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Social media to drive social change: The Dragonfly Effect by J. Aaker and A. Smith

November 27th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Book Review

By Marylene Delbourg-Delphis @mddelphis

DragonflyWhat I like about long flights is that they enable me to read an entire book in one shot. This is how I read The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith from Vonavona ventures (an advisory and consulting practice), published earlier this year.

This excellent book focuses on how social media have the power “to make a difference.” In a way, that’s what all the books about social media are about. However, the special focus of The Dragonfly Effect is to emphasize the behavioral components that drive the actual impact of social media campaigns, and “make them stick,” to reuse the expression coined by Chip Heath, who wrote the foreword of the book. The dragonfly metaphor gives the authors the four wings of the model that governs the efficiency of a social campaign: Focus + GET (i.e. Grab Attention, Engage, Take Action): “A dragonfly travels with speed and directionality only when all for wings are moving in harmony,” the authors note. Each wing constitutes a chapter, and each chapter details the specific design principles for building up the emotional contagion process.

The book starts with the powerful story of two teams who ended up joining forces, Team Sameer and Team Vinay. Contrary to most social media stories, we are not in a fairyland here: Sameer Bhatia and Vinay Chakravarthy both lost their battle against leukemia in 2008. But both teams achieved phenomenal success by making an impact, not only by raising awareness about donating bone marrow, but also by getting tangible results – i.e. changing mindsets and doubling the number of South Asians registered with the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).

The initial condition of success in social medial is to have a focus; in other words, “to hatch a goal that will make an impact.” This focus is driven by five design principles: Humanistic, Actionable, Testable, Clarity, and Happiness. Yet, focus, however clear it may be, is not enough. How are you going to stand out in an “overcrowded, overmessaged, and noisy world?” This is when the art of “grabbing attention” comes in, with its own design principles: send out a message which is personal, unexpected, and visual, triggers a visceral reaction, and subsequently enables people to connect with your goal — engage. People will join your cause if you tell them a story in which they can believe, if you are authentic, address them when they can listen, and if, in turn, you respond to their engagement. Once this is done, you have all the basic prerequisites for people to feel empowered and take action. This is the sort of groundwork that gets 100,000 people to join your Save Darfur Facebook group. “Your goal is to inspire and enable your group to take action.” In short, “movements that begin online must be backed by real-life action; otherwise, there is no point.”

HelicoptèreThe book reads well (and is well-written), and again, has the merit emphasizing the social psychology side of leveraging social media both for the initiator and the followers of a social media movement. Multiple examples relevantly illustrate the point of the authors. We may take some exception, to a certain extent, with the use of the Obama campaign as a model. While it is true that the Obama social media campaign itself exemplifies the four wings of The Dragonfly Effect and showed efficiency in making people vote, it is also obvious that Obama failed to create an enduring movement capable of morphing into a lasting political groundswell supporting him as President. An additional chapter could have dealt with the art of stringing campaigns together with a more precise analysis of the complexity of the dialectical interactions between the online and the real worlds – a topic that I partially addressed in a preface I wrote for Seth Godin’s Tribes. While it is customary to emphasize the social media aspect of the Obama campaign, the actual efficiency of the campaign was founded upon a complementary relationship between the analog and digital worlds.  The physical side of the Obama tribe fizzled out, which, in turn, made his team overlook the necessity of coining an efficient social media message moving forward. No Social Web can affect change without a “ground crew” on Terra Firma and, as Dan Ariely mentions in this afterword, an understanding of the predictable irrationality “of what motivates the people behind the social network.”

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