Posts tagged community strategy
It's a wrap! August 2019

For three hot summer days at Alexanderplatz, I wore a Swing Kitchen uniform and had a camera around my neck. My job was to approach people, talk to them about Swing Kitchen, and invite passersby to try a vegan nugget. Most of them said they couldn’t believe it was vegan! I have to admit: I did create quite an unfair advantage for myself. Instead of standing inside our stall, I stood outside to draw people closer. And it worked! By the end of the three days, we’d talked to thousands of people and given away 1,000 vouchers.

You might wonder why vegan products taste like meat. Or why I even care to write about this in more detail.

With so many of the replacement products on the market, you probably wouldn’t believe they’re even fake. Which might make you wonder why vegans would eat fake meat that tastes like, well, meat. It’s quite simple, really: It’s because changing diets is really REALLY hard! Food is what gives us comfort. Food serves as an agent for many of our rituals and cultural traditions. You might have always made yourself a cheese sandwich for breakfast. Suddenly, once you decide to go vegan, you’ll need to change that – and so many other things. It’s a lot to think that you took for granted all your life suddenly. So the job of replacement products, like those vegan nuggets I shared, is to make the journey more comfortable. Maybe you’re able to change your cheese sandwich habit immediately. OR maybe you switch to vegan cheese until you find a new ritual and a new recipe. And maybe, once you think of yourself as a more “established” vegan, you won’t need these products anymore. But that’s a discussion for another day.

So let’s go back to why I stood at Alexanderplatz for three days wearing a service staff uniform and engaging in what I call community strategy and outreach...

When I suggested to my client, Swing Kitchen, that they join the Vegan Sommerfest earlier this year, everyone was excited about the idea. Swing Kitchen has only recently launched in Berlin, and they’ve found it’s much harder than expected to bring guests in.

Being at a festival and among other entrepreneurs allowed us to connect with the local audience and show our faces. It allowed us to talk about our values. We were able to speak about why Swing Kitchen does what it does. We could discuss why we chose to have fake meat products on the menu that tasted exactly like chicken or beef.

The event was a great success, and I was grateful we did it. However, setting up a stand at a festival isn’t as easy as just popping up. You have to be prepared for such events, and Swing Kitchen is not.

For starters, nuggets and tiramisu were the only two products we could put on the menu, as they were the only two items we could cook on site. We had to rent all the necessary equipment and set up a “field” kitchen for three days.

What might sound easy in one country isn’t always easy in another. In Germany, you must have a tent with a roof. You’ve got to have a washable floor...that’s also detached from the ground in case it rains. All surfaces must be washable. Nothing is allowed to be directly on the ground either. There must be flowing water… the list goes on!

Given there were no tents for rent available in all of Germany, I had to buy a tent. And that was just one thing I had to figure out! Luckily, I was able to make it seem like Swing Kitchen always did these kinds of events. And for me too, this was something I’ve done the very first time. I must say my interior architecture studies really came in handy!

Right after the festival, I got to host an event with the Vegan Entrepreneur Network. We invited Annik from Einhorn Berlin’s marketing team and Irene, the founder of Swing Kitchen, to speak about “Vegan Entrepreneurship as Activism.”

We learned, from a recent customer questionnaire, that 80% of Swing Kitchen’s customers are carnivores. I’d say it’s an activist act to be able to convince non-vegans to opt-in for vegan foods! For every vegan burger Swing Kitchen sells, a real burger becomes unnecessary.

By now, you might have noticed that, when I work with a food business, it’s most likely a vegan company. That’s because I believe eating animal products is no longer contemporary. While I acknowledge how hard it is to change your diet, I think it’s necessary for the wellbeing of our planet.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I’m interested in cultural and social change and – given that I also like to learn something while working on a project – working with vegan companies has been truly life-changing. I wasn’t a vegan until I left Veganz after the project last year and informed myself properly about everything we talked about in our conversations. It’s a strange feeling to look around now and feel astonished that so many people still eat food that, based on research, makes them, our animals, and the planet sick. To me, personally, this is not necessarily about animal welfare. It's more about common sense and integrity.

