Urban Outfitters and the power of Twitter tribes

I’ve been seeing tweets, news articles and comment about the necklace Urban Outfitters reportedly ripped off (as pictured above) from a Chicago-based designer called Stevie, for several days. What I hadn’t realised was that the story had originally gone viral off the back of one tweet.

Amber Karnes, a fellow crafty, wrote on Thursday: “I think it’s time to boycott Urban Outfitters. They have done this to so many independent artists. NOT OK http://bit.ly/kvbMdt

Despite the fact Karnes had little more than 1,000 followers at the time, that post travelled around the world within a matter of hours. The Huffington Post picked it up, so did Miley Cyrus. UO pulled the item from its website and its stores.

If anyone needed confirmation of the power of Twitter, it doesn’t get much better than this. The whole thing is comprehensively reported in Karnes’ post-tweet analysis.

What I love particularly, is her reference to tribes:

In his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin explains that you only need 1,000 true fans to make a living. That the secret of success is no longer in mass appeal, but in niche. In the tight knit group of a network. Today’s Twitter craziness was all about that.

I am not a Twitter celebrity by any means. I barely had over 1,000 followers when the day began and I’m pretty sure about 200 of those are spam-bots. What I do have – and the reason that my call for a boycott on Urban Outfitters spread so fast and wide – is a tribe. A tight knit group of independent artists and crafters that follow me. My cause resounded with them. They spread it, and their friends spread it, and a few big influencers on Twitter spread it, and then it was gone.

When I worked as the webmaster (and often-shouted-down social media champion) at Fortune 500 railroad Norfolk Southern, I had a hard time explaining this concept. Their PR heads would say, “Why should a big corporation worry about cultivating a relationship with some railfan who only has 600 followers? Shouldn’t we go after the big ones? These little nobodies can’t do us any damage.” Well, today proved the opposite. Urban Outfitters is trending not because they have a great new line coming out, but because of a PR nightmare. Because one “nobody” put up a tweet about a crafter that had been wronged. And her tight little tribe of crafters responded.