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“From Obama to Fiverr How the Snowflake Model Creates Movements”
Derek Anderson, CEO and Co-Founder of Bevy talks with Brent Messenger, Community Manager at Fiverr, about how he has used the snowflake model to build, grow, and scale his communities from the Obama campaign, to the international Fiverr community.
(Full Podcast Transcript Below)
Building a community in real life is no easy feat. How do you grow a national, or international community without being there to host events and grow it yourself? In an interview on the C2C Podcast with Brent Messenger, Head of Community at Fiverr, Derek Andersen, CEO and Co-Founder of Bevy, discovered how Brent went from the Obama campaign to Fiverr, and how he brought the Snowflake Model with him.
The snowflake model is a method of organizing members of a community. Popularized by Marshall Ganz, the snowflake model is used by many companies and organizers, including during the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012. The snowflake model mobilizes local members to take a leadership role and organize their local team. More and more companies are adopting this way of spreading their community — empowering members to be leaders. It is an efficient way to nationally or even internationally scale a community.
Brent Messenger is no stranger to the snowflake model, and saw how important and useful it is during his work on the Obama campaigns. Instead of hiring one person to be a leader, or selecting only one volunteer to be in charge of the whole, a group of volunteers are selected to collaborate and build the team together. There are a multitude of reasons why this is important. Brent puts it like this:
“It creates great connection between the people who are doing it. It's a strong bonding experience for people who collaborate on these teams. It, obviously, gives them support in executing, so executing comes easier and better. But also, it provides a bit of insurance for the organization, in that, if a leader has to step out, a new leader can step in.”
So, how are these teams chosen? The people who are volunteering their time, helping build and scale a community, or spread the word of a campaign, how does a company choose them? Brent’s method is pretty simple, “our organizers have one on one conversations with leaders,” he says, “they determine who's going to be the most well suited to task, and then we put them through a series of tests that help us understand whether or not they're going to be good and successful.” The people who are chosen for these teams are carefully vetted. They are also not given too much responsibility all at once. Instead, tasks are rolled out in steps. A leader is never given a task too challenging, because they have proven they can handle it by completing all the tasks up to that point. Brent gives an example:
“There's a notion in snowflake model organizing of something called a ladder of engagement. It's not a complicated concept. But, basically, what it means is a response to a request would usually be dictated by the previous action. So, we don't want to go out and ask people to do something that's too challenging for them without asking them something that's less challenging before that. And, really, what we wanna do, ideally, is sequence the asks in such a way that by the time the person becomes a leader they've already taken all the smaller steps to get there, to such a degree that they're not overwhelmed or shocked by the responsibility. They feel completely comfortable with what's being asked of them.”
The beauty of the snowflake model is that the volunteers become like employees in the field. They are there, advocating and working for your brand or company or campaign. When you empower the super-users of the brand, amazing things can happen! “People are willing to do it for all kinds of different reasons,” Brent muses, “but you can, actually, get people [who are a] high level of quality. It's pretty amazing.”
To read more C2C Podcast summaries, head to the Bevy Blog!
Full Transcipt Below:
Derek Anderson: Welcome to the C2C podcast, I am your host Derek Anderson. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400 chapter community based in over a hundred countries. Along the way, I discovered the greatest marketing tool of all time, your customers. Yet, I couldn't find anyone sharing how to build a community where people could experience your brand in person, or at scale. On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build customer to customer marketing strategies and create in person experiences for your brand and customers before your competitor does.
On this episode, we're talking to Brent Messenger, who is the Global Head of Community for Fiverr. And if you don't know Fiverr, Fiverr's the worlds largest marketplace for creative and digital services, and I first found Fiverr in 2010. I made this intro to a video that we did for Startup Grind, it cost us 20 bucks, and it's been seen millions and millions of times. It was incredible value for what we got. Fiverr.com and he is the head of community for them. He's also worked under the Obama for America presidential campaign in 2008, and later he consulted with some of the most innovative companies in the world, like Lyft, Airbnb, and Solar City.
I'm thrilled to be joined on the podcast with my good friend, Brent Messenger, the head of global community at Fiverr. Brent, thanks for being here.
Brent Messenger: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Derek Anderson: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Tell some of the companies you've worked for, how you got to be running the community of Fiverr. What led to that?
Brent Messenger: Yeah. It feels, I'll try to keep it condensed, it feels like an entire lifetime. It starts way back. You know, I've been doing community for a really long time, I started right out of college. I was on campus, I was a Poli-Sci major at UC Santa Barbara. And I met a candidate on campus who was running for state legislature. I was looking for an internship, he seemed like a nice enough guy, I liked the things he had to say, and I decided to go to work for his campaign. So, I started out as a volunteer there and quickly transitioned into a paid role there. But, what I discovered in his campaign was that I really liked interacting with community.
