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Small Acts Create Big Change: A Summary of the Dragonfly Effect

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

What do you use social media for? Do you connect with old friends, read the news, or plan events? What if you used social media for a different purpose? What if you could harness the power of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to create social change, make a difference, and impact the lives of others?

 The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker is a must-have guide for companies and individuals to channel the power of social media for social good by blending the theory underlying social change and the applications of social media. The goal of the book: to help you harness social technology to achieve a single, focused, concrete goal. The authors call their approach the Dragonfly Effect.

Published in 2010, the Dragonfly Effect provides “Quick, Effective and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change.” It’s a relatively short roadmap with just 240 pages, but is packed with useful and practical suggestions and plenty of real-world examples.

The authors got the dynamic name from the dragonfly, the only insect able to propel itself in any direction – with tremendous speed and force – when its four wings are working in concert. This lively metaphor truly illuminates the importance of any integrated effort whether you’re fundraising for a local nonprofit, or launching a presidential campaign.

“To us, what we call the Dragonfly Effect is the elegance and efficacy of people who, through the passionate pursuit of their goals, discover that they can make a positive impact disproportionate to their resources,” write the authors.

We are often flooded daily with messages to participate in compelling social campaigns through emails, articles, videos, posts, and statuses. But most of us glaze over and ignore them, not because we don’t care, but because the messages are hardly compelling.

Simply sending out requests and messages does not guarantee results. In fact, it may promote what some are calling slacktivism. This means instead of protesting, sit-ins, or actively standing up for a cause, people simply retweet or like a status, and moves on, assuming that it is enough.

Yet the power of social technology, when fully engaged, can be nothing short of revolutionary. We see examples of this often. After the earthquake in Haiti, the American Red Cross raised about $32 million through text messages alone, and connected more than three million people for just one cause.

“The same technologies that enable us to ‘poke’ our friends or ‘retweet’… are the ones that can connect and mobilize us to bring about change,” state the authors.

So what’s the difference between that and slacktivism? There’s a story behind it. Most research has shown us that promoting a personal goal is inherently social, so to be successful, you need to convey your passion into a powerful story that generates “contagion energy” that your audience can reflect on.

“By doing this, you generate participation, networking, growth, and ripple effects –forces that combine to form a movement that people feel they are a part of. Your personal goal then becomes collective.”

The ripple effect, wherein expanding ripples are created when an object is dropped into the water, can mean many things depending on what field you’re studying. In economics, it’s an individual’s increate in spending increases the incomes of others. In sociology, it describes how situations are indirectly affected by social interactions. For the purpose of this book, the ripple effect simply means that small acts can create big changes, which have a positive significant impact on others and over time.

The authors claim that when the epicenter of the ripple effect is based on something that you believe in with a deep meaning, it can create a multiplier effect. In which case, others around you can also feel that same meaning, rally behind the belief, and become more strongly mobilized. The authors call this effect emotional contagion, or when your emotions can infect others.

This is relevant to social campaigns for two reasons. First, it can help explain why some campaigns work and others don’t. Second, emotional contagion is central because it underscores the importance of cultivating social good.

I love what the authors stated, “Tweeting isn’t just sharing what you ate for breakfast this morning; Facebok isn’t just for poking friends. You can leverage these social technologies, strategically and integratively, toward a specific goal that deeply matters to you.”

In other words, the technologies at our fingertips can enable us to share stories, mobilize support, and take action to save lives. The Dragonfly Effect also shows that you don’t need money or power to cause seismic social change. “With energy, focus, and a strong wireless signal, anything is possible.”

The Dragonfly Body

Sameer Bhatia, a Stanford grad and a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2007. He had to rely on bone marrow transplants, but since his case was rare, only South Asians were a match.

In an effort to attract more donors, and to save Sameer’s life, his friends, a group of young and driven entrepreneurs and professionals, sought a solution. Their strategy was to tap the power of the Internet to focus on getting 20,000 South Asians into the registry. They crafted an email that was personal, informative, and direct, and included three ways for people to help.

