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Meaningful Conversations: Tribe, Phalanx, Marketing, and the Internet

I have recently been thinking about the pros and cons of blogs, chatrooms, Facebook and Twitter. What need does each fulfill? What need does each block? After some contemplation, which those of you who know me well enough to know was very deep indeed, I decided that the ability to converse in a back and forth manner was a big pro of Twitter, but the ability to converse at length and with thought was a big pro of chatrooms and blogs. So...I'm endeavoring, in my own way, to create the best of all possible worlds, and allow conversation and thought to mate on my blog. Bear with me as I try this out and refine it as I go. Feel free to make suggestions and thanks for participating.

Meaningful Conversations 1: Tribe, Phalanx, Marketing, and the Internet

Yesterday, on Twitter, someone (and I'm sorry I forget who) linked to a video of Seth Godin talking about tribes.

Then, today Sarah of Slouching Mom selected phalanx (def.: noun, 1. any closely grouped mass of people: a solid phalanx of reporters and photographers; 2. a number of people united for a common purpose) which I thought was a really, really interesting concept to consider within the context of the Internet, specifically as it applies to social media.

It's easy to think of mommybloggers as a phalanx---aren't we united in common purpose? To share and create a community---hopefully one that pays dividends in some form or offers remuneration, more preferably? (Stefania at CityMama eloquently describes her journey from casual blogger to professional blogger and marketer.) Aren't we all trying to do the same thing? Commune with other moms, shares tips and tricks, and make a living for our families?


To be a true phalanx, in my opinion, all the mommybloggers would have to be unified behind a single blogger or project. Our goal would have to be that this person’s or blog’s single goal succeeds.

And we don't all want that. We don't all want the same thing. We want what we want for ourselves, which is, of course, personal success (however you might define that).

However, in order to succeed online, I need for this medium to succeed and be a place that facilitates success, and that is the point on which we converge.

That's why women bloggers---mommybloggers---are truly a tribe (def.: noun, 1. A unit of sociopolitical organization consisting of...groups who share a common...culture and among whom leadership is typically neither formalized nor permanent. . . .3. A group of people sharing an occupation, interest, or habit: a tribe of graduate students.)

Seth Godin says, "I don't want everyone to have a tribe. I only want the people who want the world to change, I only want people who have something to say, to make a change, to make things better...The world is lined up in a way now that instead of having to have power or cash, you can make change and have influence merely by leading people who want to go somewhere."

This point is not lost---or invisible---to the marketing community. They are always after the influencers, and the influencers invariably have a tribe.

What's new is people figuring out how to use these online influencers and tribes as an effective marketing stream.

In the mommyblogging community, we talk (okay, kvetch) about how marketers reach out to us. At the recent Mom 2.0 Summit, there was a lot of talk about treating moms as if we are a single entity, unified by gender and mom status.

What I think we're really talking about is phalanx versus tribe.

Marketers need to understand that we're not a phalanx. We don't all have the same interests or a common, unifying goal---as much as it might appear we do. Instead, what marketers are actually seeing are alliances within tribes.

These "cooperative effort alliances" work with an attitude of reciprocity, "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, and together we can get each other much further than we could on our own."

Consider Cool Mom Picks, which reviews and promotes different products that can rapidly become The Mommy Must-Have. The Parent Bloggers Network also reviews products, but additionally provides space for networking. Most appealing to me is The Motherhood, which offers space to listen to conferences about gardening, pose questions to other mothers for answers and ideas, and more.

The sites run the gamut from straight up marketing to focus on the conversation.

What's important to me is that I know the purpose behind these sites, and it's to provide space and information. Sites such as Cool Mom Picks, while friendly and appealing, don't pretend to be my personal friend.

It reminds me of a time my husband and I, newly married, met another young couple, who invited us to dinner. We'd wanted to meet other married couples, so we were thrilled at the possibility of new Married Friends. We were thrilled, that is, until, polished and wearing our "best but not trying too, too hard" outfits, they opened the door and invited us in to have a glass of wine and...listen to their Amway presentation. Suffice it to say, we didn't stay for dinner and never again spoke to them. It's just not a good way to initiate a relationship.

