Hey, know what? Seth Godin, [insert your own incoherent gushing statement of fandom here], is — no surprise to anyone who reads his stuff — doing something interesting.

Observe, please, the power of Seth.

If it were anyone else I’d think “Hmm, interesting gimmick”. Or: “Nice try, I’m still not buying your book.” When it’s Seth Godin, though, I never think gimmick. In fact, I automatically assume “intelligent, well-considered, ballsy experiment”. Because, you know, that’s his thing.

Oh, right. Let me tell you what I’m talking about

The thing Seth Godin is doing here doesn’t seem all that exciting if you don’t have background information. At first glance, it basically looks like a new experimental social network for learning and sharing information. For people who own his new book Tribes.

And yeah, if anyone else were behind it, most people would think, “Oh, boy. Another boring, lame time-waster-ey thing.”

But this is different because there are already thousands and thousands of smart, creative, thinking people who consciously work with Seth’s ideas and concepts. That’s why it’s legitimate to hope — and even expect — that this Tribe-ey thing of his could actually be an interesting, exciting place to hang out.

I’m game. In fact, I’m totally looking forward to seeing what happens.

But never mind the thing itself. Right now the interesting thing is thinking about the creative way he’s promoting it.

As far as I’m concerned — and yeah, no one’s asked me yet, but that’s the fun of self-publishing, I get to share my theories with all and sundry — he got a couple things really, really right. And maybe two things somewhat less than right.

Still admire the hell out of him. You know that’s a given, right? Okay, moving on.

Shall we?

Smart thing #1: achievable but palpable barrier to entry

If you’re going to ask people to become members of something, part of your success depends on creating a just high enough barrier to entry so that people want to work for it. A little. Not too much.

In this case there are a couple things.

  • Pre-ordering the book
  • This is actually two things. One is the money. The other is that you’re buying a book without knowing anything about what’s in it, just that you want it because Seth Godin wrote it. You do.

  • Sending the electronic receipt as proof of purchase
  • Okay, admittedly it’s not a lot of work but this is the land of internets and on the internets (“on the emails“, if you’re my mother) we don’t like doing things that make us work.

    C’mon, we don’t even like clicking on a link if it doesn’t seem like it’s going to give us hard-core value for that nanosecond of “work”.

I’ve said this a million times but here goes again:

Asking someone to click on a link is the online equivalent of asking them to cross the street, walk two blocks, and pick you up a loaf of bread and a carton of milk.

Same goes for emailing someone an electronic receipt. Especially when you have to copy-paste in the address by hand (uphill both ways!) because it’s going to an address you’ve never corresponded with before.

Is this absurd? Possibly. But baby, that’s how it is. We don’t like to work. Sort of how we don’t like people to make us think, but more so.

Smart thing #2: help people feel extra special

Obviously if you want a members-only environment, you’re going to have to make it seem special. So it’s really more about how you help them feel privileged to be enjoying exclusive, cool, member-ey things. Things that they’d want.

  • Numbered membership (works on desire to be visibly cool)
  • Invites are sent out in batches. Numbers are visible. As Seth explains, low numbers = “prestige, first dibs on various assets and bragging rights”. But everyone knows that bragging rights is the biggest.

  • Scarcity (works on fear of losing out or of being left out)
  • He’s “letting” you buy his book, sight unseen now and getting the privilege to join his thing until August 10th and then it’s over.

  • Chance to win free stuff (works on the “we’re suckers for free stuff” gene)
  • “Members of the tribe” (aside: am I the only one who automatically associates this phrase with people who read Heeb magazine?) are in the running to win free tickets to a launch event/presentation thing in New York …. and then there is the vague promise of “a few other goodies”.

Again, if this were a big corporation, you’d probably be turned off by some amorphous “and more!

But you know the goodies will be legit. And anyway, at this point you’re already thinking about how you are going to buy the book anyway so you might as well check out his Tribe-ey thing.

I mean, at the very worst, you’ll have something interesting to blog about.

Less-than-cool thing #1: Allow room for confusion

There’s a FAQ (not a mistake, good idea). And on the FAQ you see a graphic of the website-to-come. It’s called Triiibes.com.

Thing is, I read it (and I know I’m not the only one) as Triiibe.com.

Because the thing that stuck out was “Hey, three ‘i’s! Don’t forget three ‘i’s!” The thing that didn’t stick out was the ‘s’ on the end. I know, the book is called Tribes, but I hadn’t seen the book yet when I was at the FAQ.

Anyway, Triiibe.com (three ‘i’s, no ‘s’) is already a thing. A sloooow-loading website whose Triiibe is a “collective founded in 2006 by performance artists Alicia, Sara and Kelly Casilio (identical triplets) …”

That was when I stopped reading because my interest in performance art trends towards non-existent, though — given the amount of time I spend in Berlin — my opinion does seem to be moving slowly but steadily from apathetic to semi-antagonistic.

Anyway, if I made that mistake, lots of people will make that mistake. Either don’t give away the name of your top-secret invite-only site or make it really, really easy to get there.

Less-than-cool thing #2: Promote ginormous companies, some of whom who are the antithesis of the stuff you teach

Amazon. Barnes and Noble. Borders. Dude.

This goes not just for Seth Godin but for lots of biggifiers out there.

Guys. Your whole work is successful because it helps small, quirky, good-for-the-world business owners do their cool, unique thing and put it out there. We appreciate that. But then you drink coffee at Starbucks and send us to Amazon to buy your stuff.

Live by example. You’re trying to help us be the non-Walmart, the non-box, the non-mainstream-conventional option, right? Support those options in the real world. Encourage us to support those options.

Your words inspire people. Your actions have impact. People who admire you might end up making more socially responsible decisions just because they think you’re cool. That’s power. Use it.

What’s the point of having powers if you’re not going to use them for good?

Yes, on the FAQ, there was one tiny link (the last one) to the independent bookstores option. Why not make that the first option? Most people will buy from Amazon anyway. But at least make it clear where your support lies.

I pre-ordered Seths’ book Tribes from Powells.com. Yes, it was more expensive.  And yes, that kinda sucks. And yes, I’ll give an extra couple of dollars to support a company that’s in line with my values. And — in my case, at least — also local.

Whatever, I can buy one book fewer this year. The point is, living by what you teach is important.

I know that Seth Godin and I have all sorts of shared values because reading all his books has made it clear that he cares deeply — and thinks deeply — about stuff that’s important to me.

So come on, bump up the Buy independent link to the top of the list. Lose a little on your Amazon ranking. It won’t be the end of the world.

And the lesson for the day is …

I’m not sure if there is one. I bought the book. Seriously looking forward to reading it.

But even more, I’m looking forward to some intense and interesting conversations about what it means to be part of a tribe, to create a tribe, and to take risks and do creative stuff in ways that other people wouldn’t.

Because that’s where the learning happens. And really, it’s all about the learning.