Graham Plaster

culture + diplomacy + ethics + smart power + technology + humanities + entrepreneurship + philosophy

Joining Brick and Mortar Associations with Virtual Tribes

I have had the pleasure of being in the middle of several discussions of late about how virtual tribes are disrupting good old boy networks. Both terms may be unsettling to members of the other, so allow me to unpack them a bit.


Virtual Tribes – Groups that form around a common idea or theme using technology to overcome geographic limitations. Usually a virtual tribe seeks to offer certain benefits to members and also a sense of belonging or camaraderie. They seem to emerge organically from fan clubs, hobbyist associations, political movements, etc. Tools of choice: Eventbrite,, LinkedIn, Twitter, Periodic Conferences

Good Old Boy Networks – Groups that often form around an institution such as a university, company, think tank, etc. A good old boy network may be more grounded in geographic elements, such as the old stomping grounds or headquarters of the institution, a members-only social club, a regular bar or restaurant. Like the virtual tribe, the good old boy network seeks to offer certain benefits to members and also a sense of belonging or camaraderie, usually at a cost. Some manage to hold together long distance if they maintain a fraternal community. Tools of choice: The Country Club, The Yacht Club, the University Club, the Trade Association, the Fraternity/Sorority

Like traditional publishing, the good old boy networks are being challenged on the basis of their value proposition to members – if the same benefits can be gotten for cheaper, without needing to be attached to a physical location, the virtual tribe may be more attractive. If the primary interest is the physical amenity rather than community (golf/yachting/job opportunities), then the old boy network might prevail.

I am not making a value judgement on either. In fact I suspect that both will continue to evolve to incorporate elements from the other as they compete for the loyalty of new members. The key for leaders is in crafting a clear value proposition for prospective members.


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