When I first started working with Swing Kitchen, I was only supposed to run a few events at the space. Then, I was asked to help with the brand bible, the language manual, copywriting, the new website, and a social media strategy for 2020.

I worked on the brand bible with Moriz Piffl, who is one of the most incredible marketers I’ve ever met. What I love about working with him is how much we both care and how we’re never scared to tell the other what we think. At times, we were like two Tauruses battling about what we wanted to say and how. It was a good battle and a necessary one. What was most rewarding about this project was the feedback we’ve received! The founders of Swing Kitchen loved how we framed what their brand stands for.

Two animal rights activists founded Swing Kitchen. The reason Swing Kitchen is a fast-food chain and not a hippie, vegan, superfoods joint – and I’m glad I can say that on my website! – is because of the astonishing popularity of McDonald's. The founders know that the more vegan burgers they sell, the fewer meat burgers will be produced (and needed) on this planet. They don’t want vegan customers. Those people are already doing what Swing Kitchen wants them to do. They want meat-eaters who opt-in for vegan food.

I love that!

However, it seems that veganism is becoming more mainstream every day (at least in Berlin). People are getting curious about the taste of plant-based food, and so, for the first time, Swing Kitchen is going to be bold and outspoken about being vegan. Given “2019 is the year of the vegan,” it seems fine – and highly appropriate – to suddenly be much louder about it. That’s exciting.

When Moriz asked me to also help out with the social media strategy, I must admit I wasn’t too excited about it. As someone who grew up on the internet, I feel like social media is becoming more and more outdated every day. It’s become so much more about commerce and so much less about adding value to people’s lives or about connection. People are getting tired, and I don’t want to add to the noise on the internet. I’d much rather build great products and have others talk about it then tell brands how to talk about themselves. It’s not exciting, and mostly, it doesn’t work.

At least it no longer works for the “target” group I associate with and the social media platform where people in this target group hang out – Instagram. But then, there are other groups who are excited about the internet and find things entertaining and worthy of their time.

You might have guessed correctly: I’m talking about TikTok.

To me, TikTok is like the modern version of the German and Dutch TV format Mini-Playbackshow in which kids dressed up and pretended they were famous singers. However, this time, the fun isn’t done after 60 minutes. It can quite frankly be as long as you want it to. TikTok is where employees record videos when they’re bored on break. It’s where girls and boys dress up and have the sort of fun I used to have when I was dancing in the living room in the 90s.. just, obviously, without the camera.

On one hand, I have very little interest in keeping kids fixated on their screens. Then again, if I have to tell kids to do something, I’d much rather ask them to eat vegan burgers than regular burgers. And, as you know, you have to use the weapons that exist and are accepted already.

TikTok is fun. I can only recommend you download it and browse around a little. As I was playing around with the app myself and trying to figure out how TikTok could be useful for brands, I uploaded a video and was astonished to find out it had more than 800 views within just an hour. If your target audience is in their teens, you might want to stop wasting your time on Facebook and Instagram and instead move to TikTok. Is this meaningful? Not really. Can it be made useful? That’s the real question!

Because September is usually the month when everyone goes back to school I thought about how I could give my approach to communication a different perspective. I thought about what courses I could take and how I could get better at what I do. I’ve signed up for improv classes at the Comedy Café Berlin. AndI’ve also started taking Dutch courses. I’ve been spending crazy amounts of time on Duolingo! While my screen time has increased to astronomical heights, so has my Dutch vocabulary. It’s very satisfying. At least for now.

Furthermore, I’ve applied to two mentoring programs for a business idea I have, and I’m happy to say I got accepted to both. I’ll be working with a mentor in Berlin through the Act-On Plastic Program initiated by ProjectTogether, and I’ll also get to spend three days with the coaches of MOE in the Dream Factory program. I know it might sound strange to do such a program as a participant given I’m usually on the mentoring side. However, it feels really good to have someone hold my hand for a change.

