There’s a great divide in the online marketing world at the moment.
On one side is the Tribe of the Cool Kids. They’re part of The Conversation. They use the niftiest open-source tools. They have trendy haircuts. They’re about voice and influence and attention.
They’re getting as close as they can to a benign Borg, plugging themselves into the collective consciousness. They spend more time updating the collective about what they’re doing than they spend actually doing anything.
On the other side is the Internet Marketing Tribe. They drive the flashiest cars. They have great abs. They’re about tactics and money and staying ahead of trouble.
They’re more like the Zion rebels from The Matrix, flying outside the system but jacking into it to get what they need. In Dean Hunt’s great phrase, they spend 16 hours a day working so they can make money while they sleep.
Clearly one of these tribes is lame and the other one is smart. But which is which?
What it’s like to be a Cool Kid
At the top of the Cool Kids Tribe you’ll find some folks who are very comfortable. Some of them cashed out big before the Dot-Bomb implosion, some have put together cushy consulting gigs, some are enjoying the money and attention that come from top-dollar speaking careers.
The middle of the tribe is having a pretty good time. They might be freelancing, or they might have a corporate gig somewhere. Maybe they have a neat title like “relationship manager.” They work a lot of hours, their boss/clients can be clueless asshats, and the trainwreck economy is starting to freak them out a little (“relationship managers” tend to be first in line for layoffs). But they have a lot of connections, they make a decent living, and mostly they’re doing fine.
Then there’s a big band of Cool Kids who are broke. They’ve figured out how to get attention, but they don’t know what to do with it. They have 4,999 Facebook friends, 34,278 Twitter followers, and $12 in the bank.
Obviously there’s no way the Cool Kids can learn anything from the Internet Marketing Tribe. Those guys are cheesy and creepy and they do things that Google doesn’t like.
And living in your parents’ basement isn’t so bad. Have you seen the new case for my iPhone 3G? It’s pretty sweet.
What it’s like to be an IMer
At the top of the Internet Marketing crowd you’ll find some folks who make truly staggering amounts of money. Some of them are selling garbage. Some of them are selling solidly useful stuff. It’s all packaged about the same way, which makes it hard to tell the difference.
They’ll tell you that the toughest decision of the day is whether to drive the Lambo to Lauderdale or fly the private jet down to Cabo to party with the hot girlfriend. That’s a pose. These guys work, and they work hard. The smartest have built strong, sustainable businesses by providing real value to their customers.
The part about having a Lambo, a private jet, and a hot girlfriend is true, though.
The middle of the tribe is having a pretty good time. They make the same money that a successful small to mid-sized “real world” business makes, with considerably less hassle. They’re a long way from the Lambo, but they can pay their bills and buy decent stuff and spend time with their kids. Their only problem is that they feel like a failure because they’re not doing 8 or 9 figures. That, and their wives have definitively nixed the hot girlfriend thing.
Then there’s a big band of IMers who are broke. They spend tens of thousands of dollars on magic bullets, while their day jobs grind them to dust. In the middle of trying to figure out pay-per-click arbitrage, someone pitches them a product on how to flip domains and they’re digging out the credit card again.
There’s also a small band of IMers who are broke because the Federal Trade Commission took everything they had. They kept the Black Hat on a little too long and they’re paying a steep price for it.
Obviously there’s no way IMers can learn anything from the Cool Kids Tribe. Those guys are snobs and eggheads and they don’t make any money.
And having your wife kick you out of the house isn’t that bad. Have you seen the Lambo I’m gonna buy some day? As soon as the DVDs get here for this seriously killer product, I’m going to pull it all together. She’ll be sorry then.
Obviously there’s no way for these two to meet
If you care about quality content, about your relationship with your community, and your reputation, you couldn’t possibly learn anything from someone in the IM tribe. They have yellow highlighting on their sales letters. Clearly they are Bad People and should be shunned.
If you care about making money, about building a sustainable business online, and about turning your 1,000 true fans into customers, you definitely can’t learn anything from the Cool Kids. They’re elitist communists who couldn’t ask for the order if you held a gun to their head. Clearly they are Bad People and should be shunned.
I wonder, though, if there’s any possible way a tribe could come together that was about building real businesses online without being cheesy, sleazy, or tacky? Could a tribe form around ethical business practices, effective persuasive communication that actually sells something, respectful relationships with customers, and a commitment to keeping the White Hat on at all times?
Could that tribe actually come to terms with getting paid for the work they put in? Could they be willing to learn to create businesses that don’t require a superhuman effort to get off the ground? Not necessarily getting rich quick, but getting rich without killing yourself?
Is it possible for these two tribes to actually learn from one another? To find the greatest value, satisfaction and success at the intersection of the crossroads?
Could we actually pretend that we’re done with high school and create a third tribe that embraces the best of both worlds?
I don’t know, sounds like a pipe dream to me. How about you, what do you think?
About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media and the founder of Remarkable Communication.
A few months after I wrote this post, Brian and I (with some amazing partners) sat down over a bunch of cups of coffee and built a community called The Third Tribe, which is going stronger than ever. We built it to nurture the kinds of folks who showed up in the comments below, and who started using “third tribe” to describe how they worked. Folks who were tired of the old artificial split and wanted tools and education to support a new, profitable way of doing business.
You should go check it out.