Pretty early on in my online career, like, a year ago, I was fortunate to meet a lot of great people, mostly because of all of the chats I participated in. I found a way to tie these people together on a daily basis so that they evolved into my online community, and a great community it was! And is, I should note. However, something interesting happened with this particular group of people. They started sort of clotting together into different groups. In the online world we call them tribes a lot of times. In the world of Twitter they’re grouped together under the same hashtag.
As these individual groups started growing, I noticed that people who used those hashtags all of the time stopped talking to me as regularly as they once had. I noticed that I seldom saw them tweet anything without that hashtag after it. For awhile, I played along, but then I realized that once you start participating in a tightly knit group like that, you stop looking at your home feed. Your primary focus is just on that hashtag. Who is entering it, who is contributing to it – these things become your primary focus. If people don’t use that hashtag, you simply don’t see them anymore.
I didn’t like that idea.
For a little while after I made that realization I would occasionally pop in and use the hashtag to converse with people. But then something even more interesting happened. The community that had been building so closely under that hashtag started to become really overpowered with drama, direct messages, rumor mills, and general unpleasantness. I found myself not wanting to be affiliated with the hashtag because it was starting to feel like a symbol of general chaos and ickiness, as sad as that was. So, I basically stopped using the hashtag altogether and worked to maintain my individual friendships with the people that had gotten involved with the group.
In a different dimension
A year later, I have absolutely no regrets. This is not to say that these online tribes are bad. In fact, a lot of these communities build around really great ideas and really great messages. But here’s what I want you to consider.
In a different dimension, if I had started using just that hashtag at the exclusion of most other things and then gotten disenchanted with that hashtag, as I likely still would have, what would I have done? It’s the old case of putting all of your eggs into one basket. Yes, when you are in a tightly-knit community there are tons of advantages. Your posts may get shared more often. You can band around people who are having a hard time. You know there is a force out there supporting you. But if you put everything you have into just that community and that community later falls apart, what do you have left?
People in the online world do not stick around waiting for you to come back and say, “Hey, let’s be best pals.” A day is practically an eternity in a lot of ways. Abandoning the world at large in favor of a single group is painting yourself into a corner.
There is another caution I’d throw out there when it comes to online groups or “tribes,” especially as they exist on Twitter. I’ve seen it happen a lot. As a group starts to get big and get noticed, suddenly it’s not just a group of friends. Suddenly there is a sense that maybe this is something that could give people fame and notoriety. Maybe this is something that could get you on a social media panel at a big show. Maybe this is something that could help your brand and/or your business. When these thoughts start going through peoples’ heads, the idea of community moves on back to the rear of the vehicle. A power struggle ensues and the community gets confused about what is going on. What is this power grab all about? A lot of people can get hurt, and again, if the community is all you banked on, you can end up out in the Twittery cold.
Sometimes too, a person will be promoted within the group or excluded from the group because of one person’s feelings. Is that what adults who are professionals in the great big world need to be worrying about? To me, participating in these close-knit groups is an invitation for trouble just because of the way people are and the way people work within the online world.
Just like high school
I know that some people will take issue with this, but to me, the concept of “tribe” in the online world is really quite similar to the high school clique. Each community or tribe gets its ringleaders, its traditions, its little idiosyncrasies that make it different. If you don’t want to go along with the dance, you will be subtly blocked out. If you opt not to participate in these groups, you will not get the same kind of support that people in those groups get. Like everything in life, it’s a question of what you want to have and what you’re willing to trade.
I have always been happy as the floating friend. I can jump into and out of a lot of groups and yet not remain tied to them. I can offer exchanges with all sorts of people because I keep my view of the online world big and unlimited. Is it the right way to go? No, I can’t say that. Is it the better way to go? Can’t really say that either. Would I advise you to take this road?
Yes, I would.
What do you think?
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/4044211790 via Creative Commons