It's also not a good way to use an existing relationship, as good a product or as well-intentioned as it might be.

Bottom line for me is that I love recommendations from friends. That's probably my number one source of selecting products. I love when friends know information about the products and can answer questions. I don't love friends who consistently try to sell me on something when it's their job.

In other words, I don't like to mix business and pleasure.

Sorry, but it's true.

I don't like heading to friends' blogs only to catch them hawking.

I know when it's happening, even if it's a story about the fun times a couple has baking a cake with lots of bonding and laughs. Like Anne Shirley, I know when a story has been co-opted to sell Rollings Reliable Baking Soda, no matter how allegedly seamlessly it's been integrated into the tale.

And for the record, I also notice the new prominently displayed labels on television shows. I'd rather commercials, if it's all the same to you, PR Firms. I'd rather not watch Debra Messing spend five minutes using the entire line of Oil of Olay products at the beginning of the Starter Wife.

In fact, I am pretty good at tuning out or clicking away from advertising, especially when it intrudes on what I really went to see.

The truth is, I plan my purchases. I do! When I want information about what to get? I go do my own research, usually on the Internet, and that's when I want to see reviews and details.

When I want. When I ask. When I'm ready.

I know that the point of advertising is supposed to be to make me think "Puffs!" when I need to buy tissues, but to tell the truth, it doesn't. I apparently have limited space in my short-term recall and I triage "make lunch for kids" and "dentist tomorrow at 9" as priorities for that space. When I go to the store, I weigh price point against alleged features splashed on the packaging. Sorry Puffs, you usually lose.

But we keep talking about products.

If we think back to Seth talking about people wanting to make the world better, that means this all applies to ideas, too.

Again, this isn't a point lost on or invisible to issue advocates and politicians, who have also entered the social media arena.

But are they using it effectively?

And more importantly, are they using it appropriately?

At the end of the day, I think the best avenue to success is not so much to form a tribe as it is to form a phalanx. It's tooting a horn in my own band, but I think the MOMocrats are one of the best examples of a phalanx on the Internet. This group of women united to not just advance women's voices and concerns in the political arena, but we joined forces under one common goal: get our political party elected into office. It worked, and what’s more, we all became much more active and a bigger part of the overall effort than I think we would have individually.

This is where I drop off the presentation and ask you to join in the conversation.

* Talk to me about what you think of bloggers who become vehicles for marketers---whether it's ideas or products---and whether any can or have seamlessly integrated "for profit" blogging into their main stream of blogging.

* Talk to me about whether it's realistic to believe that integrating marketing into a personal blog can be seamless. Can it be, or is it invariably jarring and offputting, even if elegantly done? We're pretty sophisticated these days and I'm pretty sure we can smell marketing a mile away. What do you think?

* What questions, issues, obstacles, etc. do you deal with when encountering marketing requests for your blog? (By the way, Dawn at kaiseralex came up with a pretty good formula for determining what your blog real estate is worth.)

* How can this be something that provides that shiny dividend for us?

What do you think as a reader and/or a writer, or even more specifically, as a marketer?

P.S. Eventually I'll figure out how to set this up to feed from Twitter, and give everyone "permission" to talk in advance.


Jada said…
I don't begrudge people making a dollar, but I do grow more and more irritated by the entitled "whaddya gonna give me?/where my traffic to boost my revenue/let me just give free stuff in lieu of content. But I've been tired of that stuff for a very long time.

There are divisions, normal, human divisions that will always prevent it from being one tribe. Class divisions. Location. Personality. It will never be a cohesive whole, and frankly, I'm not sure I'd ever want it to be.

It can be used for much more than shilling "sponsored" cleaning supplies-but I tend to look at the internet as an extention of the baser needs of many people-a need for stuff, a need to adulation, a need for some sort of warm glow. And for some, a way to make things right, in whatever way they can.

Just like ourselves in the real world.

Personally, I find the monetization of the whole thing almost exploitive-that because I have a vagina and read over here, I will have X ads aimed at me. I've chosen to stay away from ads at this time because it just doesn't sit right to bear my soul for it.

