The Problem With Seth’s Triiibe

As I mentioned in my previous post, Seth Godin recently launched a private online community (or “triiibe”) for marketers, leaders, and anyone else interested as a way to market his new book (on marketing). More information about it here.

I thought this was an interesting idea (okay, I may have used the word “brilliant”) when I read about it on Seth’s blog and now I’m a member of the “Triiibe.” However, after thinking about the concept a bit more, I have a few concerns. Yes, it seems like a good idea in theory but I’m not convinced the way Seth has gone about creating his Triiibe will yield the desired results.

The inherent problem in Seth’s Triiibe is the way members were selected:

  1. Seth only announced the Triiibe on his blog and membership was open for 2 days (which means only regular readers of the blog had the opportunity to join)
  2. To join the tribe, readers had to pre-order Seth’s new book, “to create a small hurdle to get the right people in the door.” This isn’t a horrible idea but it’s the wrong kind of hurdle – easy to implement but does little to serve its expressed purpose (to get quality contributors in the tribe).

The issue at hand can best be represented by a good old fashioned Venn Diagram…

It’s very possible that I’m not giving Seth and his readership the credit they deserve – marketing hacks like me actually make up only a small minority of his following, and his hurdles are well thought out and effective. I truly hope this is the case, we’ll see…

Update: An interesting dialogue is taking place in the comments section with people from both sides (including one of Seth’s current interns) weighing in

Update #2: Mr. Seth Godin himself dropped by


18 Responses to The Problem With Seth’s Triiibe

  1. oldmanmiller says:

    I think a better way of creating the desired community would be for Seth to aggregate all the blog comments received in the last year, sorted by quantity, and then sort through the top 100 for the 20 most insightful commentators. Give them each 10 invites and give those invitees 5 invites to pass out. Now you’ve got a community of 1,000+ members who are no more 3 degrees removed from Seth himself. Obviously I’m not privy to Seth’s readership numbers, so my numbers may be a bit off, but you get the idea.

    Another drawback I see to the book method is the impression it gives off. My initial reaction was that this was simply a marketing gimmick to sell books (which Seth acknowledges and assures isn’t the case). This can be overcome if there’s quality content, but I think the initial impression will deter some people, especially those who aren’t very familiar with Seth.

  2. Joe Cure says:

    I absolutely agree. I’m a big fan of Seth Godin but the fact that he went about building his triiibe this way makes me think either (1) this is a marketing ploy or (2) he isn’t as smart as I thought.

    I’m convinced he truly believes he’s creating a win, win, win situation for everyone but that’s simply not the case. In a perfect world I shouldn’t be a member of Seth’s “exclusive community” (and in miller’s proposed community I wouldn’t be).

    Is Seth really not capable of thinking about these things or is he being disingenuous in his intentions? I say the latter

  3. Gordon Graham says:

    If you look at the social hierarchy and dynamics of any tribe you will see that status is unevenly distrusted and it’s around the range you’ve described on the Venn diagram.

    Think back to primal times. You had certain tribal leaders (the ones who had the knowledge/the talented ones), you’ve got the people who defended the tribe from it’s enemies (the ones who shouldn’t be there and probably won’t participate) and then you’ve got the wannabe leaders (the people who want to be like the people at the top of the social hierarchy).

    It’s a brilliant idea. I know from looking at some of Seth’s recommended reading lists that he is interested in evolutionary psychology and his latest idea proves it.

    Personally I’ve found the whole experience of being a member of triiibes quite enlightening and a fascinating learning experience.

    Seth sure knows how to prove that his ideas work.

  4. Intriguing, noticing some backlinks through keyword searches triiibe to my site, I checked and found your blog, like mine, on the search Page 1.
    As for your Ven diagram, in scanning through some of the postings/forum entries, I found at least one tidbit that will many times more than pay for the $14 for Seth’s book.
    Is this a marketing strategy to sell more books. Of course, but I expect it is creatively integrated into the book’s message. We don’t have to buy everything here; we choose what we wish. And that is of course what successful permission marketing is all about.