Within weeks, the campaign spread among the Internet community, including another group of activists who were looking for a match for their friend Vinay Chakravarthy. Bone marrow drives were conducted, and after just 11 weeks, 24,611 new people were registered. Sameer and Vinay both found matches, but sadly passed away just a few months after their transplants.

Even though both friends passed, the social campaign that came out of it was highly successful. The authors say that these two groups of people created a campaign that was not only focused, attention-grabbing, engaging, and promoted action, but was authentic, emotional, and created a movement much larger than the their original intent.

This drives at the essential purpose of the Dragonfly Body. It should embody the heart and soul of the concept or person you are aiming to help. While the authors admit that most social change is daunting, revolutions often start with simple ideas and ordinary people.

With a central piece that embodies heart, passion, and drive, the four wings of the dragonfly have the ability and motivation to truly fly.

Wing 1: Focus

It’s no wonder this wing is first; it essentially directs your entire campaign. This wing demonstrates the importance of setting a single focused goal to provide direction, motivation, and operational guidance.

A focused goal is made of five design principles (HATCH):

  • Humanistic: the goal should pay attention to the people you are trying to reach; what are their goals, behaviors, and beliefs?
  • Actionable: create a goal that is both visionary and realistic; do this by creating a single long-term macro goal, and a number of short-term micro goals
  • Testable: be sure your goal is testable because meeting goals provide milestones and opportunities to mark achievement
  • Clarity: specific goals promote better performance, greater satisfaction, and stronger commitment
  • Happiness: the goal you choose needs to be personally meaningful and creates happiness for you; if you aren’t motivated by something fundamental, others are not going to be either

Obama’s Social Networking Campaign

A great example of a campaign that has a clear and focused social media goal was Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. The campaign focused on three key words: hope, change, and action. They did this through strong social media presence. One of their micro goals was to make people feel involved and empowered. They didn’t simply create a Facebook page; they created an environment of involvement, participation, and a sense of purpose in its supporters, each of which was funneled through social network technologies.

Some lessons from the Obama campaign: present a focused message and vision, map out your digital landscape, build relationships, have a clear call to action, and empower brand ambassadors.

Wing 2: Grab Attention

The second wing of the dragonfly is to grab your audience’s attention. One of the key factors for grabbing attention is the stickiness factor, or the ability to grab and hold attention.

Grabbing someone’s attention quickly includes leading with what is important to your audience, start with a fact, begin with a question, and employ humor.

But grabbing attention is much more than capturing someone’s interest for a few minutes. Instead, it’s a deeper, more elaborate clasp that makes them want to know more. The challenge is to create a message powerful and resonates with your audience enough to break through today’s barrage of noise.

To grab and keep attention, your campaign should:

  • Get personal: Messages that metaphorically call out your name cultivate feelings of personal relevance and that is more likely to lead to engagement and behavior change; in other words, people pay attention when it’s about them so foster a personal connection by tagging, commenting, and acknowledging the people you are trying to reach
  • Deliver the unexpected: be original and take Seth Godin’s advice on creating a purple cow, something that stands out and surprises in a sea of black and white
  • Visualize your message: show, don’t tell, and don’t underestimate the importance of visual identity (ex: iPod white earphones, Rock the Vote); attaching your message to powerful images gives your audience the ability to think in a deeper manner about your message
  • Make a visceral connection: sensory-based images are attention grabbing so design your campaign with the primitive brain in mind; scents, sound, sight, hearing, or taste are all great triggers

Wing 3: Engage

“To succeed you need to find something to hold on to, something to motivate you, something to inspire you,” said Tony Dorsett.

Behind any successful social campaign, there is a passionate and engaged group of people that do it because it motivates and inspires them. As someone who seeks these people for your cause, you have to engage them. When your audience is engaged, they care – and emotion rather than reason drives their action. This is what the third wing of the Dragonfly Effect wants to accomplish.

