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Grassroots vs Astroturf (CLS15 Session)


Session B6 @ 2:00pm
Discussion: Grassroots vs Astroturf

Big Questions

  • Which is better, starting with existing organic communities or transplanting a community into a space you want presence in?
  • How do you start a community when you do have to start one from scrach?


Is there an online platform for Chef?

  • M: Not specifically, but there is an ongoing conversation on twitter.

Background on the term ‘astroturf’.

  • Grassroots is something that starts itself.
  • Astroturf is a transplant.
  • But remember that you can lead a horse to water…

What should you do when supporting grassroots?

  • Reward those who take initiative.
  • And don’t discourage those who don’t.

How can you (kindly) prevent people from using your trademark/branding while still encouraging the thought?

  • Jason: DevOps Days for instance. They have a standardized kit, but he has used his own twitter handle and used the DevOps logo. The leader contacted him and asked him to take it down/modify it.
  • Kindly addressing it can keep resentment from happening. It can prevent spiteful actions as well.

How can you keep from getting discouraged when people aren’t necessarily taking your lead?

  • It’s hard and especially so since we’re in the US.

Does it irritate you when you have people who duplicate your idea?

  • No, but it is getting harder. It’s also getting to be hard to manage trademark issues and other things.
  • Similar situation with Ignite. We weren’t able to help people market or get a viable setup.
  • The larger and more we get, the more resources are required as well.

How do you identify the cities that are ready for astroturf?

  • 60% of the employees of Chef are remote and those employees can tell you about Meetups that are happening.

Has anyone gotten to the astroturf-ing(?) part in the international space?

  • Find the users and reward their initiative.
  • Find the content/groups that overlap.
  • Find people who have the problems that you can solve.
  • Make use of universities if you have stuff in the education space.
  • “You don’t make communities, you support the communities that are there already.”
  • Attending as many local events as you can is a good place to start. It’s not scalable, though.
    • This contributes toward brand visibility and awareness.

When you build communities from scratch, how do you promote it?

  • I’m not promoting it, I’m making friendships.

When you’re not starting a community from scratch, what do you do within the existing communities to get them to start participating?

  • Find the active ones and tell them what you like and how your stuff fits in.

How do you get the budget for goodwill gestures for groups?

  • At Chef there was already a built in budget.
  • One community provides the domain and free printing
  • Reach out to people repeatedly in social and professional situations.
  • Remember that social capital (which is hard to earn) is the most important.

Suppose you’ve found the seed cities, you’ve found the venues. What about recruiting events?

  • When the implosion happened, all the donated funds went away except for recruiting dollars.
  • Hackathons are a good example of that.
  • People come to these events out a sense of urgency, so treating that as a learning opportunity can really be beneficial to the attendee.


Reward those who have taken initiative (whether grassroots or astroturf).
Find the overlapping groups and participate.
Be prepared to cater to the problem rather than chase after the solution and frame it that way.

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