Social Media Tribes: America’s Communication Culture Has Come Full-Circle

I was fortunate enough to hear Steve Lee, CEO and “chief pathfinder” of Quicksilver Interactive, speak to a group of students at the University of North Texas earlier this week. Steve is a bit of a wizard when it comes to social media strategy and new technology in business, so it was interesting to get his take on web culture and how it affects business today.

One of the standout points he made was about “social media tribes,” and how the world has really come full-circle in the way it communicates. When you think of tribes, you probably envision teepees, buffalo skins, and peace pipes. Traditionally, tribes represented an important stage in the social evolution, where groups were formed on the ideological basis of comradery and solidarity.

In America, that type of social structure was drastically altered by the emergence of mass media. Soon after, children were glued to TV screens and parents were consumed by their morning papers. Everything became fast-paced and disconnected. However, thanks to social media, that tribal structure has reemerged on the web.

The dictionary defines a tribe as “a group of people with common characteristics, occupations, or interests…organized on the basis of kinship.” In the Web 2.0 world, social media tribes are represented groups gathering around a common interest with common goals. Whether you want to keep in touch with friends, network, or track the Rangers through the World Series – You name it, there’s a web tribe for it.

According to Steve, tribes are the groups with common likes, needs and beliefs. They’re the people who directly affect you and change the way you think, and you do the same for them. If you can believe it, the internet is actually getting smaller every day, because these tribal circles are beginning to overlap. We can now get information anytime we want, 24 hours a day. Steve noted, “We stay more connected now, interpersonally, than we ever have before in our lives.”

Of course, these web tribes can’t completely take over our need for physical human interaction, but the degree to which we balance “human touch” and “electronic touch” may depend on age. Steve shared that older generations require much more human touch, but are beginning to use more email and social media. In fact, social media usage for people 65-years-old and over has doubled in the past two years alone. Still, they’re much more likely to venture to the Apple store to talk with a salesperson than shop for a new computer on Amazon.

Younger generations, on the other hand, are able to start and sustain relationships on the web, and they can handle multiple channels of communication at once. However, they reserve human interaction only for those with whom they are very close.

The most interesting group, in my opinion, is the teen and “tween” age group, which uses social media specifically to start and maintain relationships. Email appears to have been replaced by Twitter and text messaging, and members of this group are able to quickly start and pick-up conversations where they last left off. However, what’s ironic is that despite this, this group is still expected to sit still and listen to one voice while they’re at school. That’s quite a social conundrum.

If you ever get the chance to hear Steve speak, take it. I learned more about new iPhone apps, metacrawlers, and SoMe news in two hours than I have in the past two months. He is definitely a guy you want to know.

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