  5. Joe Cure says:

    Thanks to all for a worthwhile discussion

    Gordon – Regarding “primal times” I think you want to say the people who defended the tribe would correspond to the largest portion (“Less than brilliant marketing professionals”). The point you make still works but this way it’s historically accurate :).

    I don’t disagree with your conclusion that Seth knows how to prove his ideas work but none of the issues you mention support that position (i.e. he’s interested in evolutionary psychology and your triiibe experience in general has been positive).

    Mark – I was hoping someone with your view would stop by. That’s encouraging to hear and a testament to Seth’s Triiibe working the way he intended it to. Hopefully the majority of Triiibe members will share your experience (the point of my post was to voice a concern that the way the Triiibe was constructed would not result in the majority of members sharing your opinion).

    Also, maybe I’m being hypercritical but at no point does Seth state “Yes, this is party of the marketing strategy for my new book. However….(insert why it’s cool here).” In fact, he denies this by writing “it’s not about selling more books, of course…”

    Because (1) the way the Triiibe was formed (2) Seth has never admitted the Triiibe is a marketing ploy for his new book, I’m not sold just yet

  6. Anonymous says:

    I saw this post highlighted on WordPress and I couldn’t help but put my two cents in. I’m one of the people who has been working on the internship that some of you may be aware of that Seth has been organising this year. However, I have come out quite jaded and I think Seth is only doing it to promote himself and use others to do his bidding. I have more to say, but I’ll spare all the details as this post has to do with Triibe. Yes, there may be an element of goodness in it. But I agree with the others it feels more like a marketing ploy, and I’m sad to learn throughout the past few months that Seth is really a bit of a sham. Hopefully people will join more and hopefully better online communities that may be available instead of patting Seth on the back.

  7. Gordon Graham says:

    Totally agree Joe. Thanks for correcting me! 🙂

    What I meant to say is that he’s been able to get a book that is three months from being released into the bestseller lists of (not the new releases but the bestsellers) by using this idea which he probably will talk about in his book.

    The online community aspect is interesting now because I hear that the amount of members joining is tailing off.

    Whether it’s a marketing ploy or a genuine attempt to give back to readers, you have to admit that it’s generated a lot of interest. The question is whether it will be sustained. I guess only time will tell.

  8. Joe Cure says:

    Anonymous – That’s interesting, I’d love to hear more if you’re willing, my email is listed on the About page. To be fair to Seth I don’t think any of us are questioning his marketing ability/talent. Howver, I don’t think he’s gone about things the right way this time and it seems more than one person agrees.

    Gordon – Great point, I agree Seth deserves credit for coming up with another very creative way to market his book… I just wish he would have been more forthright about his intentions!

  9. Seth Godin says:


    Thanks for the interest in what I’m doing. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m not doing it perfectly. I’m sure there are a hundred ways to do it better. You should go do it better! That’s fine with me.

    I’m certainly not hawking my book, there are plenty of (much much) easier way for me to sell 3,000 books. What I’m trying to do is spread ideas, and to put my money where my mouth is and live what I write about.

    As for anonymous intern gripes, I think that’s pretty unfair.

    Again, thanks for thinking about the tribe. That was the whole idea.

  10. Joe Cure says:

    Thanks for the comment Seth but I do think this discussion has gotten to a point where it deserves you actually addressing some of the points we’ve brought up rather than simply dropping by and restating old information that can be found elsewhere.

    Simply put, if the central goal was to spread ideas (as you say) you’re smart enough to have gone about building the Triiibe in a different way.

    I agree anonymous attacks are unfair, the only reason I haven’t moderate the comment is on the off chance it is authentic I can’t imagine the person being able to make that comment ‘on the record’ so to speak. That said, you’re right and it’s worth stating anonymous comments should be taken with a grain of salt.

  11. Ms. Wahala says:

    Well, I’m in the Triibe too. And what it’s shaping up to me is to be one of those things that you’re gonna get out of it as much as you put in… and sure, there’s Tons of ways it could have been done better. I would have used MT’s Community Solution rather than having it remotely hosted on Ning. At the same time, doing it on Ning totally removes you from certain technical issues.

