The Dragonfly Effect

Given the mind-numbing pace of media proliferation, reaching the target audience and the end-user is a bigger challenge than ever. The task has become especially daunting for small-and-mid sized business which can’t spend a fortune on advertising and of course, not-for-profit organizations which can’t afford to drown in the sea of multiplicity on TV. Considering these circumstances, Social media has become the holy grail for both marketers and businesses.

Besides being another medium to sell your products and build your brand, social media allows the businesses to connect with the individuals in their target audience at a more emotional level sometimes via a one-to-one interaction.

‘The Dragonfly Effect’ is a nice starter book for those new to social media and at the same time, it’s a handy reference for not-for-profit organizations that seek to achieve greater social good through social media.

The co-authors of the book – Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith – are both A-listers in their own rights. Aaker is the author of famous brand personality constructs and Stanford University Marketing professor, whereas her co-author and husband Andy Smith is a serial entrepreneur and a tech marketer.

Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith conjure up the ‘Dragonfly’ metaphor to propound the power of Social media. They draw parallels between the four wings of dragonfly that when in balance allow the insect to move in whichever direction and their four principles (focus, grab attention, engage, take action) that can help unleash a great social media phenomenon when leveraged in tandem.

But surprisingly, this winged insect was not the inspiration behind the book. Apparently, the authors took inspiration from the real-life story of a tech entrepreneur Sameer Bhatia, who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia at a young age of 32. To have a chance of making it or to at least delay the inevitable, Sameer was tasked with finding a matching bone marrow from the South Asian community in a matter of weeks.

The odds were highly stacked up against Sameer since the match had to be a South Asian and unfortunately, there were not many Indians/South Asians registered in NMDP (National marrow donor program) database. However, one of Sameer’s business partners kick-started a social media campaign to help Sameer.

Gradually, Help Sameer campaign evolved into something much bigger: a nationwide drive urging people to register with NMDP. Eventually, Sameer did find his match but as fate would have it, it could only delay the inevitable for a few more months.

While heart-wrenching, this story amply demonstrates that small actions, when harnessed properly often, have the potential to turn into big movements. Aaker and Smith use the social media template that was deployed by his friends to help Sameer to reify the concept of the dragonfly effect.

A large portion of the book deals with the elaboration of four wings of the Dragonfly construct: Focus, Grab Attention, Engage and Take Action. Ostensibly, each wing plays a pivotal role in the success of a social media campaign.

The two authors candidly espouse the principles of Design thinking to make the Dragonfly construct more practicable. Design thinking, by definition, is an out-of-the-box ideation process that leverages creativity, empathy and rationality to come up with solutions to problems.

Prototyping and setting objectives which are peculiar to Design thinking are at the center of Dragonfly Effect, too. For example, the ‘Focus’ wing is further broken down into 5 design principles: HATCH (Humanistic, Actionable, Testable, Clarity, Happiness). So, from thoroughly understanding your audience to setting micro-level goals that could be tested against certain metrics to ensuring that your goals identify with your audience – you need all these components to get your social movement off the ground.

Authors introduce a number of sidebars, case-studies, snappy flow-charts in each chapter to educate their readers, question them and spur them into action.

‘The Dragonfly Effect’ is a well-written, informative book, the lessons in the book are easy to pick up and put to use. However, I feel the whole Dragonfly construct gets a little fenced in owing to the over-reliance on the social media template of Team Sameer. Due to this self-imposed restriction, the book fails to become a full-blown manual and ends up a handy guidebook, at best.

Contrary to the author duo’s assertion that this book is useful for both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, I believe the primary target group of this book is not-for-profit organizations (charities, NGOs, etc.). Unfortunately, the case-studies and words of advice in the book for for-profit businesses only build a case and don’t make for a thorough learning. The book also falls short of providing enough insights for the bootstrapping entrepreneurs looking to socialize their ventures.

My Verdict: ‘The Dragonfly Effect’ is a great book for greenhorns to get started in the social media space; it also has vital social media lessons for not-for-profit organizations and it might help partially resolve your set of social media challenges, too. I liked the book for all the snippets about social media along with some neat insights into consumer behavior. These positives notwithstanding, I really suspect I would refer back to this book quite too often. It lacks the intellectual depth that often brings a reader/researcher back to a book. Finally, ‘The Dragonfly Effect’ is a good read but you haven’t missed out on a lot in case you haven’t read it.


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