Not like this.
Magpie said…
I love it when you get all thinky and provocative.

I don't get many marketing pitches. I choose to ignore (or not) depending on the product. I'd guess that well under 5% of my posts are related to a product pitch - and some are quite tangential. For example, I sometimes do the Parent Blogger Networks blog blasts, but mostly because it's been something of a writing prompt, like here: - that's probably not what Klutz was expecting.

I do pass by blogs that are all marketing all the time - the reason I blogsurf is to locate my tribe, to connect me to that group of women with whom I feel a tribal kinship. Like you. :)
MommyTime said…
I have unsubscribed to personal blogs that turned into marketing blogs. I subscribed because I loved the writer or was interested in his/her family, or whatever, not because I wanted to know how she felt about pool chemicals. On the other hand, the writers I feel I have come to know through the internet are like trusted friends in terms of product recommendations; if they rave about something, I might try it.

I did a few product reviews on my main site (about four of them out of 400+ posts), but then I started getting more offers. And for myself, I decided that the only way to maintain my personal comfort level with the marketing pitches I was getting was to start a separate reviews blog. I will put an occasional footnote on a post at my personal blog to say "if you're interested in X product, I've got something to say about it over here" with a link to the reviews post, but otherwise, no reviews or marketing on the home blog. I want it to stay my space for musing introspection, chronicling the silly things my kids say so that I won't forget them two years from now, connecting with other people, and so on.

I am not saying that this is the way everyone should do it, only that this is what works for me. It means that my review site doesn't get that as much traffic as my main site, but I can still twitter the posts, and people who are interested will click over. It's probably not perfect from a PR person's standpoint, given that they are approaching me because of the "brand" I've built at my home site. But, frankly, I don't think of my blog as a brand. I think of it as a journal in which to chronicle thoughts that will lead to conversations, so I'm willing to jump to a less-tested blog for reviews. (I should day that I would never imply a review on my main site and then put it on the reviews site instead; I'm always up front about that.)

It's a very difficult line to walk, however, and I look forward to the conversation that develops in the comment here. Perhaps I will find a few more members of the thinky tribe with whom I'm not yet acquainted...that's always the best part of blogging for me.
Anonymous said…
It's partially the transparency thing again - You might have been okay going to hear an Amway pitch and get a free meal from people who might turn out to be friends - but no one likes to feel used. My similar experience was someone I met at a wedding who was all OMG lets be friends, swapped emails and the she was all "oooo I have this thing I think you might really like" which turned into a pitch to host a makeup party. Gag.

at the 704 we decided a tab for reviews was necessary and for product plugs we put a disclosure policy and at the bottom of each post we'll link to the DP as necessary saying "this goes into category c and e" (

Thanks for the shout out on the real estate estimate - I am pretty proud of it. :)
Julie Marsh said…
I love what Magpie said about our PBN Blog Blasts - those writing prompts are meant to inspire organic content, not hawk a product. I'd rather have a blogger participate occasionally on topics that mean something to them than participate every single week if they're not genuinely interested in the topic.

The product is secondary. Even in a product review - if you can't find a way to relate to it personally, the review is going to fall flat.
Julie Pippert said…
Mothergoosemouse, I'm 100% in agreement with you, but then I knew I would be (and suspect you knew too lol) because I think your PBN is one of the ones that does it right, which, of course, is why I cited it as a "good example." I think you're dead-on about relating.

When I read these comments and go back and think, I realize I have selected three group blog/web sites as examples of "doing it well."

I think it's because I like that tribal setup. :)

Julie Pippert said…
Dawn, happy to cite you, too. yes, transparency is important, and I agree about tabs or sep sites. That's what I did until I more or less quit it entirely lol.

As my husband and I drove away from that couple, we were affronted by the duplicity, but more than that, we figured we were glad it happened straightaway. I don't know I could feel comfortable with people who made a friend of me with the intent in mind to sell to me.

I think that's the glory of social media marketing versus traditional marketing, though---you can get to know people and your market and from there determine, "Huh, this might be useful to this person."

