Outside of “all-in-one” sites like Facebook, there are myriad sites dedicated to pop culture, multimedia, and social and political causes, which allow people to extend their identity in ways and at speeds that would have been impossible to members of ancient tribes. These web sites are the home of credibility, and they must be treated as such. Unfortunately, as Ann Taylor Loft is finding out, it’s inevitable that many of them will be corrupted.
The contradiction underlying these types of sites – that they are the potential customer’s source of credible information on your product, but also highly susceptible to the appearance of corruption, – has an interesting effect on tribes: tribes are much more fluid in membership, yet remain concrete and credible. This is clear from the Ann Taylor case. That brand was likely a member of many tribes, and so many web sites would have been a good fit for its attempts at “tethering.” Instead, the situation has probably led to the discrediting of many sources where these tribes would have gone for information on the brand, and so traffic will move to other sites, some potential customers will be put off and some existing customers may shun the brand. But it’s a safe bet that new sites will step up and service these tribes, and that other brands will fill in the void. And new voices will become credible and so shape how this happens.
Something like this dynamic happens on sites like Netflix, which shows users what is popular where they live, as well as “similarity scores” between their friends and even with complete strangers. It’s interesting to see novelty and disagreement among people in your core group, but it’s also sometimes exciting to find that a complete stranger so closely matches one’s tastes. Both cases allow for enjoyable discoveries of actors, directors and genres, which can contribute to the growth and to the fracture of a tribe. This exemplifies how credibility, tethering, and the fluidity of tribes work together.
Come back Friday for the final installment: The Resolution.
Damien DuPont is a report writer and quality assurance specialist in the Dow Jones Media Lab and is based in New York.