‘Tribes’ Book Explains Why We Need Community-Led Growth

Community-led growth is gaining traction in the product world. Dozens of organizations, including Mural, Notion, and more, recently signed a pledge that names thriving communities as “a company’s most valuable asset.”

But what do product marketers need to know about the philosophy to make their digital products shine? And how do they ensure they’re leveraging a powerful tool right, so that they can consistently give value to community members?

Community-led growth is about creating and supporting an involved community around your product, now and as it evolves.

I sat down with Kaleem McGill, a fellow Better Product Community manager and marketing leader for Innovatemap, to discuss how to apply community-led growth today. Kaleem recently read the book “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us” by Seth Godin to aid in the discussion. Our conversation explores why product marketing teams should be invested in building communities around their products.

Erica Irish: Can you describe the book and what you saw as the key message? 

Kaleem McGill: “Tribes” is all about community, and what it looks like to organize a group of people. And not just for the sake of having a group. The author makes an important distinction between a “group” and a “tribe.” While both groups and tribes are about having a general, common interest in a specific subject, tribes are different in that they also have a means to communicate about that subject. Companies specifically need to think about how they create a better relationship with their people, and this book is all about finding out how you as a leader are going to push and enable connections with your tribe.

EI: That distinction is so important. Building from this theme, why should product marketers care about the tribes they interact with or seek to build? 

KM: I think that marketers specifically tend to market to the biggest population that they can. They just get their core message out to the masses. But this book explores what it would look like to have a very dedicated following that believes in that message, and that believes in your product. One of the biggest challenges, especially for product people, is the amount of competitors that the space has. It’s huge. There’s a bunch of people that come up and say, “I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to launch a product or I can build this product better.” You’re going to have a lot of competition here, and where you’re going to be able to differentiate is by making sure the people — your users — are bought into your specific product. And that’s where community-led growth comes in. If you can get people rallied around or invested in your specific idea, that is when you’re going to get buy-in. That’s when you’re going to get that customer loyalty.

EI: That’s a great comparison. So it’s not even like they’re ambassadors, although they could be. It’s about finding what part of your product your community loves, and harnessing that love so that a specific segment of the population becomes loyal, dedicated fans. Right? 

KM: Absolutely. Look at products like Slack. Think of the organizations who have decided that Slack is going to be our means of communication, versus something like a Google Chat, which is integrated with a bunch of the Google products you already have. But because Slack users are invested in the “swag”—they get to have custom emojis and so much more—it becomes more engaging. Even if there’s a feature that knocks your socks off, which happens in Google chat, people still want Slack because it’s responding to the tribe.

EI: What are the key tools, experiences, or processes marketers need to use to build their tribes? 

KM: Conversation, and conversation that’s about driving a specific message, is one of the biggest. You need leaders to tell people, “this is what you’re supposed to be getting from this.” So you need to drive a very specific goal for the tribe to follow. And then I think the book also encourages getting feedback. This is what empowers your tribe to show you how to improve, while also providing very easy ways to recruit into the tribe. Having buy-in for not only your said product or your organization is one thing; but you also need to be able to empower your tribe so they can bring others along.

EI: Creating your tribe is one thing, but what do you do after that, when you’re in maintenance mode? 

KM: I think one of the biggest things is looking for input, and to expand upon that input by actively looking for it and remaining abreast of what’s happening in your specific industry. Feedback keeps you relevant; it helps you find anything that’s missing. You also need to be able to change, or to break the status quo. Being able to change is something that’s going to set you apart and keep you from remaining stagnant and just telling your tribe what to do. Like the book describes, you need to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. You need to be changing and affecting the temperature of a situation versus just reading back what is already happening.

EI: How should marketers working with digital products be leveraging the tribe concept to make their products better? 

KM: Getting feedback on your features is huge. You can get people that really love your product, but you need to make sure that you’re incorporating them in any changes. These are your dedicated fans, the people who are in your product all the time. You also need to bring your tribe to initiatives beyond the product. So, what values do you all have, and how are you going to reflect those values in your vision for the product? Product people can find, and are finding, greater purpose in figuring out what your audience truly cares about.


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