Some key characteristics of engaging campaigns include transparency, interactivity, immediacy, facilitation, commitment, co-creation, collaboration, experience, and trust.

To engage your audience, you campaign must (TEAM):

  • Tell a story: your story is your chance to make people care, so use arcs, start wide, and don’t explain everything
  • Empathize: create personal relevance and empathize with the audience’s needs and feelings
  • Be authentic: you can only engage your audience with something that engages you so increase closeness and connection to reduce social distance; there’s major benefits to being open, clear, and genuine
  • Match the media: to engage your audience, you have to know what networks their on, and how they like to communicate; mixing media builds opportunities for conversations, and feedback with your audiences

Kiva’s Personal Lending

A great organization that has an engaged audience is the microlending nonprofit Kiva. This person-to-person organization connects entrepreneurs in some of the world’s poorest nations to people like you and me. Anyone can sign up, choose an entrepreneur, and lend as little as $25, and help people help themselves. Kiva grew into a bigger organization by seeking compelling individual stories, and enables personal connection those living in global poverty. By establishing these bonds, and utilizing all the design principles of engagement, Kiva has made a difference in the lives of 217,000 entrepreneurs in 49 countries.

Wing 4: Take Action

The fourth wing of the Dragonfly Effect is pivotal, but far from simple. Taking action is about requiring individuals to exert themselves and to transition from feelings to action. If successful, this is how to empower others and cultivate a movement.

Perhaps one of the most important steps in this wing is to have a call of action. What you ask must be highly focused, absolutely specific, and oriented to action. Also, build tools and systems that people can take, and apply to their community and efforts without you. This builds sustainability and ensures a movement lives on.

To empower others to take action, use these design principles:

  • Make it easy: behaviors change when the behavior is easy to do; make the ask small and concrete
  • Make it fun: just because your cause is serious, doesn’t mean you can’t have fun; the fueling effect of fun can help alleviate stress, and guilt, and make people want to join the movement
  • Tailor: an effective way to encourage people to contribute to your cause is to make idiosyncratic fits between their talents, skills, or interests with what you need to accomplish
  • Be open: create a platform that others can add to, take from, share, and alter themselves; design with the principle of sustained transparency and no one should have to ask permission to act

Alex’s Lemonade Stand for Action

Alex Scott was diagnosed with an aggressive form of childhood cancer before her first birthday, but that didn’t stop her. When she was four, Alex came up with a plan to have a lemonade stand to raise money to fight cancer and help other children. She raised more than $2,000. Alex reopened the stand each summer, and news began to spread with promotion from the Oprah Show and the Today Show.

Alex succumbed to cancer when she was eight, but in her too-short life managed to raise $1 million for childhood cancer, promoted communities, taught children about charity, and to have fun while making a difference.

Alex’s small lemonade stand grew to a nonprofit organization that encourages children all around the U.S. to have their own stands to raise funds for cancer research. The organization embraced all four wings of the dragonfly: it focused on the goal of honoring Alex, grabbed attention by tapping into an American tradition, engaged people’s emotions through Alex’s story, and gave people the tools to take action.

Onward and Upward

The Dragonfly Effect is a great read for anyone who wants to accomplish something, whether in your business, community, or country. The authors stress that this effect is ideal for creating social good – whatever that means to you. It’s adaptable for most situations, and has fundamental advice for cultivating a community of like-minded people. And with the power of social media at your fingertips, there’s an even greater opportunity to have an impact than ever before. Why not make it a good one?

If you’re like me, at this point you feel disillusioned by the idea of lofty social changes. It’s intimidating, daunting, and seemingly impossible, even with this helpful guide. The authors acknowledge that there is a definite fear factor in most endeavors, but the key is to remain motivated and to continue pursuing your goal.

Remember, you can’t change the world overnight, but you can change the lives of individuals, one step at a time. The idea is to create an effect of social change, so you need to have people on your side.

Al Gore once said, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Movements don’t happen overnight, but they don’t happen at all without someone with an idea. Why not let that person be you?