Before I wrap up what I’ve been up to this past August, I’d love to mention the books I’ve read and found very valuable. “Food Bigger Than the Plate” is the exhibition catalog of a V&A exhibition with the same name. It’s a great read to learn more about the current discourse on what we eat and how it needs to change. “You and I Eat the Same” is a conference catalog from MAD in Copenhagen and an examination of the similarities in food cultures across the planet. Last but not least, Chmara:Rosinke gave me their latest book “Essays on Kitchens,” which is inspiring as well.

As you can see, August was a little bit all over. September is probably going to be similar in terms of my workload. The good news is I’ll be available in October. Have you got a project you’d like to discuss? At the moment, I’m available for branding, copywriting, and business development strategy.

Not every (freelance) project goes right. And one should own even the bad experiences.

When I first received a call whether I could help launch a Startnext campaign that was nominated for the German Integration Prize, I was really excited about the opportunity. I’d get to work with a publishing house I admire deeply. I really liked the team and the project.

When we ended the collaboration a whole month before originally planned, and also just a few days after the public launch of the project, I was straight-down relieved.

This isn’t the usual success story, yet one that I believe deserves some thoughts, so here is my personal narrative of a project that didn’t go as expected.

With a four-week runway and the internally set goal, the task was challenging. Yet, knowing the background of the project, it was also doable.

They often say if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

There’s something very true about that sentiment, as it’s got to do with how tasks are being executed. If you want to go fast, then have someone set the direction, trust them, and execute on those tasks immediately and without questioning. If you want to go far, as a leader, your job is to include the team in the ideation of solutions to create shared ownership. With a team of intelligent people, those results are mostly better. They also require time for ideas to properly flourish.

This wasn’t a project to “go far.” This was a project that needed quick execution and for everyone to move fast.

Given the short preparation period, I understood the team that usually works together brings in an external lead to go fast instead.

However, going fast requires trust. We didn’t know each other. And I failed to build the trust necessary to work fast.

When taking on the role, and knowing we only had four weeks, I wasn’t prepared to have my plans up for negotiations. I assumed (one should never assume) we all had a shared understanding of our goal and would do anything to just push through until we succeeded with what we set out to do. I never thought that once I became part of the team, I’d have to negotiate my suggestions and things would only become considered relevant once someone from outside the team gave the same advice.

Even before I got on board, the team already started planning things; they had already booked a film team to shoot their video. There was no time left to discuss the big vision of the project, why it was important for this project to happen, and how - with their plan to crowdsource the contents of the book – they were planning to involve their community.

Time for a short discourse into the theory of community strategy...

In an advertising campaign, you generally talk about yourself.

If you want to create a movement, you talk about your advocates.

A movement starts with a small group of passionate people. Your challenge is to build a framework that allows people to participate and come up with their own ideas.

To create a movement, you should focus all your comms around two ingredients: change and participation.

Change = how will your vision change the status quo?

Participation = how will your community shine when getting involved? How does your project add to their social status?

Having a big vision – especially when crowdfunding – is crucial.

Essentially, you’re asking people to monetarily contribute to an idea.

When asking people for money, they must immediately understand the benefit, mostly their own benefit.

The question is: why should people want to be part of whatever you’re planning to do, when it means they also need to pay a fee to become a part of your “community”?

And so, we shot the video. With a script that mostly focused on the past. Not the future.

In a community, you want people to know your plans before you ask them for money. With a four-week runway, that means you’ll most likely have to start communicating to your community immediately. However, we weren’t communicating with the community. We were discussing the mechanics of the campaign and millions of other logistical questions. We were running a grassroots democratic movement within our team. Everyone had a say. Everyone was involved in everything.

Already after one week, I started growing impatient.

I felt the ticking clock.

The team didn’t.

The team wasn’t used to working with such a high time pressure. They were used to working together. And the discrepancies in our work styles, as you can imagine, led to several discussions with the founder of the publishing house.