Which, actually, is what Seth Godin preaches. Target narrow and specifically.
Anonymous said…
Julie, what a thoughtful, informative, well crafted post. And thank you for TheMotherhood shout out! It made our day!
Julie Pippert said…
Maggie, I love anything you say. I mean write. I mean both. LOL :) But I definitely agree with this. It goes back to what I said to Dawn---it's not just transparency, but is that thing Angela mentions about trusted referral from a trusted friend.

I could come on my site right now and say "I LOVE the Gal Pal and every single one of you should have one!" And it'd be true, and maybe the next time one of you saw it you'd get it because I said so.

But I think women shop via reference more via conversation, and we're back to that targeted thing.

I agree, I am seeking My People.

When I want to car shop, I go to the store. I don't want the store coming to me, but I want it available.

Oh this makes me think of Chris Penn's article about inbound and outbound marketing.
Julie Pippert said…
Jada, I hear you, I do. It's one reason I've left off, even book reviews.

But when I do want something, I am glad to know of good tribes that I can trust for recs.

I think you hit the nail on the head about it being comparable online and offline.

For a while, I felt it as a lose-lose. If I didn't run ads I was missing the chance to "make this worthwhile" and "not give it away for free" and "get my piece of the pie." If I did run ads and reviews, then I was creating a conflict of interest.

It's starting to come together in my mind, what it is I think is right for me.
Julie Pippert said…

Great comment. I agree about the separation; it was the thing that felt most right to me. But then I felt awkward about how to drive traffic over there.

Upon reflection, I see I was thinking about it all the wrong way.

And as far as PR people go, I'm not sure how selective and careful they are.

I think there's a new and better model out there, and have cited a few examples of it in play.

I think Julie's comment about "rather people do it sometimes when it resonated than every time and have it fall flat" (to loosely paraphrase) is spot on.
Anonymous said…
With blogs, as in real life, transparency is everything. I don't want an eye doctor recommendation only to realize at the appointment that I'm seeing the referrer's husband/father/mother/sister in law. I appreciate unsolicited reviews, again, on a blog or in person. There are products that I have tried and raved about (Dirty Sue for my fave dirty martini, for one). I get solicitations for reviews all the time and turn most of them down. When I love something, I write about it, whether I get a sample to test or not. Such has been the case with my love affair with Lash Exact mascara.

I see blogging as a conversation (Cluetrain Manifesto, anyone?). And in real life conversation I would remark about service or product XYZ that turned me on or off. Such conversation falls flat when it's not genuine, like your Amway encounter.

As for the tribe, we mommy bloggers are indeed a tribe. We each have our own sphere of influence, online and IRL. Those two worlds are integrated. Marketers, however, need to stop seeing us simply as mommies. They are missing out on some real targeting opportunities by lumping us together. The key is to group us psychographically by what type of mommies we are. Demographics don't tell a complete story.

I am rambling here, and my fingers hurt from BlackBerry thumb. I hope I am making sense. Great post as always, my pensive, smart friend.
Florinda said…
I think there may be phalanxes within the tribe, but the tribe itself is too big and diverse to be a phalanx.

I don't find blogs that are loaded with ads and marketing-type posts terribly appealing - I like what Magpie said about bypassing those that are "all marketing all the time." (A dedicated review blog is something else - I might seek one out looking for specific information, but I wouldn't read it regularly.) I read blogs because I want to read - I am attracted to the blogger's voice and interested in her thoughts on bigger things than products.

I don't get many general pitches, but as a member of the book-blogging community, I get book review offers. I don't solicit them and I don't accept most of them, and I continue to read and review my own books as well. If it doesn't sound like a book I'd want to read in the first place, I'm not going to accept your offer of a free copy that I will have an then obligation to read and review (if I accept a book offer, I don't think the review is optional).

Most book bloggers disclose when they're reviewing a book they were sent by a publisher or author, but sometimes you can tell anyway. I am interested in a person's thoughts on what she's read, not a reprint of the synopsis.