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Building a Social Strategy: a Better Way to Market

One of the first lessons I learned about Twitter is that what you get out of it wholly depends on whom you follow. Sure following @britneyspears and @charliesheen is entertaining, but are you really getting the most out of Twitter? As a consumer, wouldn’t you want to be able to follow businesses that you use, whether for news or deals? Twitter offers many opportunities for businesses to use social media as a strategic tool in customer service and retention.

Last week, we had two speakers talk to our class about using Twitter as a strategic business tool. Mike Beauchamp of the Golf Warehouse (@TWG_Mike) and Will Stoggin of Cox Communications (@Cox_Will) talked to us about how they use Twitter as a way to connect with consumers for the companies that they worked for.

Whether it is to promote sales, or to respond to customers, Twitter is a great way for the Golf Warehouse and Cox Communications to connect. And they seem to be having plenty of success with this more social business model.

According to Mike and Will, there are seven steps to developing a social strategy. A social strategy aims to harness the momentum in Twitter and other social media networks to reach out to potential clients and current customers. In other words, it is one of many ways to create communication between the brand and consumers.

The first step is to define the key target market. The answer might be as broad reaching to include everyone on Twitter, but social media enthusiasts know that this does not work well. After all, who wants to read about promos all day? Businesses should focus on key groups that might include influencers, employees, and other businesses. It’s important to know these markets’ social trends including when, how and where they most actively engage.

Secondly, examine your businesses existing efforts. Understanding how customers respond now can increase opportunities within that system, or create new ones for social media. That way, you have all your bases covered. Figuring out how social media fits into your current strategic plans is also important because giving a unified message is key to retention in any business.

The third step takes a more in-depth look. Defining the strategy and implications of social media throughout your organization lets you determine and keep your goals in mind. Mike and Will gave examples of questions that one might ask during this stage including the purpose of using social media? What departments will be involved? What’s the budget? How often will you post? How do you establish a voice for the company?

Brian Solis mentions this in Chapter 12 of his book Engage! He mentions that the challenge is really to define and reinforce “the brand personality as it either existed prior to social media and/or how it should display and present to those across the Social Web.”

In other words, understanding the reasoning behind using social media is so much more important than actually being on it. If you’re key clients do not use Twitter, then there’s no need for a business to be on Twitter. Solis also mentions how the personalities who are on display should embody and personify the brand so as not to dilute the messages.

Of course, Mike and Will advocated for having human voices and real people behind Twitter accounts. And this has worked well for the companies that they represent. For example, Will has used his account (@Cox_Will) to communicate and address customers’ questions and comments about Cox Communications. He uses Twitter for a customer service and support role.

The fourth step is to gather resources for the social strategy. Mike gave us a clever handout of his ABC’s to Social Media Strategy. This includes having a crisis plan, justification for every post, and support from the organization (especially those at the top). While reading through this list I found that nearly all of the ABC’s requires some thought or strategy to implement. This makes sense because while social media may be a low-resource marketing strategy, the impact and implications of it are just as relevant as television ads, or print campaigns. A complete list of these strategies can be found here.

The fifth step to developing a social strategy is to prioritize rollout objectives. This helps determine when and how initiatives should be launched.

The sixth step is project management. It’s easy to get things going, but the real task comes in keeping up with the goals and management of everyday posting. Project management programs including Basecamp or Apollo are great resources to use when keeping track of timelines, roles, responsibilities, and initiatives. Mike and Will also discussed how communication between departments is key so there are not several conflicting voices, but a unified social media presence.

The final step is to expand and invest accordingly. Measuring the growth and results of social media outreach is key in the continued progress and advancement of your initiatives. Tracking the results can also help you to determine what types of social media messages work well with audiences.

Perhaps one of the key takeaways that I got from the speakers was that developing a social media strategy is an important way to communicate and learn about your customers. It provides another venue for two-way conversations to happen in an easy, low impact and inexpensive way. More importantly, it has the possibility of turning a brand into a person, and more customers are likely to respond to that.

