This post is a collaboration between 3 authors: Ryan Chynces, Education Manager, Hootsuite; Dr. Peter J. Richerson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of California Davis; and Dr. Dwight Collins, Associate Dean, MBA Program, Presidio Graduate School.

I once flattered the CEO of a Professional Services SMB by describing his company as “the high-performance lovechild of an ad agency and a sports team”.  He was smitten by this description because it got to the heart of what he was trying to achieve with his company’s culture — a tightly knit, highly functional tribe of professionals sprinting in unison for the success of the business.  

Tribal Business Units

Organizations that have a high degree of cohesion and teamwork among employees generally perform better than those that don’t.  It’s why so much is made of team-building activities, and why culture fit is so important for new hires.   

Team cohesion is a fascinating phenomenon, with deep roots in our evolutionary past.  Modern business organizations are actually the complex descendants of ancient tribal societies.  SMBs in particular are close analogues to the ancient tribes from which we evolved, and many of the factors that contribute to good tribal functioning also influence the efficiency of SMBs.

We’re likely all familiar with the sociological concept of “in-groups” and “out-groups”.   This concept is useful for shedding light on how groups function optimally at both a tribal scale and an SMB scale.  Ancient tribal groups were the original “in-groups”; they were collections of people who instinctively cooperated/coordinated to achieve shared goals.  At their best, SMBs are also bona fide in-groups, and there are some compelling reasons why every organization should foster tribal-style in-group identity among employees.  Here’s a few:  

  • Strong, cohesive in-groups attract the best job candidates.  

  • Employees will feel more dedicated to the SMB when they feel they’re part of an ‘in-group’; this helps retain talent.

  • Potential clients will be more inclined to do business with an organization they perceive to be a well-functioning and cohesive in-group.

  • Employees will tend to be generous and altruistic toward fellow in-group members; this contributes to collaborative working relationships.

All of these things can create a virtuous, mutually reinforcing circle of team cohesion and success.

Creating Tribal Identities

So how can an organization achieve better cohesion by promoting tribal-style in-group identity among employees?  Before diving into our suggestion on how LinkedIn can help achieve this, a quick comment on sociobiology will be useful:

Going back as far as 100,000 years, tribal societies have used symbolic markings — like beadwork, shell necklaces, body painting — to mark off those who are part of the tribe (in-group) from those who aren’t (out-groups).  Over tens of thousands of years, cultural practices like these actually shaped biological evolution such that humans evolved a  psychologically susceptibility to symbols of group membership.  Consequently, the symbolic markings we employ can be quite powerful.  Researchers refer to them as “prosocial motivators”, and it is this phenomenon sports teams exploit when they sell team jerseys to eager fan.

SEE ALSO: Why Employees Need to be Part of Your LinkedIn Marketing Strategy

Symbolic Markings in the Digital Age: Harnessing a Strategic Advantage with LinkedIn

Let’s now address the elephant in the room: how can SMBs harness the psychological power of symbolic marking to foster tribal-style cohesion among employees?  

Simply mandating employees to wear company schwag or uniforms would backfire spectacularly. For symbolic markings to work their magic, employees need to voluntarily mark themselves as part of the in-group.

LinkedIn is something almost all your employees are already voluntarily doing — symbolically marking themselves as part of your organization. Trouble is, company employees rarely sing from the same song book when it comes to the quality and consistency of their LinkedIn profiles.   

Here I’ll suggest a cost-effective way companies can use LinkedIn to help create a more cohesive, and effective, organization.

The Take-Away

Companies put a lot of work into their social media profiles and presence, but taken as a whole, employers and employees generally fail to present a united front on LinkedIn.  That’s bad for cohesion and bad for business.  Here’s how to address it:

Step 1: Offer employees the LinkedIn dream package

The “dream package” would be a voluntary program for which employees could opt-in.  Here’s  the menu on offer:

  • Profile workshops: provide participants with a group or individual audit/consult on their LinkedIn account by an in-house expert.  The goal here is to make participants’ profiles as strong as possible while simultaneously boosting consistency of profiles across the company.

  • Endorsements: Offer participants who successfully revamp their profiles LinkedIn Endorsements from respected members of Senior Management.   

  • The ideal template: This account model would set the standard with approved, SEO-optimized copy about the company and approved media links for the Summary and Current Experience sections (e.g., links to a branded Slideshare deck or promotional YouTube video).

  • Free headshots: Run a photoshoot to provide all participants with consistent, professional headshots for their profiles (hint: take the pictures around the office so the company colour palette is visible).

  • Branded background image: Provide all employees with a background image designed for LinkedIn’s layout specs (  Get this underutilized branding real estate working for your brand!  

  • Contests: Run regular contests and competitions between participants. For example, provide a free vacation day for whomever can  generate the most LinkedIn Likes on shared content.

  • Subsidized LinkedIn Premium accounts: Provide Premium accounts to participants who have  a sales or networking role.  These accounts are invaluable for using LinkedIn as a social selling tool.

Step 2: What’s required to participate in the program

  • Participants take part in a one-hour LinkedIn workshop or individualized audit + incorporate the resulting feedback.

  • Participants use the approved copy and media provided.

  • Everyone in the company should be connected to everyone in the company — even if they’ve never met in-person.  This will help boost individuals’ connection numbers, surface sales leads, and promote organizational connectivity.   

  • Participants should give LinkedIn Endorsements to other participants.

If successfully executed, this strategy will produce a small army of sharp-looking, dedicated brand ambassadors, thus providing new opportunities to strengthen your brand.  

To learn more about how your firm to create a powerful LinkedIn strategy, check out our free LinkedIn Guide for Professional Services Executives

On LinkedIn? Join us on LinkedIn and in the Professional Services Executive Forum