Great discussion - I'm interested in seeing where it goes!
MommyTime said…
I think the issue of transparency is crucial, and it dovetails with maintaining a genuine voice. "I am writing about this great thing because I love it and it has made some aspect of my life so much easier" is a completely different post to read than "I am here to recite to you the three main features this product's marketing team says you want to know about." And, quite frankly, I am generally interested in the former even if it's talking about something I might not use, because typically that former post will be a story in itself, and I've come to care about that particular blogger's stories.

You are right, though, that a dedicated review blog is very hard in terms of driving traffic. On the one hand, I can see why people wouldn't subscribe; on the other, it's hard to let people know of new posts without cluttering up with "review-free zone," as it were.

I also really agree with Ilinap that the type of blogger one is makes a huge difference in the type of pitch/product that will work -- and the utter lack of savvy on the part of those who send such pitches never ceases to amaze me. But most of them seem not to care either. I find that if I write back much more than "yes I'll do it" or "no I won't," they ignore my response all together.
Anonymous said…
I don't really consider myself a mommy blogger. I blog now though at a "mom" grog and I struggle with it more and more.

I review books because someone asked me to once and it was fun, so I continue.

I like to write. I have topics that I am passionate about and I have a small band of readers who like to read what I write. Sometimes I purposely try to entertain them. Mostly it is an accident.

As to the genre of mommy's who write for stuff. I don't read niche blogs like that. It's mostly aimed at younger moms anyway and I am having trouble enough trying to purge my life of possessions anyway. I like politics and feminist blogs that are written by women. I follow a few. I am reserving judgement as to whether or not women as a group influenced any great change for ourselves in the last election though. I am a cynic at my core.

Very thoughtful post. I need to think on it some more.
Bon said…
i sometimes wish we were a phalanx, mobilized for change. my change only, though, of course. i don't always really want to hear about yours. ;)

which is why in the end it's the tribe that resonates for me, i think. people i end up feeling like i belong to. and for me, the commercial content has to be pretty low for that sense of belonging to be retained. i dislike the natter of mindless capitalism but don't begrudge anybody a few dollars...just own what you're doing and at the same time NEVER forget that your product stuff is not why i'm there reading.
Anonymous said…
I HATE when my comments disappear.

OK, to write it again: I never review products (although I am only rarely asked) because I would be honest if I didn't like it. I just don't lie to friends.

But why do I get solicited to sell sex products? What about my blog gives the impression I have time for sex?
Mad said…
When people try to phalanx me, I get all tribal on their asses.

Seriously, though, I am keen on phalanx's that arise b/c of social or political need: MOMOCRATS is one; Maggie's Violence Unsilenced is another. It's hard for such movements to come to fruition in a space as unstructured and ego driven as the Internet. As for the marketing business, I figured out that my tribe was elsewhere. I am not really into hawking wares or the personalities of others. I fear, though, that that has made me irrelevant out here. It's like I tweeted once about how irritated I get with the right-wing crazies who mass-spam me. Unless I am willing to put myself out there to defend the castle, how can I expect otherwise? And yet, putting myself out there inevitably leads to tribal alliances that I'm not always comfortable with.

Rambling now...
Anonymous said…
I don't care if people make a buck through ads or whatever...where there's an exchange. It does bother me when people just ask for readers to send money outright. It's a little like panhandling. Playing saxaphone on a moving subway car and then asking people to pay for it. But that's just me.
Palymama said…
I should never leave a comment on such an insightful post after other really insightful comments. It's late, my eyes are blurry but I wanted to say amen sista'. Whether it's the tribe vs. phalanx OR 'pimping vs writing, purity is good. Simplicity and purpose are great. If you want to market something to me, put it separate so I have the option to see or not see what you're reviewing. Just my 2 cents and my own preference. I know many who don't mind the products in the writing or the blurring of the lines. I was in advertising (and) publishing for over 20 years and I still like to fight the good fight for editorial integrity.
painted maypole said…
when a blogger starts writing posts that are pure ads, I stop reading. I had a few of those a while back. i don't mind the ads on the side, or the separate review blogs with links from the main site. I often read those.

but i came to blogging for community. I get WAY TOO MUCH "buy this now" everywhere else I look

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