This particular candidate had this ambition to knock on every door in his district. And once I started doing that with him, I really got the bug for engaging with people and helping use community to win a campaign, which is what we did there. So, I worked with him on that election, I helped him run for re-election, and eventually I decided I should try my hand at some other things.
I moved from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and started working at an educational tech company. But, pretty quickly, felt the bug to get back into community engagement. I started working with some advocacy organizations on community building. Couple years of that I, sort of, found my way into the early, early Obama campaign, where I really found a home with like minded people who were really interested in grass roots engagement. Helped run the Obama campaign in 2008, I was a field director in a battleground state, working my way through the organization there.
And then after the election in 2008, I decided to start my own company creating some software for the grass roots campaign that I felt like were missing from the previous cycle. My company, actually, became a vendor to the 2012 campaign, and I worked out of Chicago headquarters on that one as a consultant. Then after that, I joined a consultancy, grass roots engagement consultancy called 270 Strategies, with all the same people that I'd been workin' with from 2008 and 2012, doing grass roots strategy for non-profits political campaigns and tech companies.
And because I'd had some experience with tech, I was able to work on some pitches for some large tech clients and, actually, help win those clients. And that's where I had a chance to work with Airbnb on their global community mobilization strategy, as well as Lyft and Solar City, to just name a few.
And then, from there, I found my way over to Fiverr, where they were looking for Global Head of Community in the same style of a guy named Douglas Atkin, who was the Global Head of Community at Airbnb. And I jumped at the chance to come on over. So, it's been a long path. That's it.
Derek Anderson: Well, I guess, just to get started, I'd love to just hear a little bit about how the Barack Obama's campaign, especially in 2008, was really lauded for it's grass roots efforts in the community. Really, this movement, that kind of swept across the United States. Wonder if you could just talk to us about how did the campaign think about community then, and how did it get that initial spark going with people getting involved, and putting in their time? How did you all do that?
Brent Messenger: So, it's really funny, when I think about how the campaign came to be so community focused, so grass roots focused, there are lots, I think, romantic ways to describe it. But, I think the most accurate way to describe it is by necessity. I'll explain what I mean through an anecdote. I started on the campaign in 2007, here in California, where I'm from. And at the time California was an early voting state in the 2008 cycle. So, it was one that was important to win, but it was a very challenging state to win. It's typically considered a market that you win via media, paid media. It's like Florida, for example, where the only way to win an election there used to be to just go up on television and radio. A problem with that is you have to spend a lot of money to make enough impressions to get your message out far enough in a place like California.
So, the Obama campaign looked at California, and it thought, "Okay, Hillary Clinton has a ... She's winning by about 12% here. It's extremely expensive to win there, maybe we should fight in other places." But what Obama did have in California, was hundreds of thousands of people signing up to volunteer. So, the campaign said, "Well, okay. What can we do to build a real campaign that's based on all this grass roots enthusiasm? We do not want to spend the money here to go toe to toe with Hillary Clinton to try to win this state, especially if it looks like it's gonna be very hard to win. We'd rather try to fight other places." And sort of famously, David Plouffe, the campaign manager for the Obama campaign, had this, sort of, 50 state perspective where he wanted to put on a campaign everywhere.
So, it became this question of, how do we tap into this energy? Well, in California we knew, you know, it's a huge state. Doing a grass roots campaign here, sort of door to door style grass roots campaign, had never been done. So, it became this question of, "How can we use technology to harness the enthusiasm of all these people?" So, we started cobbling together pieces of software, I mean, everything from base camp to..., to try to figure out a way to create an infrastructure that would sustain all this activism.
And then, we used community organizing model, called the snowflake model, which was something a lot of us learned, for the first time, from a guy named Marshall Ganz, who is a famous community organizer, who is actually a professor at The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. And we thought, this is a good leadership rich model for engaging people on a massive scale. So, we used that model, we used a lot of technology to help us run it, and we actually ... What ended up happening in California was, kind of, remarkable. Hillary Clinton spent about 22 million dollars to win California, we spent about 200 thousand dollars to defend it, and on the election day, we actually turned out more people.