    I think Seth probably got a few more sales than he would have by doing it this way – as a business person, I say “so what”. The world doesn’t run on cheese – and if it did that would only solve the basic need of food. Everyone has to make a living. But since he did it on Squidoo and his blog, he’s appealing to the subset of people who were already interested in his book. I bought it sooner to be part of the tribe, true, but I would have gotten it anyway.

    As to whether brilliant marketing people will be on there, you’re right on the count that the *famous* ones are there in smaller numbers. But as usual, they have more of an *impact* than those who are “less than brilliant”. So far it seems to be pretty self-policing, and Seth put up some new rules today. 🙂

  12. Joe, would you have been more likely to join the Triiibe if buying the book wasn’t a requirement? How ’bout if the invite was publicly posted in the NY Times, Newsweek Magazine and on dozens of other blogs? (Seth did invite his blog readers to share the invite with friends) Don’t know how much Seth you’ve read, but would you have purchased Tribes without a Triibe invite? Just some things to ponder.

    We’ve all been burned so many times by marketers we tend to doubt them. Don’t give up quite yet on Seth. He won’t let you down.


  13. Tim Graham says:

    He let me down.

    If Seth had originally said “I am starting yet another walled garden social network based on the ning platform” then I would have had zero interest. But to his credit he managed to raise my curiosity to the point where I’d pre-order his book just to see what it’s all about.

    By chance, i found a back door entry. After I posted an admission to this i got banned. That’s ok (although a traditional tribal banishment ceremony would be a nice touch!).

    I think this highlights what I always though about marketing… A gimmick will get more people than simple statement of what the product is.

    Marketing = the dark side of the force.


  14. Emmi says:

    Hey Folks!

    I’m not yet much of a real marketer, or creative advertiser, or even a savvy sales person – but I need to be.

    I own and operate a 3 year-old startup company in the IT Total Solutions market, which is focused on quality, not price. At first, it was great, but during the last 2 years, it has been a tough and lonely endeavor… with long hours, not enough cash flow, and not enough time with my family.

    I found Seth Godin a little over a year ago, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, while searching the Internet for advice on how to not just survive in our down economy – but to thrive in it – despite clients fearful of spending, consultants desperate for meaningful work, self-serving sales personnel coming up short on loyalty, and sometimes even fickle friendships bursting my bubble… dang! I know my story is not unusual, but I had to deal with a lot of challenges that at times felt overwhelming, but at no time could I give up or compromise my DREAM.

    On that day, I came across a posting, written by Seth, which was so encouraging, so poignant, and so directly meaningful to what I was experiencing, that his clear words entered my brain like a horse running home to the barn. And like a wise friend sharing advice, what he had posted on that day confirmed in my mind that I was on the right track, but needed to sharpen up. I was looking for help and encouragement and he was there – in the forms of words – to shine a hopeful light at one end of my business tunnel, which gave me the inner boost I needed to keep on going.

    I have been a dedicated subscriber to his blog ever since.

    And just for the record, I ordered his Triiibes book early on, before it became generally available, and before the famous invite to his Triiibes community, to which I joined the day he opened it up to us.

    I think Seth Godin is a powerful and inspirational modern thinker; who has many times embedded striking nuggets of human philosophical truth in his otherwise mostly business savvy prose.

    I appreciate not only Seth’s timely honest focus, but also his clarity of mind in bringing to the marketing fore certain very human touch points; after all, we are humans marketing to other humans – not automatons going through rote and very mechanical sales motions.

    His way of marketing is all about integrity, and doing what you say you’re going to do, which earns you the respect and trust of others in your line of business.

    Yes, he is a marketer. Yes, he is entrepreneurial. Yes, he is brilliantly successful. Yes, he has a large Triiibe of people who are probably much more like him than I am.

    No, I don’t think he is all about selling his books just for the money, nor do I feel that gaining membership in his Triiibe was a way to sell more books.

