Target Audiences and Sustainability

tribesBy Gary Hatter, an incoming student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

As someone who, during my 20 years in business, was described by bosses as an iconoclast and a ‘sacred cow hunter,’ I find a lot to like in Seth Godin’s Tribes. His definition of leaders as heretics and change agents, driven by a sort of missionary zeal to do the right thing for the tribe irrespective of the status quo, is certainly consistent with some turnaround work I did in my previous life. Moreover, his cautionary notes pertaining to the resistance such leadership initiatives often encounter are consistent with some of my other more painful experiences in both commercial and nonprofit sectors. Most importantly, he is spot-on regarding the fun and satisfaction of leading a reinvention effort that engages a tribe in passionate pursuit and successful realization of a worthy vision.

I also found heartening the author’s descriptions of desired leadership characteristics, which are broadly consistent with Jim Collin’s seminal “Level 5 Leadership” article (also a chapter in his Good to Great), and counter to the seeming contemporary fascination with egomaniacal, opposition-bashing ideologues (e.g. Donald Trump, Fox News).

Beyond the preceding prefatory praise, I found Godin’s Tribes to be generally thought-provoking and personally compelling: it is clearly time for me to embrace the reality of social media as a potentially life-changing tool for me, for a tribe or tribes (to be named later) and for the work of building up the body of Christ!

Godin writes of the social media tactics and tools being only a partial view of the formula by which one engages and leads a tribe. The art of leadership includes developing and articulating the vision that inspires followers and motivates ‘tribe tightening’ via member-to-member communication. At my present pre-seminary level, I have many more questions than answers about how to address this post-Christendom environment, but the Good News of the Gospel and the Great Commandment would be my twin cornerstones for a vision statement.

That brings to the forefront the most fundamental consideration in consumer product marketing: who is the target audience (a.k.a., the tribe)? Defining the tribe will have significant ramifications on fine-tuning the vision, or at least how it is communicated to the tribe so that it is relevant and compelling. My sense of target definition—that is, how to locate the tribe consisting of persons of interest for one’s ministry—is a matter of individual discernment, best undertaken with painstaking research and earnest prayer. My relative unfamiliarity with social media leaves me on thin ice here, but I suspect I would venture out into Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., in search of folks who share my: (i) Charlottesville-Albemarle geography; (ii) love of golf, albeit long-lapsed; and/or (iii) interest in soccer, especially FC Barcelona. Believing that the social media ‘avenues’ are two-way, it would likewise be worthwhile to begin a thoughtful campaign of blogging, tweets and such on those topics noted above, with the hope that a tribe might coalesce around one or more areas.

As a former marketer with some knack for writing, I feel reasonably confident of connecting with and engaging a tribe of people with certain common interests and that we can pursue a common vision with purposeful passion, and that all of this can be done in a way that brings church to that community. For instance, apart from scraping the rust off my game, it is fairly apparent to me how I might cultivate a tribe of golfers and together undertake a journey of faith consisting of fellowship, food, worship and perhaps some type of mission activity, all centered around whatever golf course is most frequented.

What I struggle to understand, frankly, is how such a ministry can be done except as a sponsored program of a local church or a voluntary outreach effort. That is, to make such an effort ‘fit’ into the context of a golf course on the weekend, everything would likely need to be so low-key that it would appear to not need financial support.

I am eager to learn more about how such creative initiatives as Sweaty Sheep are sustaining their ministries, because I truly found Godin’s book to be a compelling reason for me to rethink social media as a tremendous opportunity to leverage my skills and experience in the work of God’s Kingdom!

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