"Social norms are the invisible rulers of society" ~ Unknown
After a week-long strategic onsite in the Rockies, my colleague Gabriel and I found ourselves unwinding in a hot tub. It was a Friday night, and the last thing we wanted to discuss was work. Curiosity sparked, I asked Gabriel about his life outside Slack.
Something was clear: Gabriel was into dance. He shared with me his involvement in a vibrant dance community called "Ecstatic Dance" based in San Francisco. This group gathers weekly for dancing, welcoming anyone who registers to attend. However, there are three unspoken rules, or agreements as they call them, that participants are expected to abide by:
- No shoes
- No talking
- No drugs or alcohol
These rules are announced in the opening ceremony before the the dances begin.
After hearing Gabriel talk, I immediately saw parallels with brand tribalism.
In Web3, a word that resurfaces frequently is cringe. This simple term serves as a clear delineation between what the community embraces and rejects. When engaged in marketing within the Web3 space, or any passionate community, it becomes essential to consistently question: does the content I'm about to release align with our audience's values or will it be perceived as cringe?
In Gabriel's Ecstatic Dance world, shoes, talking and belligerence from alcohol is cringe.
Define the distinction
Brands operate like tribes, distinct from the masses. A strategic marketer's role is to purposefully define this distinction. One effective approach is to establish rules or agreements, akin to Gabriel's Ecstatic Dance example. By doing so, these rules possess a remarkable ability to diffuse and shape culture.
When a brand establishes rules or agreements, it empowers the community to self-regulate and enforce those standards. This reduces the burden on brand moderators or administrators and allows the community to take ownership of maintaining the desired atmosphere. It creates a sense of shared responsibility and encourages community members to actively contribute to the overall well-being of the tribe.
Positioned as the "front page of the internet," Reddit emphasizes its role as a centralized platform for diverse communities and discussions. Reddit's identity is built around the concept of subreddits, which are individual communities dedicated to specific subjects or interests. If you explore subreddits, you'll notice something: they're all different, each with their own rules or community guidelines.
Subreddits typically have their own set of community guidelines that shape the culture within the community. These guidelines define the expected behavior, content quality standards, and rules for engagement. By establishing clear expectations, subreddits foster a specific culture that aligns with their focus.
The rules you establish for the community contain hidden messages about what the community's values. Let's dissect the rules from Gabriel's Ecstatic Dance:
- Rule: No shoes
Hidden message: The primal human form matters.
2. Rule: No talking
Hidden message: Non-verbal communication matters.
3. Rule: No drugs or alcohol
Hidden message: Being on the same psychological frequency matters.
Unwritten rules hold great power. They lack official announcements or written documentation, spreading through word of mouth. These rules often carry more impact than written ones. They can establish taboos, leading to social exclusion or condemnation within a community.
Unwritten rules are often reinforced through peer influence and social pressure. When individuals observe others following these rules, they tend to conform to avoid social disapproval or exclusion. The desire to fit in and be accepted within a community drives compliance with unwritten rules.
For instance, wearing a suit and tie in a Silicon Valley startup is strongly discouraged, because it represent Wall Street. Similarly, in the Web3 community, intellectual dishonesty is deemed cringe-worthy and shameful, even though it is not explicitly stated. On LinkedIn, personal posts are generally viewed negatively compared to professional ones.
Brand tribalism is real, so set the most strategic rules that carve authentic distinction.