Seth Godin describes a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” He goes on to explain that tribes have been in existence for millions of years and that all a group really needs in order to be considered a tribe are shared interests and a way to communicate.
At its core, building a tribe seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?
The reality is that fostering a sense of community isn’t something that comes naturally to most people, let alone musicians and band leaders. Or at least, we think it doesn’t. The truth is when you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, you have all the tools you need to create a thriving tribe right at your fingertips. Ready to find out how?
1. Don’t Try to Please Everyone
First, if you’re a people pleaser like I am, then this one is gonna be hard. The first thing you’ll need to reconcile if you really want to grow your tribe is that not everyone is going to be a fit for your message. That doesn’t mean you should turn people away or be rude, it just means that while you may have a wide array of fans, there’s going to be a select group, probably from the same demographic, that is your target audience. And that target audience is your best chance to convert fans to superfans (in other words: tribe members).
Create new music, plan promotional material, choose your show’s lineup, design your website, and post to your socials with your target audience in mind rather than creating things that will satisfy everyone. Trust me on this — it’s better to deeply connect to 100 people than to vaguely reach 500.
Crowdfunding an album or project is another great way to find out who your most invested fans are and then develop a personal connection. Getting them involved in the early stages of a project via a campaign helps you find out what your music really means to them and then go above and beyond what they’re able to contribute financially. Learn more about developing an audience while developing your campaign in Soundfly’s free online course with Jay Coyle, Crowdfunding for Musicians.
2. Create an Emotional Connection
When you get right down to it, this is the thing that takes bands from having an average following to fiercely loyal fans that will buy all their merch, attend all their shows, and shout their name from rooftops.
Take a second to think about your favorite bands and even your favorite non-music-industry brands. What is it about them that you connect so well with? While on the surface, it may seem as simple as, “I like their product,” but if you dig just a little bit deeper, you’ll find there’s something else going on there: an emotional connection of some sort to that artist or that company or that brand that touches on the same core values and beliefs that you have. You relate and feel a kind of kinship, and so you invest. Not just monetarily, but emotionally. And it’s the latter that makes the real difference long term and, eventually, leads to the former.
Spend some time figuring out your “why” as an artist. Why do you create this kind of music, why this is your calling, why do your lyrics mean as much to you as they do?This is key to moving forward and building a tribe, so don’t try to skip this step! Once you’ve figured out your why, it will become a lot easier to produce content and give your fans an experience that reflects that message.
3. Provide Your Fans with Valuable Content – That Isn’t All About You
I know you’ve heard this one before. Truth be told, it’s a valuable piece of advice even if you’re just looking to up your social media game. I always compare it to a friendship. If you had a friend that just constantly talked about themselves and nothing else, you’d end that friendship pretty quickly, right? Social media is the same way. It’s natural to talk about what you have going on, but if it’s the only thing you talk about, you’re going to lose fans pretty quickly as they begin to tune out. No one likes a narcissist.
This becomes even more important when you factor in building a tribe. Referring back to the last point, creating and maintaining an emotional connection with your fans is a key part of the process. Fifteen posts in a row about your new music video will not do that. Personal posts about what you’re going through as a band, as a person, or graphics that highlight relatable lyrics, or articles that speak to your core beliefs and ideals (which are likely your tribe’s ideals as well), however, will all lead to strengthening that bond.
4. Be There for Them
This one could just as easily be titled “Be Selfless, and Don’t Ask for Anything in Return” because, at its core, that’s the principle. It’s a good tactic to use in life and relationships of any kind — listen more than you talk, ask questions, be engaged, etc. This is no different when it comes to creating and fostering a relationship with your audience.
Take the time to listen to what they have to say and make their thoughts, opinions, and ideas of extreme importance to you (as they should be anyway). This means simple stuff like replying to comments and tweets, to the slightly more difficult things like giving away free content and merchandise, posting articles that have nothing to do with you (but that your audience will like), and generally thinking outside the box to encourage discussion and interaction.
One way to do this is to get off your fan page and into Facebook Groups. There are a lot of high-quality Facebook groups out there in the music industry where you can vibe with other bands and fans of certain genres in certain cities or of certain mindsets — and when you jump in there and contribute your expertise, thoughts, and advice, you’re not only creating visibility for yourself, but you’re also positioning yourself as an expert and attracting people who share the same ideals.
5. Be True to Yourself
At the end of the day, those ethical words of advice your parents gave you in grade school still ring true — just be yourself. Trust me when I say that trying to mold your brand to be what you think others want it to be is a mistake. Don’t cater to the audience you have if you don’t believe they’re your true tribe just because they’re there. If your music is currently seeing an influx of 60-plus-year-old men but you feel your true tribe, the people you connect with most are millennial women, then ask yourself what you need to do to get in front of them and build that relationship.
All of us are naturals at building tribes, because all it really is is learning to be our truest selves in the most vulnerable way and trusting that others who share the same ideals will follow. In that sense, it’s the most organic, natural thing we can do for our careers.