What Nine Inch Nails Knows About Tribes

Street Busker in Wellington New Zealand This week, I watched Siobhan Bulfin birth a new tribe around her. ( I’ll use Seth’s word for it, though I go back and forth on the analogy I prefer.) The seeds planted at Marketing Now will surely bloom into a small community of people who care about each other and who will help each other develop new voices in the new media and marketing spaces.

She has started a tribe. What I’m excited about is how some new technologies (and some that we’ve already been using) will enable even more useful interactions. I’m particularly excited by what Nine Inch Nails have done (more below).

Last week, I saw community building in Detroit. The week before, I was at the heart of it in Southern California. In all of these places, little tribes formed around thoughtful leaders. They are intentional communities. Seth taught me a bit about the leader’s role in all this. In fact, while reading the advanced copy of Tribes on the side of a lake while my daughter took swim lessons, I read the part where Seth told us that all tribes needed a leader. It was the subtitle of the book, actually: “we need you to lead us.”

True story: when the point Seth was making sank in, I emailed him and said something very much like, “You bastard. You’ve just explained several of my own personal failures of the last few years.” He did.

The thing was, I was trying to build autonomous communities, where I felt they could run themselves. I tried it with several of my projects starting in 2006. I’d build something, get a bunch of people excited, and try to let it go to the wild. Every time, it would falter almost at once, no matter how passionate people were. Transferring ownership was never the same as finding a leader. (Again, nothing bad about the people involved, and everything bad about my inability to understand this point).

What’s Next: nin:access

I am blown away by nin:access, the iPhone application for Nine Inch Nails fans. On the surface, it’s not immediately obvious why it’s sexy. Here’s what they say about it:

  • Exchange messages and photos with other NIN fans in your neighborhood and around the world

  • Access NIN news, photos, custom wallpapers, and your nin.com inbox

Here’s a few screen captures:

main screen

location-based

Look at that second one. Location-based. It is a listing (opt-in) of fans of Nine Inch Nails geographically, so that you can, should you wish, connect up with other fans in an area. (Yes, I know that the example text isn’t all that enlightened, but think beyond what you see.)

You Can Have It All

Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails have it figured out. Empower fan-to-fan interaction. They’ve had that with their message boards, with their nin.com mail service, with all their other actions over the last years. But with the location-enabled iPhone app, it just feels even more super powered.

You can do this, too. There’s not a lot of super high end tech in what they did (not dissing NIN). It’s just good marketing for a great community. Not ready to plunk down some money on an iPhone app that will do this? You could always use BrightKite as a starting point to understanding what it’ll do for you. (If you want to build an iPhone app that does this, I could get that done for you.)

Location plus peer-to-peer interactions = a huge win.

A Quick Community Checklist

What if you’re Siobhan Bulfin or someone else looking to empower a little community of intent? What would be a way to do it? Here’s a quick little roadmap that might be useful:

  • Name the Community Something Inclusive. (In the case of Nine Inch Nails, they’ve self-selected to gather around the band. Sometimes, it’s not as easy to make it about a product or company. Find a name that folks feel like they can own, something they can put on a flag of their own and hoist high (if that makes sense).
  • Buy the URL for that name or something close.
  • Make sure you understand the value to your prospective members for joining the community. Are you an information-sharing site, a business networking group, a creativity group? What are the ways in which everyone will be able to participate and contribute? What’s the “fire” that you’re gathering around? ( This is the “Channels vs. Communities argument that Stephen Saber makes.)
  • Start with a simple Ning community, if you expect your group to be fairly small and if you don’t need high end power community tools.
  • Put up a Flickr group so that there’s a place to put community photos.
  • Think up a few meaningful tags that people can apply to any media, should they want to write about your group, the events, whatever as it relates.
  • Start an email list by asking folks to opt in. Email marketing is still very successful in building community and driving relations. If you want everyone to have the ability to mail the group, consider using a simple service like YahooGroups for people to opt into to receive messages.
  • Would a location-based tool like BrightKite be useful?
  • Should you hold Tweetups?
  • Do people want to publish a shared list of users on other social services, like Twitter and/or LinkedIn?
  • Find ways to deliver value.
  • Find ways to deliver more value.
  • Find ways to encourage participation (another blog post in its own right).
  • Find ways to gather the tribe around your various issues of interest.
  • Find ways to facilitate peer-to-peer sharing, as well as member-driven media making.
  • Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I’m encouraged by the “nin:access” application released by Nine Inch Nails. It points towards another way to enable communities of passion. I think there’s great value in building around these ideas, and that there’s much more to be done here in this space.

What’s your take? Does the above list help? What other elements have you built into your community building?

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