Now, she ended up winning that election because she'd put a lot of money and investment into early voting, and I won't get into the details of that, but they did a paid mail campaign to win the early vote. Did a great job of it. Really expensive. On election day, we proved that though grass roots organizing, we could turn out more bodies to the poles. And it had a really profound impact. Headquarters in Chicago, and the candidate himself, said, "Wow, I mean, you guys have really tapped into something. This is a real thing. We could do this all over the place."
So, a lot of what we learned in California, and in the Primary, ended up being adopted nationally in the 2008 general election. And I was lucky enough to be one of the people to get to put those learnings in to a manual that, then, every state leader got.
Derek Anderson: If you're liking this episode with Fiverr and Brent, we have a guide called The Ultimate Community Events Checklist, and it has everything you need to get started to build your community, including the snowflake model, which Brent is really a champion of. All you have to do is text CHECKLIST to 474747, and you'll get the guide delivered right to you. Again, that is CHECKLIST, all one word, text to 474747.
Talk to me more about the snowflake model, because this is something you've, now, executed at the enterprise level, as well at Fiverr and other companies, subsequently, after the campaign. How does a company execute the snowflake model? Where does a company start? And what are the key milestones to it being successful?
Brent Messenger: Yeah, well, it's a great question because, I think, when I started implementing it, I was at 270 Strategies, the consultancy, and we were talking about implementing it for companies, it was kind of a question. Will this model work? And, I think, really what it boils down to is the snowflake model, for those who don't know what it is, it's really just a team spaced organizing model. What I mean my teams is, you find someone who's interested in being a leader in a local that's important to you, and instead of just making them a leader by themselves and saying, "Okay, you're a leader now, go activate the community, engage them in activities, put on events, and things like that." What you do is you help them build a team of people around them to help do this as a team.
And what it does, is it creates great connection between the people who are doing it. It's a strong bonding experience for people who collaborate on these teams. It, obviously, gives them support in executing, so executing comes easier and better. But also, it provides a bit of insurance for the organization, in that, if a leader has to step out, a new leader can step in. So, I mentioned a minute ago, when I was talking about using the model in California, it's a leadership rich model, and that's how practitioners of this model talk about it. Because it allows you to train a lot of people to do one type of job and to share the responsibility, and to, basically, have continuity doing it.
Now, how we implemented it at a corporate level was, basically, just exactly the same way. We decided, okay, there are some things that we wanna do, that the organization wants to do. So, in case of, say Airbnb, or even Fiverr, we wanna bring people together, help them engage in conversations that will help them, and then a lot of them will be putting on events, and things like that. So, we helped bring those people together. Our organizers have one on one conversations with leaders, they determine who's going to be the most well suited to task, and then we put them through a series of tests that help us understand whether or not they're going to be good and successful. And once we've figured that all out, we roll 'em out, empower them to start taking action.
I mean, that's a super, super simplified version of it.
Derek Anderson: Yeah, I guess, one thing that I find really interesting about it is, with some of the other communities and models that I've seen is, it's sort of, a slower, it feels like deeper level of engagement or burn. Where, like, okay maybe you can't get running full speed quite as fast, because you have to really lay the groundwork versus, "Hey, I'm just gonna grab a couple people, and we're just gonna go." But, if you take the extra time and energy to actually do it, okay it may require more of an upfront investment, it may take longer, but in the long run, it's probably much more sustainable than the just grab and go model that most people go with. Would you agree with that?
Brent Messenger: 100%. And I agree with all parts of it. It is definitely a slower process. So, one of the things that I described when I was answering the last question was this idea of testing. There's a notion in snowflake model organizing of something called a ladder of engagement. It's not a complicated concept. But, basically, what it means is a response to a request would usually be dictated by the previous action. So, we don't want to go out and ask people to do something that's too challenging for them without asking them something that's less challenging before that. And, really, what we wanna do, ideally, is sequence the asks in such a way that by the time the person becomes a leader they've already taken all the smaller steps to get there, to such a degree that they're not overwhelmed or shocked by the responsibility. They feel completely comfortable with what's being asked of them. And, moreover, and this is really important for whether it's Barack Obama's presidential campaign, or Fiverr, the person really understands the organization they're working with. Meaning they embody the brand, they're great representatives in the field.
I mean, really, what the snowflake model does is allows organizations to create people that are, essentially, employees in the field. The goal is to serve a team, that kind of quality. And the interesting thing is people are willing to do it for all kinds of different reasons, but you can, actually, get people to be that level of quality. It's pretty amazing.
