How The Mobile Revolution is Changing the Nature of Digital Tribes

Niche networks and mobile apps enable social media users to form communities around specific areas of interest.


As services become more mobile, new digital tribes are starting to form. The concept of a digital tribe isn’t new; it’s been a topic of rumination for years. However, as we move away from tethered browsing on desktops and laptops and into app-based mobile environments, tribes are coming back.

In an attempt to get out ahead of the mass amounts of updates and notifications in large social networks, users clean out contacts periodically. Some are even interested in abandoning the network entirely. The issue with Facebook is that it forms a tribe by attempting to connect users with potentially everyone they’ve ever known.

As with life generally, users aren’t all that interested in seeing every single thing that a friend or half-forgotten acquaintance has to say. So users rely more and more on apps, where focused and relevant tribes form. Users cluster around content, not contacts.

“They will follow a small circle of close friends on Instagram, pin with a small handful of followers on Pinterest, message with a girlfriend or schoolmate on WhatsApp or Snapchat, or follow a co-worker’s check-ins on Foursquare,” writes Matthew Bryan Beck on ReadWrite.

Social apps provide an experience that established, bigger networks are unable to provide. Because there’s no expectation of connecting with everyone you know, users can be more selective. Even Mark Zuckerberg realizes this: He’s intent on his creative labs “unbundling the big blue app” because it’s difficult for a monolith to change course.

As the app experience becomes the dominant experience, audiences will become more fragmented. The saving grace is that these new mobile tribes will be very engaged with their carefully-crafted content networks.

The experience might be decentralized, but allowing users to engage passionately with content might make targeted marketing a whole lot easier. “[Brands] must know and respect the user, and his or her mobile tribe,” says Beck.