“I want you to see the two authors as queens and serve them the options on a silver tableau for them to choose what they think is right,” was most likely the one sentence I’ll never forget about this project. With a four-week runway, I didn’t look for options to present to anyone. We had no time to look around and consider all the possibilities we could have if there was enough time. My plan was to assign responsibilities and have everyone get to work fast. I’m used to working with people who speak up whenever they hit a wall – mental or logistical – to speed up even more. My plan was simply to execute on proven strategies.

With this project, I didn’t see my role as a servant; I saw the urgency to become a captain.

However (and as people who’ve worked with me know) while I might have strong opinions, I don’t push them onto people. I say my opinion and what I consider to be a good strategy. If someone pushes back or in another direction, I’ll let them have their way.

By the end of the second week, I felt rising frustration.

We were nowhere close to where we should have been. Every small step was being extensively discussed and questioned. And the founder of the company decided to step up and take over the lead and thus, my role.

Meanwhile I retreated to working on support tasks. Given no one asked for what I believed we should focus on (it wasn’t considered important even when I was leading the project), I kept my thoughts to myself and instead focused on checking off the list of tasks for the launch event. Those things just had to get done. It was easy and at least no one had to deal with me not being at ease about the whole project, which was even complimented at some point.

When running a crowdfunding campaign, it’s about standing at the forefront of a movement.

It’s about explaining why and how you’re the right person to lead such a movement. Crowdfunding is about storytelling. It’s about knowing the first follower theory. Crowdfunding is also about showing who else believes and stands behind your movement.

The (surprising) thing about press coverage when crowdfunding

The one thing that’s been exceptional about this project was the press coverage. I spent the first couple of days pulling together resources for a solid press kit and wrote a press release. The founder of the publishing house hired an exceptional PR manager, who after a short briefing session, immediately got to work and managed to secure coverage in various major German news outlets and blogs.

The difficult thing with crowdfunding is that while press is important to boost one’s credibility, it hardly ever attracts backers. The reason is something that I picked up on many years ago; it takes at least seven touch points for people to convert. Given a crowdfunding campaign usually runs for only 30 days, one must generate several touch points within that period of time. While press might be the first touch point for a potential customer and might put a project on people’s radar, it will take a few other touch points to spark people’s interest. They might need to also see it mentioned on Instagram or hear about it from a friend.

The secret to attracting backers when crowdfunding

I remember one time when I was sitting on the tram listening to a guy telling his girlfriend about a Kickstarter project he supported. He was so excited to be a backer and the whole team could hear that. When talking about storytelling, having people tell others about your crowdfunding project over dinner, coffee, or when sitting on public transport is what you eventually want. The question is, what stories are you going to tell that will make people want to engage with your project?

Usually, it’s backstage stories. It’s the stories that inspire others. It’s stories that expose people to new ideas and experiences. When running a crowdfunding campaign, one needs to turn into a storytelling machine for 30 days.

One of the main mistakes during crowdfunding is to boil down the messaging to how much money one needs. While it’s natural for people to talk about what THEY want and need, the most successful campaigners manage to look outside their own bubble. They make people click through catchy headlines and engaging storytelling. It’s implied that a project already has a community and isn’t starting from scratch when the project goes live.

The other strategy is to create shared experiences; attend and speak at meetups where one’s target group gathers, and if there aren’t any or enough of them, one can create their own event series and invite people to come together.

At that point, and instead of trying to get things my way, I focused on pulling everything together to make sure the launch event was a success.

A launch event is important for several reasons. The positive energy boosts the spirit of the team and also has the potential to engage a large number of ambassadors who will back simultaneously.

If done right, people are going to tell others about their experiences and every attendee might make a few other people more aware of the project.

In this specific case, we had raised €3,500 within the first 24 hours from the people we gathered at our event. While this was a great success, it wasn’t quite where we needed to be in order to stick to our timeline.

If you’re a freelancer, you might be curious about the financial side of things.

As an independent worker, I’m dependent on projects working out. Each and every project is a potential reference for the future and thus it’s important to know what projects to take on or not.