    I DO think he is all about GIVING BACK and sharing awareness.

    This GIVINGNESS is what I see most in Seth Godin.

    He gives his Triiibe and anyone who subscribes to his blog, long-term positive reinforcement on a number of levels, which is a rare thing today.

    I like his courage.

    PS – After a tough 2008 and a sluggish beginning for 2009, things are getting better now and I believe that our economy will head towards a recovery starting in Q4 2009. Thanks to the inspiration of Triiibes, I’ve been business networking, joining outside groups, attending meetings and webinars on topics applicable to my business, and preparing for the economic upturn by creating my own Triiibe — because when it hits, it’s going to go like gangbusters and our companies and support staff will need to be ready for action. My advice is to get ready now and forget about doing business the way you used to… the recovery will bring with it new and improved ways of doing business.

    Seth and his fresh insight will be there for us, as usual.

    Thank you for this opportunity to express my thoughts.

  15. With a couple of years of the Triiibe up and running, I wanted to voice my opinion as someone who joined it in the past year:

    I love it.

    You might not.

    The internet has a very low signal to crap ratio, and this ‘walled garden’ –as some put it– has an incredibly high S/C for the things I like to discuss, and need input on.

    It may not be your ideal ‘walled garden’ but I suggest you find one that suits you if you really want to leverage the power of the net. Finding a group of people with a similar philosophy on how to work with others is really powerful.

    The elements of a ‘Modern Mastermind Group’, captured well here: highlight many of the benefits of these kind of walled gardens, with the notable exception being the numerical membership limit mentioned.

  16. Joe Cure says:

    @ Adrian – Thanks for the comment, apologies for the delayed response.

    I may not have been explicitly clear as to the thrust of my thesis above. I agree 1) the internet (almost necessarily) has an exceptionally high signal to crap ratio, 2) walled gardens can be valuable in many instances from collaborative communities to technology itself (eg Apple).

    My issue was in the inception of Triiibes, Seth 1) required users to purchase (pre-order to be sure) a copy of his book, 2) claimed this had nothing to do with his desire to sell books, and it was merely a small barrier of entry to (hopefully) improve the quality of “Triiibes”… which was, of course, complete bullshit.

    Seth is a marketer. This was a good marketing scheme. Pre-order sales drove the book to Best Seller status before it was even officially released.

    I have no problem with Seth creating Triiibes, or even doing so in a way that potentially decreases the quality of conversation for his own self gain (you can imagine many “barriers to entry” – other than requiring members to buy his book – that would have created a better community). That you are defending Triiibes years after its launch on a random blog, speaks to its success and value.

    My issue is with Seth’s dishonesty. All he had to do was write something like:

    “Yes, part of my motivation in creating Triiibes is self-interested – to increase my own personal brand and possibly sell some books in the process. I’m a marketing guru, what do you expect? More importantly however, I truly believe Triiibes can be a very positive, influential, and educational community, much larger than myself or anything I could personally create. Hopefully you do too!”

    Instead he claimed ultimate benevolence, which was ultimately bullshit

  17. It is unfortunate, that for some readers (I’m sure you aren’t alone), that this was interpreted as ‘if you buy, then you get access to Triiibes’. I certainly would have bought his books without the Triiibes incentive, and saw this as a ‘bonus’.

    In fact, in my case where I joined much later, there wasn’t even the implication that I had to buy anything. I got invited by a friend who was already a member, and I then got access.

    Had I seen anything claiming benevolence as the motive, I would have been immediately suspect, as I do with claims of altruism. People do stuff because it suits them, even if we (or they) don’t fully understand their motives. So I am glad I wasn’t exposed to the same early marketing as yourself.

    Thanks for taking the time to reply!

  18. Joe Cure says:

    Ah, so there’s the disconnect. I joined in the early stages of Triiibes. At that time the only way to gain access was by purchasing Seth’s book which, consequently, is what I’m criticizing in this post. No disagreement after all. Thanks for the input

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