the future. In a way it is true, but to think of it as something “new” would be grossly incorrect. Communities have always been around for millennia. The concept of nations, regions, houses, and sororities in schools are an affirmation of the fact that humans have always wanted to bond stronger and meaningfully with others like them.

Image credit —

What changes the dynamic today is tribalization. The presence of tribes within communities.

In a community of people who love junk food, finding your tribe is finding those who love nachos and finding the micro-tribe is finding those who love Doritos Nachos. something like that!

As highly evolved homo sapiens, we want to do what others are doing — we want to belong and it’s almost a need. There is an inherent desire to exchange stories and knowledge, be seen with a certain crowd or do certain activities which make you different from the rest. Often times this need stems from the need to connect over commonalities or to fulfill an aspiration to be seen a certain way.

However, in the modern context, the amplification of the internet is reshuffling things a bit when it comes to communities and tribes. This is a dual-edged sword after all.

On one hand, a billion voices create a cacophony where it’s difficult to distinguish signal from noise. On the other hand, for businesses, these are wonderful times because this digital connectivity has turned the globe into a virtual village which means a brand’s voice has a greater reach. This reach and connect is what I want to talk about in detail — How to build a tribe of people who support you and love what you do!

Brands are increasingly focusing on tribe and community formation today. However, there have been some early visionaries like Nike. Fitness has been important since ages, but when do you think people decided that being skinny, fit and running marathons and endurance runs were fun? It wasn’t until Nike showed up, correlated and fed into the need for fitness with the need to look cool wearing the right shoes and gear that things caught one. Today Nike has a cult-like following on the planet in almost every sport and has been able to build a tribe of loyal Nike users.

Understand the psychology behind tribes before you set out to build a tribe

Creating a community is giving users, customers, prospects, and intellectuals a platform to converge at a central point and discuss debate, relate and communicate.

It delves upon the subconscious need of humans to want to belong to a cohort of like-minded people. This feeling of belonging further helps solidify the members’ identity around the core theme of the community.

An additional aspect that matters here is exclusivity. Think about it — why are certain clubs and sororities more looked up to for joining? What makes them aspirational? Of course, it’s exclusivity! The fact that the kind of people you want to associate with are all at a certain place and you’re not is a major pull. Gating communities make them more sought after.

When you decide to build a tribe, it’s best to embark on a community program in conjunction with a social media program. This amplifies and reinforces efforts. It also helps people connect with other like-minded people and hold meaningful interactions from all over the globe.

As a business owner, when you decide to go for a community program there are plenty of things that you must take cognizance of. Primary being, lead a community don’t manage it. Displaying leadership beyond your current circle of influence i.e. employees, colleagues, family and friends etc. is instrumental in shaping and deciding the direction of the community. Be the visionary, lead the game and ignite conversations and ideas. Don’t just be moderating conversations and managing members of the community. A good community program is bigger than all that. Once people identify you as a leader and visionary they are bound to talk about you in various media and social circles and create an inbound effect so much so that they would be ready to follow you or your work from any corner of the planet.

Monetizing communities:

You will only be able to monetize your brand when you ensure that people know they are valued even without or beyond their wallet’s contribution. In my experience, when it comes to nascent and unestablished brands, people trust people first (the founders or face of the brand) and its only over time and consistent results when a reputation gets built that users begin to trust the brand. This trust is what helps people want to open their wallets for you as you build a tribe.

I know of a wonderful example on this where an almost about-to-close-business agency owner could harness and ride the wave of community in a great way. On Facebook, there’s a really active community of about 69K people — marketers, small digital agency owners, small business owners etc. specializing on the niche topic of Facebook ads. The community was started by a digital agency owner in New Zealand as a way to meet new people who faced similar challenges. It slowly evolved into a cauldron of ideas, peer to peer learning and discussing strategies on creating and designing Facebook ads. Beyond the networking, the community helped reinforce the group owners’ brand in a subtle way. If you look at it, the target clientele for the community creator is actually the members within it. Consequently, the community owner created various paid programs, courses and learning material to help group members.

How a startup can build a tribe from scratch:

Established businesses and enterprises have multimillion-dollar marketing budgets to spend on attracting crowds to them. However, small businesses and ventures can do it well too by getting creative — the topic of focus, Ask-me-anything (AMA) sessions, contests, polls, influencer campaigns etc.. The success of a community is more dependent on the way it is lead and managed rather than how much money is pumped into its establishment.

Here’s how you could go about building your tribe:

1. Lurk and Listen:

Before you decide to build a tribe of followers, observe other well-managed ones. Check what they have been up to and gain insights from them — What’s being discussed, at what frequency, who posts, who doesn’t, who comments, who’s mostly silent, who shares value, who shares fluff etc. Once you begin to see patterns, you will know the broad functioning of the community. Also, this exercise will help you to assess where you need to be e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp etc. If you’re a B2B business then probably a Facebook or LinkedIn group or a separate portal would work for you. If you’re B2C, Instagram would work wonders for you.

