Social media as gift culture: building tribes

Social media as gift culture: building tribes!

Different systems attract different crowds, and each has a distinctive set of values and expectations. To key into these crowds, you need to feed them appropriate gifts – content that will appeal to the specific community (or communities) that you are addressing.
By filtering content and selecting choice gifts for specific crowds, we create prismatic, multi-faceted, identities. If we are playing the reputation game correctly, the identity that we create on, say, LinkedIn will be subtly different to the identity that we create on Tumblr or Facebook. There is nothing inauthentic about this, assuming that we allow that our identities are multi-faceted in the first place. The real problem is the stress and difficulty of maintaining this activity over time. The challenge of engaging with multiple flows of information and selecting choice content for multiple communities puts many people off. It is not just the time it takes to process the information on various channels. It is the pressure and anxiety involved in figuring out what information to push to different crowds in order to create a specific type of identity.

Tribes are different. A tribe is made up of specific individuals with whom you have established a personal connection. Tribes emerge out of sharing circles, when small groups circulate content amongst one another. As we share with one another, we take on definite identities for the people that we share with. We emerge out of indifferentiation and stand out from the crowd.
Tribes make social media simple. With a tribe on each site, the business of sharing and engaging across multiple channels becomes much, much easier. Tribes act as content curators, filtering out and sharing relevant material from the overwhelming flow.

1. Filtering: tribes as content curators
2. Sharing: tribes as targets
3. Gifting: tribes as witnesses to gifts

Social media can be psychologically fragmenting. Working across multiple channels forces us to fracture our identity and present different parts of our person to different crowds. The secret to maintaining your personal integrity online is to find a tribe in each channel and to build it through a reciprochal exchange of gifts. When you are engaging with tribes across multiple channels, you are dealing with people who reflect your passions, talents, interests, or desires, and who hold up a mirror to whatever aspect of your identity you care to share in that particular context.

Your tribes witness your gifts. By standing witness, they give you the confidence you need to express your true self in its various fractal incarnations. Tribal communities are catalysts of self-realization. When we are sharing with tribes, we can legitimately say: ‘I gift – therefore I am’.

Philosophy for change

Tribe-sculptureThis is the final post in a series on social media gift cultures. Drawing on indigenous gift cultures, I have sought to understand how social media users create reputations, communities, and identities through sharing (or ‘gifting’) with online crowds. A gift culture perspective highlights the motivations and rewards of online sharing. It foregrounds how we should go about building tribal communities online, making online sharing social.

If you haven’t followed the series to date, I recommend you start at the beginning and work your way through. Like Hegel said, the truth is in the whole.


In the last post, we considered how hard it is to maintain a reputation across multiple social media sites. Multi-tasking across sites and apps is challenging. We are inundated with information. It is hard enough to keep up with the torrent of information pouring through a single news feed. Keeping up with the traffic…

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