Social media is an effective, and certainly relevant way to reach customers, and while I agree that social media does have a place in marketing strategy; it certainly should not be the only piece. Social media should simply be an extension of other marketing initiatives because it is current and insightful.

And isn’t that what marketing should be about? Until next time…

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The start of a beautiful friendship…

I’ll admit it. I’m a social media skeptic. The thought of people I barely know reading about my (often) mundane life makes me feel like I’m in a scene from Nineteen Eighty-Four. This feeling of Big Brother knowing exactly who I am with just a few quick searches feels invasive, unnecessary and often precarious.

However as I delved more into the world of communications and public relations, social media was no longer avoidable. So I dived right into Twitter and Facebook, and like millions of other users, I became hooked on checking my social streams at least once a day. When I did not check Twitter, I often felt like I had no idea what the day’s events were like, and what people were talking about. Was it Apple’s latest product? What song did Glee perform yesterday? And what’s going on around Wichita tonight?

The constant itch for me to check social media never made me feel comfortable, as I felt I became too reliant upon reading and responding to statuses. Now I’m not pretentious enough to think that there are people who would actually want to know what I had for lunch so I deleted my accounts and was social media free for a year (speaking of, there should really be a Social Media Anonymous don’t you think?). But I recently re-joined Facebook and Twitter before starting my social media class at Wichita State University determined to make use of social media on a more professional level.

“The People”

As much as I felt reluctant to participate in social media, I still enjoy learning more about it, specifically as a business tool. There’s no doubt that social media is a powerful medium for creating relationships and facilitating discussions. It is becoming much more than updated statuses however, as “the people formerly known as the audience” is using this platform to report, respond and generate news that is relevant to them.  His essay introduces a way of reaching people not by traditional media, but through social media. The ramifications of these social networks represent a shift from media gatekeepers to “the people formerly known as the audience” as Jay Rosen put it.

His essay discusses how media has rapidly changed. The power of news and reporting has shifted from large printing presses and radio to blogs and podcasts covering whatever and whenever people want. Electronic media has drastically changed the way we consume news and entertainment, while social media has shifted the “where” and “how.” Rosen says that Big Media is no longer on their clock, but instead users are determining when, where and how they will engage in a movie, television show or news.

I think Rosen’s take on this new audience is refreshing and on-point with how media has transformed within the past few years. There certainly has been a shift, and whether they like it or not Big Media has some competition with citizen reporting, independent news channels, and blogs. While social media can empower tribes and consumers, these social media networks has an immense amount of information, personal and public, about every single user that has logged on. I heard someone say recently that Facebook has almost become a population register; a large database that has every user’s names, phone numbers and birth dates- basically if you’re not on Facebook, you don’t exist. While this idea is a bit overreaching, one can’t help but wonder just how much control “the people formerly known as the audience” has over social media networks.

“Engage or Die”

There is no denying the social media effect, especially when it comes to businesses. As Brian Solis says in his book Engage!, “Social media is about speaking with, not “at” people.” Social media in itself requires two-way communication especially if companies are attempting to reach out to consumers.

One of the main points that Solis advocates is to “Engage or Die.” In essence, for organizations to make it in a post-Twitter world, they must engage and communicate with the new layer of influencers on their products or services. Thanks to networks like Twitter, tribes of people are forming and they are actively listening and influencing each other.

Solis discusses the socialization of information through social media. He talks about how organizations can now implement an integrated communications strategy quickly by focusing on multiple markets and influencers who have a greater impact on brand resonance. For example, by reaching out to someone who is a leading voice in mobile apps and has plenty of loyal followers, an organization can certainly push their new product. One can also see how this works on a local level as well.

The author advocates for companies to change the way they release messages and challenges them to create conversations instead. Traditional marketing often does not have room to learn about consumers outside of their buying habits and demographics. Solis mentions how social media really incorporates aspects of sociology, anthropology and ethnography as well.