Starbucks has a dedicated portal for its tribe of followers

2. Have a goal:

You may not know how to get to the goal, but before you set out to build a tribe that will be followed and loved, finalise your direction and approach. Once you’ve broadly figured out how communities work and are managed, pick a highly relevant niche and become the ninja! Make it into a movement which changes the way people think about things around your focus area. While its best to focus on quality of people i the group, sometimes if you’re a B2C brand you might just want to focus on quantity. In either case be strict about the goals of your community to not fall prey to spammers or trolls.

3. Invite the first wave of followers:

It almost always begins with you adding friends, colleagues, and family to form your initial 100 + members. Thereafter it’s about creating the right pull and to a large extent inviting people individually to join your community and engage. Communities become self-sustaining by the time they reach around 500–700 members. Every community will comprise of some active members, some occasionally active ones and mostly the silent watchers. It’s your job to curate and provide content that is valued and matters to the audience enough to engage with it in terms of videos, giveaways, contests, polls etc. The better the content is, more word will spread about you. Also, rememeber two key things here:

  1. Have a set of rules that community and tribe members must adhere to.

2. Engage regularly — If you’re not posting content regularly and doing nothing to boost engagement chances are the Facebook or LinkedIn algorithm will stop showing your posts in the members feed soon enough.

eg. at Alore we created a small community IdeasThatScale to share sales and growth hacks because that is what we were passionate about from the start — we wanted to share as much as we wanted to learn.

We created a closed community of people to share hacks on bettering sales and marketing activities for small businesses, startups, freelancers, agency owners etc.

We used our in-house tool, Alore CRM tool to schedule DRIP campaign to invite the first round of people beyond friends and acquaintances and managed to get the group off the ground.

At Alore we scheduled a campaign to make the initial reach out to invite people to the group we had created.

As a B2B startup, we focus on quality in the group and currently our rejection: approved member ration is about 6:1. We believe it’s better to have 50 passionate people who love what you’re doing than 5000 who aren’t intrigued enough.

4. Provide the tribe an identity, culture, and commonality to bond upon:

This should be central to the customer experience strategy of your community. If you want people to relate to you and resonate with your goals you need to establish a two-way respectful communication channel with them. Having a clear set of ideas, values, traits, catchphrases, attributes that binds the community is essential.

At Alore we engage actively with users who are in our Facebook community. We are transparent about what we do, how we do and often share laughs and stories with our community. The Alore culture is about having fun with what you do, be honest, transparent, respectful and open to ideas and feedback. As a result, our community attracts a lot of people who echo that sentiment.

We even gamified the customer experience around our product user’s community. Every weekend we send out a Pizza to one of our users anywhere on the planet. It’s become a ritual for us and many users talk or joke about who gets the week’s pizza. It’s just a small way to engage and break the ice but in a way, Pizzas have become synonymous with Alore in the tech early adopter community. We love it when people engage with us and share photos and videos with their Alore pizzas.

Pizzas became an interesting conversation point around our brand

Another interesting example here is something that I read in B-School. We had a very interesting case study on the Porsche “Salute” — Back in 2009 -2010 every time a Porsche owner would buzz past another Porsche they would “revv” the engine as a mark of acknowledging each other and value the experience as acknowledging the invisible bloodline between the cars. (Yes, it was part of a bigger campaign to get that started and I don’t think it’s still there anymore) . It was something special just between Porsche owners and on a busy road to Porsche’s saluting each other was noticed and looked up to.

5. Nurture your Generals

As a small business, you don’t have a bag of gold to spend on PR. We get it, we don’t too. But if you want to create an army of loyal unpaid evangelists, you need to closely align yourself with the values that you and the community members are both in synergy with. You need to build a personal rapport with the early members as well. This authenticity and connect will form the strongest aspect of the word of mouth marketing that will happen ahead.

For eg., we regularly use newsletters to keep in touch with our users and subscribers on what we’ve been up to. It helps create a regular connect with people who matter to us. Of course, it’s helpful that we have our own email Builder tool — Layouts By Alore to help us with this step but its a pretty affordable tool as such.

We use newsletters to reach out to our users and subscribers on what we’re up to.

However, it’s also impossible to be in touch with thousands of people all the time hence you need to pick your top evangelists carefully as you build a tribe of loyalists– The Generals of your army who will be your eyes and ears, your feet on the street to mobilize and engage with the bigger Army.

A good example here is 27-year-old Australian fitness trainer Kayla Itsines who posts workouts on Instagram and has an online program she sells. Kayla’s followers talk of themselves as KaylasArmy and some of them (The Generals) regularly post and engage with her online.

Screengrab of Kayla’s Instagram page- “KaylasArmy” regularly tag her in their transformation journey

Similarly, another popular example here would be Lady Gaga and her army of Monsters (Her fan and superfans) Fan engagement and nurturing the community is what differentiates Lady Gaga.

This course of action should get you started on how to build a tribe thats valuable !

To infer this entire discussion- As the world is becoming a single marketplace, there is bound to be cacophony. To differentiate yourself between this chaos you need to build a tribe that stands out and amplifies what you stand for — your values, your culture — all of it! Building tribes will be one of the best ways to market a brand and make the customer experience around it memorable enough to lead to word of mouth marketing (WOMM).

I’d love to hear your take on how to build tribes and how the program worked/didn’t work for you. Drop in a comment below or email me at

Originally published at on August 8, 2018.

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