Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Writer-Chieftan

Alan L. Hammond, SHQ Editor

This article previously published in the January 7, 2009 issue of my newsletter. You can sign-up through the form in the margin.

As I noted on Twitter (if you aren't using Twitter, you're missing out), I've started reading popular marketing expert Seth Godin's recent book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. I wasn't expecting to find something that fit so well with people who deal in the written word, but an interesting theory occurred to me while reading.

Let me start by saying that I am always skeptical about what the "experts" have to say in their books. It seems that many, if not most, experts are more concerned with driving their personal brands than with improving the lives and businesses of their readers. My skepticism is warranted and that is why I've chosen to, through my blogs, be a "crime fighter," by pointing out the posers and lauding the true leaders.

Having said that, in Tribes, Seth Godin is proving to be a real leader. I've only just started the book, which isn't very long to begin with (151 pages), but with two small children, even a comic book takes as long to read as War and Peace.

While reading Tribes last night, I was struck by something pertinent to freelance writers, editors, bloggers, etc., and something of which we should all be aware.

Godin's book rests on the premise that, throughout history, humans have been tribal creatures. They need to be a part of some closely knit group. Nowadays, most people belong to many. According to Godin, "A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate"(Tribes, p 2). He also believes a tribe can't exist without a leader, and a person can't be a leader without a tribe.

Formerly, tribes used to consist of all the people in some village, a gardening club in Tampa, or the retirees from Bell Telephone in Memphis. In other words, tribal affiliations were largely local. Today, borders have been smashed and people from every location on the planet are neighbors, thanks to the proliferation of the Internet and its increasingly widespread availability. Also, the barriers to becoming a leader have been significantly lowered. Whether five people or five million people, there are infinite groups of people with shared interests for everything imaginable. Those groups need formation, organization, tribal status, they need leaders. They all need Chieftains.

As a writer, regardless of your chosen medium (magazine, blog, church bulletin, corporate ad copy, screen play, web site, etc.), you would not have a job if it weren't for people who want and need what you have to offer. If you write poetry about urban life, there is an audience. If you write a blog about Boston Red Sox baseball, there's an audience. If you specialize in infant safety articles, you have an audience.

The world is smaller because of communication channels. Tribes form and communicate through those channels, which are driven by the written word. Given those facts, the tribal leaders must be writers. There is no more natural tribal Chieftain than a person who can communicate their ideas through writing.

That is a huge opportunity for you in this New Media-driven world. Step forward and take your place. Find your tribe and become it's Chieftain.

Me? I'm finding my place as we speak. Golf, travel, helping people secure their futures in an uncertain world, writing; I have many interests and experiences I want to share. I've been a newspaper columnist, but most of my publishing credits have been through new media; Internet, blogs, podcast scripts, web sites. There are so many ways to reach your audience, each of those presenting its own challenges, but also its reward. What I'm finding is that a sincere approach and a clearly discernable love, ability and enjoyment of subject leads to growing an audience and income. In the words of Austin Powers, "It's groovy, baby!"

You have a tribe, go find it and take your rightful place as its Chieftain!

By the way, join my tribe on I'm @alanlhammond.

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