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October 27, 2008

My Triiibal Experience

In around 2000 I was working in Mexico City on a large scale EAM project. As always I am never content with only one thing to occupy my mind so I started an internet site as a hobby.

The goal was to use my emerging Spanish Language skills to create a hub that could be used by engineers, technicians and equipment maintainers thropughout the Spanish speaking world.

It was crude and unsophisticated by todays standards. (Or even by yesterdays standards if I'm honest) We had articles, some video lessons, a monthly newsletter and a weekly site roundup.

I sent out three invitations to companies in the region to post their articles on the site, and I used these as early content to try to draw visitors to the site. 

This has really come to my mind lately after reading the new Seth Godin book Triiibes

The results were phenomenal....

By the time I sent out the second months newsletters I was registering 1000 hits on the site every single day. This, back in 2000, in Spanish, and in a very niche area.

I didn't realize that there was a dynamic taking place that I had never thought of previously.

In Latin America, if you work as a maintenance engineer, or worse a technician, then your work is not as respected as it is in the western world. In fact - in any developing country this is the truth of it.

What I had done by accident, was to give a group of hard working and intelligent people a way to communicate with each other that they never had before. And through the newsletters and articles, they suddenly had a way of demonstrating to others in their company just how vital their work was to corporate performance.

Within 5 months I was getting 100,000 hits per month and had started selling banner advertising slots for around USD$1000 a month. 

We leveraged the traffic to earn additional revenue for advertising in the email newsletter, the monthly PDF newsletter, and for selling other lead generation services on the site. 

I had created a $150 k per year income stream purely by accident just by trying to facilitate the networking of a group of like minded people. 

I had created...a tribe!

The Triibe

I later sold the site as a marketing company to other media interests in the region. But even so I maintain in contact with the members of the site on a personal level. What saddens me, like really saddens me, is that today the site is nothing like it was. 

Why? Because it stopped being a community (albeit a commercial one) and started being a business. 

As that tribes leader I saw my role as the person who bought them all together. The guy who pushed the issues to get at the truth of the matter, and the one who made sure that the ever present spammers didn't get away with bombing the group with unwanted garbage. 

And the community did the rest...

The formed bonds between themselves. They told all their colleagues about the site. They bought and sold each others services and products. And they freely gave of their time and experience to help their fellow tribesmen and women. It was a really humbling experience.

After the Tribe

Looking back the lessons are obvious. Particularly because of what happened after it changed hands.

Be earnest - committed to what you are doing, focused on the good of the tribe. Make sure that you have the best articles, the best participants, and above all be available to the tribe.

Be honest - Set some rules and stick to them. Dont spam them, don't sell their email addresses, nothing like that. Encourage participation rigorously and award those who do so.

And always focus on the truth of whatever is being spoken about; don't ever let commercial agendas get in the way of the truth.

Be Open - It isn't your playground, its theirs. Thats why you created it after all. Let them take it to areas you hadn't thought of, or into realms that you wouldn't normally go to yourself. 

When people are able to participate in something that adds value to their lives, and they can see that it is being undertaken with good intentions; they respond.

What are your tribal experiences? Either as a member or a leader of a Tribe? Are you leading a tribe now? 

Could you be?