Before we started our collaboration, we set up a contract and included a payment plan. In this specific case, I agreed to a success-based fee applicable if we reached or exceeded our internal goal. Obviously, seeing what we were at a few days after the launch, I knew it was unlikely for the bonus to materialize. Given how things were going within the team, I faced many internal battles.

Am I really getting things that wrong?

Is my approach really the wrong approach or the right approach?

Why am I having such a hard time with this project?

And why are the others having such a hard time working with me?

Much of our struggles within the team were due to interpersonal communication.

What I said and apparently how I said things didn’t make the specific tasks feel urgent.

I failed at explaining why I believed certain measures mattered to the level of detail people might have needed to follow through.

Maybe I never introduced my background extensively enough for people to understand the level of my experience.

Maybe it would have helped.

Maybe it’s too late to think about maybes.

Right after the launch day, I had scheduled four days off. When I came back, the founder and I needed to catch up and discuss where we were and where we were heading. On this call, we mutually agreed for me to leave the team and make the mid-project payment the last.

With the bonus on the horizon, I agreed to a reduced fee, which, given the extensive number of hours I worked on the day we launched the project publicly (which was also the first day of the new payment period according to our contract), my project fee turned into my regular fee.

Obviously, based on my experience, I could already predict the project wouldn’t meet its internal goal, which was also the goal used to calculate expenses.

My dilemma was whether I should just keep my fee at the reduced fee, or cash up the fee by the hours I worked post launch as stated in our contract.

I decided on the latter. I figured it was the more professional thing to do. It was also the more feminist thing to do.

The client paid the bill without any pushbacks.

Financially, it was just another project and having gotten my regular fee makes it easier to just close the chapter and move on.

On a personal level and having hoped we’d get to work together more often, it’s a bad reference in my portfolio that if someone asks them how it is to work with me, it won’t lead to additional projects. More likely, it will lead to a damaged reputation.

And that’s a shame. Yet, I must move on.

I guess not every project goes right. And one should own even the bad experiences.

It’s a wrap! April

One day, just like that, I received an email from the SOS Kinderdorf Austria asking whether I’d like to talk to them about community building. As I said when I summarized my February, you can only do what you can fit into your week, so focusing all my time and energy working with Kickstarter these days, I would have passed this challenge to someone else. However, given the type of work SOS Kinderdorf does, I thought they might benefit from my observations on why certain Kickstarter creators succeed and others don’t when trying to make their projects come to life, as well as how I’ve seen online communities evolve in the past couple of years. I will write a more in-depth report once we have some success stories to show. 


The 1st of April marked one year of me representing Kickstarter in DE, AT, and NL. I’m incredibly proud of having worked with the team for so long. I would have never expected for this to become such a long-term collaboration, but once your values and the values of a company align so well, it wouldn’t make much sense to do anything else. 


In the past, I’ve often switched between jobs when I saw my goals there as accomplished or thought my work could benefit another company more, but with Kickstarter, there has been a continuous supply of new challenges. 


On one hand, not as many people in Europe know what Kickstarter is, and the far bigger challenge is the preoccupations I often face when talking about Kickstarter with people I meet: to many, Kickstarter is a platform where you ask for money and people, an anonymous crowd, throws it at you. From my perspective on the other hand, Kickstarter works because successful creators are genuine with their output and want to share their creative work with others. Creativity in a professional sense is often only possible when there is the necessary funding and so, yes, Kickstarter is a tool to help raise money. But overall, it’s more about giving and not so much about getting. If anything, it’s a platform that connects people so that both parties benefit: the supporter gets a piece of the creation the creative produced. 


What I consider my biggest challenge at this point is to clearly communicate the values the team in Greenpoint and I share, and how these observations can be translated into successful campaigning. To me personally, Kickstarter is far more about social mobility than it is about making the big buck. I’ve touched upon this subject in an interview with The Apartment that will be released in May.


If you need help with your Kickstarter project or would like me to come to talk to your community at a local coworking space or a creative university, please let me know.