November 18, 2010

‘Dragonfly Effect’: Small acts create big change

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JD Lasica‘The Dragonfly Effect,” a new book by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith, offers a roadmap for nonprofits and individuals interested in discovering “quick, effective and powerful ways to use social media to drive social change,” as the book’s subtitle promises.

Part narrative — with an assortment of rich, compelling stories — and part instructional, The Dragonfly Effect should be on your book stand if your organization wants to learn how small acts add up to big change.

Exactly 200 pages long, the book flies by — but stays with you. The writing is accessible and inviting rather than academic. (Jennifer is a professor of marketing at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business; Andy is a principal of Vonavona Ventures, a consulting firm. They also write the new Designing Happiness column for Psychology Today.)

The authors scope out a treatise that consists of four main principles, or dragonfly “wings”:

Focus: How to hatch goals that will make an impact
Grab attention: How to get your message heard
Engage: How to make people connect with your goal
Take action: How to empower others and cultivate a movement

A few of the case studies cited will be familiar to those who’ve been working with social media for social good, but chances are you’ll pick up some additional texture and context even from the better-known ones, like Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, charity: water or LIVESTRONG.

Many of the book’s themes are useful even for those not in the nonprofit world, like its set of recommendations on how to grab and retain attention: “Start with a fact. … Visualize your message. … Make a visceral connection.”

The book is also peppered with useful tips for anyone using social media: “Most scheduled tweets go out every hour on the hour. ALSF [Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation] found that if they sent a tweet at fifteen minutes pay the hour, given Twitter’s scrolling layout, it was more likely to stay on-screen longer.” (page 110)

And this: “People give about one-and-a-half to two times as much when you ask them to volunteer time before asking for money.” (page 121)

There are a few suggestions I’d take issue with — the authors suggest making your Twitter profile bio “witty,” while I think it’s far more important to use strategic keywords and keep it straightforward — but these are quibbles. “The Dragonfly Effect” is an indispensable addition to your social causes reading list.


The Dragonfly Effect (review in Stanford Social Innovation Review)JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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