Derek Anderson: Yeah, and do you find that once the investment, as well, and identifying who it is for your customer, which may be different. You know, what customer that is for you, versus somebody else's customers, who are identifying who that person is. Do you create a profile on that person? Do you, sort of like, create demographics and then go after that type of customer that you have that fits that profile? Or, is it much more ... Is that way too specific? Is it much more broad than that? Do you just go after anybody, regardless of their profile, as long as they're passionate about their brand, they can potentially come on board and do it?
Brent Messenger: Yeah. There's a couple of interesting ways to go about that type of targeting, and to test as an organization. One of the things, I'm speaking of ladder engagement, right? So ladder engagement demands that you, again, don't ask people to do too much too soon. So, one of the things that we often talk about in ladder engagement, we say we don't ask someone to host an event until we know that they can. And we don't put a test on them before, whether or not they can create that event, we don't ask them to do that until we do something simpler before that. And at the very, very bottom of this ladder of engagement is something as simple as liking your content on Facebook.
Right? If someone likes your content on Facebook, they're, sort of, raising their hand and they're saying, "I'm interested in the next level of engagement." So, maybe ask them to share something. So, maybe they share something for you. That's an indication that they're ready for the next thing. That's, kind of, what the ladder of engagement's about.
So, what we do, a lot of times when launching a campaign, and this is consistent across any type of organization, is you want to allow people to tell you that they're interested. So, maybe you'll send out a survey, or maybe you'll send out some sort of ask. Maybe you'll put on an event and the people that show up will become the people that you, then, ask. Because showing up to an event, that's a pretty big step up the ladder of engagement. Those people that are showing up to a live event, left their homes, left their offices, come to you, to wherever you are, that's a pretty big indicator that they're interested in getting engaged.
So, you try to cast a net for people like that. And then, another thing that we do a lot at Fiverr, is you also profile. It's one of the things you asked. We look at the people in our database, and we say, "Oh, look. Here's a buyer, or a seller, in our marketplace who's shown high levels of engagement, who seems like a great communicator, who seems really eager, we're gonna talk to them, too. Give them an opportunity." And those types of targets, they get refined over time as you learn a little bit more about what works and what doesn't.
But, I think for any organization, you have both of those approaches. And that was also true of the Obama campaign. It was, would you like to volunteer, someone says yes, that's a great indicator that they might be interested in leadership. Now you have to qualify them, and work to figure out whether it's true, or not, but that's a good indication.
Derek Anderson: Talk to me, just as we wrap up, Fiverr is a massive company with customers and community all over the world with people helping each other. The first time I think I used Fiverr, was the early part of this decade, just a really clever idea, this early gig economy type of company that's now evolved into doing all sorts of much bigger, more complex, and robust, and different projects for people. How does your organization value community? Where do you put the value on it? What measures of success do you have for community? How does your team get measured?
Brent Messenger: So many questions in that, I feel like. But, it's a tough one to answer quickly, too. But, I will say, first of all, for Fiverr. Fiverr is a very community-centric kind of company. I think a lot of companies say that, but I don't know that they live it. Fiverr, internally, we refer to people who buy and sell on our marketplace as community members. Seems like a simple thing, but it really, I think, set's the tone for how we feel about our community. It's incredibly important. We have brand large advertising campaigns, in various markets around the world, and we have community members in that. So, we're deeply committed to community members.
My team, the Community Engagement, is really about how many people we can engage, the depth to which we can engage them, the degree to which we can provide them with tools that they need. There are all kinds of things that we measure. Whether it's the number of, just raw numbers. How many people are we talking to? How many people are showing up to our events? We're also tracking, to the degree that we can, when our community members, who are registered on Fiverr, show up to our events. We're tracking how well they do in the market place after that. Meaning, if they attend a workshop, we'd like to know that they got better.
And if something hasn't changed in their patterns, if they're a seller, for example, and they attend a workshop that should help them sell more, we wanna make sure that's happening. And if it's not, we wanna know why. So, you might not be surprised by this, having come from the Obama organization, I'm very data centric, so we have our hands in 30 or 40 different metrics that we're looking at, to make sure that the things that we are doing are working for people.
At the end of the day, that's really what we're trying to do, obviously, is we're trying to make the buying and selling experience better on our platform, and we wanna help people. We're also listening to them, right? So, if they're telling us, "Listen, you guys are doing something, we're not that interested in it," then we don't do it anymore. Or, if they say, "Hey, there's something that you could really help us with," then, we'll do everything in our power to try to do that. So those are some of the things we're measured on.
Derek Anderson: Thank you so much for listening. If you liked the show, please leave a review where ever you listened to this. If you'd like to see more about how to create your own event community, go to Bevylabs.com/pod. Again, that's Bevylabs.com/pod.