in Marketing

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending NationBuilder’s one-day Masterclass hosted at The Hoxton Hotel.

*For all the tweets from the day, you can see the full Storify here ? *

It was a full 12-hour-plus day, with a packed schedule of workshops and networking. In attendance was a huge variety of people from varying industries including politics, non-profits, brands, agencies, startups and more.

With 3 sessions happening in parallel at any one time, below are the notes from the sessions that I attended myself.

Session 1: How to Use Stories to Build an Effective Organisation.

– By Emily Schwartz (@EmKSchwartz), VP of Organising at NationBuilder

Emily’s session was focused on an exercise that was used internally whilst she was working on the Obama 2008 campaign and she has since implemented it as an initiation exercise for all employees at NationBuilder.

It’s based on the work of Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz who teaches the module titled Public Narrative: Self, Us, Now.

The foundation is that the best campaigns and stories piece together:

  1. The story of self,
  2. The story of us,
  3. The story of now.

In other words, why does the individual care (SELF), why should the community as a collective care (US), and what is the reason – hopefully backed by evidence – that something needs to change or happen NOW?


Story Circles

For this session, we focused on the Story of Self through an exercise known as Story Circles. What’s a story circle? Here is the format:

  • Split into groups of 5 or 6 and sit in a circle. Preferably somewhere reasonably quiet and in a tight circle (no empty chairs or big gaps for example).
  • Each person has 8 minutes to tell their story to the group.
  • The best place to start your story is with where you were born.
  • It is not a recital of your CV.
  • Whoever goes first needs to be comfortable sharing as they usually set the tone for the group.
  • That’s it.

And so tell our stories to each other we did. It was a fascinatingly simple exercise in design, yet challenging in practice. Of course, the usual insecurities were evident in most people but having spent 8 minutes talking about yourself with 4 others listening intently to your personal story there were some interesting observations and takeaways.

  • The time went surprisingly quickly – I think a lot of people tried to pad their stories to kill time and had to rush through the final minute to fit in more of their story.
  • It’s remarkably difficult to tell a coherent story about yourself with no prior preparation or further guidelines on what content to include.
  • Rather than the usual ‘networking’ introductions which tend to revolve around questions like “what do you do?“, there was very little spoken about what each person does now. The stories were oriented around their stories of how they got to where they are. This was extremely refreshing.
  • Immediately after the story circle, it would have been very easy to spend a lot longer talking to each member about WHY they did what they did throughout their lives.


Conversation Menus

Having partaken in the story circles Emily then introduced us to conversation menus. These could be likened to dinner party ice-breaker question cards.

The conversation menus are best utilised in pairs, preferably with a partner you either do not know well or someone you might not interact with on a regular basis.

Typical questions might include:

  • Who is the biggest influence in your life?
  • If you could be any superhero, which superhero would you be?
  • Etc



These exercises are designed to create empathy among teams.

Better Connection + Better Communication = Moving Faster + More Effective

Learn more about these topics:


Session 2: Online Advocacy: Building a Community of Voices For Change

-By Angela Steen (@AngeSteen), EU Public Policy & Government Relations Director at Etsy

Angela’s session was an insight into how she mobilises Etsy’s community of sellers to drive policy change on issues that affect their businesses.

Angela uses the following framework for online advocacy:

1. Set Objectives.

Survey and research with your users to identify issues that affect the community.
Set objectives to solve these issues.

2. Identify your Advocates.

You have to find the people within your community who want to be a part of the movement. Angela uses the 4 circle model as shown in the tweet above.

Leaders = they show up on their own account.
Participants = they respond and act when asked.
Engaged = they stay in the loop and might engage.
Connected = they might read messaged but rarely engage.

3. Motivate your advocates

Communicate with them.
Champion them.
At Etsy they have ‘teams’ of sellers which are grouped by geographical location. As soon as you register as a seller on Etsy you are invited to join your local team. Each team has a self-selected ‘Captain’ who is in charge of communicating with the team on behalf of Angela.

4. Create feedback loops

Have open channels of communication with your community. Angela works closely with Etsy’s Community Managers to deliver feedback and messages on issues she has been working on.
Etsy has seller forums for teams which are extremely active and also sends a monthly newsletter.

5. Measure the impact

And share the wins with the community.

Learn more:


Lunch & Learn: Ceding Control – How Putting Your Supporters In Charge Creates the Strongest Change

-By Ben Carter (@benclimbssuff), Business Development Director at

Ben gave a whistle-stop talk on how to best give members of your community the power to drive change. He had 10 steps:

  1. Trust your supporters. Give them the tools and permission to lead.
  2. The power of authenticity.
  3. Curate your community and connect them with each other.
  4. Find the little big thing – the sub-stories from within your community that support your cause.
  5. Remember that the decision maker you’re campaigning against is a human too. Understand their motivations, find them on social media, create a dialogue.
  6. Build your community both online and offline.
  7. Amplify your community and the campaign.
  8. Seize the moment. Be ready to act – flexible – rapid response. See an opportunity and jump on it.
  9. Crowdsource your team. Don’t underestimate your supporters and welcome their feedback.
  10. Don’t get hung up on numbers.


Session 3: Building a Digital Campaign from the Ground Up

-By Eve Zuckerman (@EveZuckerman), Deputy Digital Director, Alain Juppé Presidential Campaign

Eve’s talk was a great insight into how digital strategy needs to be at the heart of all campaigns – it’s no longer sufficient for it to be an afterthought.

Eve started by explaining the 3 underlying components of a campaign:

A reason to fight (the mission)
A possible victory (the goal)
A path to reach it (the strategy)

Digital Strategy = Moving people to action to reach your organisation’s goal.

Eve moved on to walk through the framework for building the campaign:

  1. What is your goal?
  2. Who are you trying to reach?
  3. Are your tactics either engaging or your enlargening your supporter base? (If they’re not, don’t bother!)
  4. How are you measuring success?
  5. How do you give your online supporters offline engagement?
  6. How are you building your list?

Contraint breeds creativity

Eve finished by giving us tips on how to introduce and manage a digital strategy within your organisation:

  • Get involved from the start with all aspects – budgeting, hires, priorities etc.
  • Train others around you and decentralise your team. Ensure you explain the WHY to them, not just the WHAT to really get their buy-in.
  • Find your place with other teams. Ensure they understand how digital fits with their aims.
  • Set up tracking and reporting to prove the ROI and report back to all teams.
  • Set expectations and manage them. (Digital ≠ fixing the printer)
  • Define your work. Scope early and often.
  • Pick your battles wisely.

Lastly Eve left us with this note of thanks:


Final Notes

For me personally, the biggest takeaway was this: any business or organisation should be aiming to build a strong, loyal, engaged community of customers. By mobilising this community you can create a network of supporters and advocates that drive business value. That’s a powerful competitive advantage.

As mentioned, there were other sessions running in parallel to those mentioned above. Unfortunately, I don’t have notes to share from these.

Thanks to Toni Cowan-Brown and the NationBuilder team for hosting the day!


Also published on Medium.