Solis proposes that human interaction is what helps build the bridge between organizations and consumers, potential or otherwise. And that human interaction can be achieved (inexpensively) through social media. Understanding these social sciences can also help for marketers and managers to understand consumers not just as numbers and figures, but humans- that is often forgotten in my opinion.

“The inability to know people for who they are and what they represent prevents us from effectively and truly seeing them- which then impedes our efforts to reach them,” writes Solis.

However, social media is just one component of a marketing communication strategy and certainly not the answer to every promotional problem. Social media should instead by incorporated as a strategic effort to connect with customers. If a company engages with a customer or market, they must do it in a social, two-way channel that not only shows them talking, but listening as well. Solis discusses how a company must engage or die.

“Transparency and Authenticity”

In her book Open Leadership, Charlene Li argues that business leaders must let go in order to succeed. They must let go of business ambiguity and secrecy, and embrace transparency and authenticity instead- preferably through social media where the conversation about the company is happening with or without them.

“Being open should be not a mantra or philosophy, but a considered, rigorous approach to strategy and leadership that yields real results… The question isn’t whether you will be transparent, authentic, and real, but rather, how much you will let go and be open in the face of new technologies,” writes Li.

And I could not agree more. Social media has allowed many organizations and citizens a glimpse inside the organization. While strategic messages are still taking place, Twitter and Facebook allows “the people formerly known as the audience” to interact and draw a clearer picture of what the organization stands for.

A great example of this would be local advertising agencies that post pictures or updates about participating in charity events, benefits, etc. And it’s usually not in a boastful way at all. More often then not, these organizations want consumers to see that the organization is more than just an office, but a participating (and valuable) part of the community.

Social media also allows for more openness and accountability of the businesses. Surely everything that a politician or famous CEO has done online (such as taking pictures of himself, hiring escorts, etc.) is never hidden for long. More often then not it is social media networks that adds fuel to the fire by reposting the links again and again. This pressure of accountability can be a double-edged sword for some organizations, but if you’re company has nothing to hide, then social media should remain an important vehicle for humanizing your company and developing relationships with different markets.

“Politics of Privacy”

In her speech “Networked Privacy”, Danah Boyd discusses how our individual privacy is, now more than ever, connected.

“We’re all connected. Our data is connected. Our interactions are connected. Our privacy is connected. And privacy matters, not just for the individual, but for the collective,” says Boyd.

But just what exactly is privacy? Sure there are plenty of definitions out there, but what is privacy for you is not privacy for me. And certainly now with social media it’s a bit out of our control with what happens on social networking websites with photo tagging, and blogs. Like Boyd says, because of this networked world, it’s no longer just what you do that goes on your permanent record, it’s everything that everyone else does that might implicate you.

Boyd discusses how privacy is essentially about two things: control over a social situation and agency to assert that control. Control is knowing what’s going on with the social situation and the ability to create privacy in public. Agency is “the freedom that people have to make their own choices without being constrained by structural factors.” Privacy combines both of that: having enough agency to feel a sense of control over specific information.

It is extremely common for people who use social media to assume that they have privacy- that’s what privacy settings are for right? But just because one blocks certain people or locks their account does not mean they have privacy. In fact, privacy in its fullest terms is not possible to achieve in social media networks. Even if I delete my account, Facebook still has every status and photo that was once available. That’s an enormous amount of information and power that a single company has over each of us.

My Thoughts

Social media is about relationships. These leading authors have made a strong case for the use of social media, particularly for businesses. When used as a means to communicate with current clients, concerned consumers and even naysayers, social media is a wonderful (and inexpensive) vehicle for cultivating those relationships.

Although social media can be a positive tool, it’s constantly changing in people’s minds. A recent study by Pew Internet found that only 50% of use social media, and their attitudes to describe it are mixed. (  And perhaps the biggest issue with social media is privacy. I think the next steps in social media is to ensure our privacy, and perhaps to regulate it- which is sure to be a controversial topic.

Still, one cannot deny how integral social media has become to our lives and culture. It has truly revolutionalized the way we think, act and behave. And that’s something to Tweet about.