BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Social media for social change ...

As regular readers of this space know, I am not “like all the other kids on the block” and sometimes I run into stuff that just doesn't mesh with me at all, and, unfortunately, The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways To Use Social Media to Drive Social Change seems to be in this category. There isn't anything in particular that set me off on this, but reading it was something like one of those old silent films where two train cars are on different, but adjacent, tracks and nothing that the riders do manage to get them in sync.

Perhaps this is another “too many cooks spoiling the soup” effort, as I have found that recent “team written” books I've read to never settle into a groove for me. The nominal authors of this are a husband-and-wife team, Jennifer Aaker (a professor of marketing at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business), and Andy Smith (a marketing consultant), however, a third author, Carlye Adler, was involved enough to make it onto the title page. If that wasn't enough, there is a 12-page section of acknowledgments (oddly stuck in between the notes and the index) in the back, called “The Dragonfly Ecosystem” in which they detail what they admit to being “a massively collaborative effort”, it is here that one gets the sense that the reason that much of the book seems so random is that it is, to a non-trivial extent, a collection of Aaker's students' projects.

Frankly, there was never an “AHA!” moment where the concept of “The Dragonfly Effect” clicked. Rather, there was a prevailing sense that the authors wanted to do something cute (and copyrightable) as a riff of the famed chaos-science theory of the “Butterfly Effect” and then worked backwards from that to pull together an approach that both fit some dragonfly-esque imagery and was able to include social media and be applicable to “social change”. Now, admittedly, despite my involvement with various non-profits over the years, I am not a “social change” (as the authors understand it, at least) kind of guy. I would be interested in hearing how my numerous friends “in that business” react to this, as maybe it's akin to a book about accounting or something, and I'm just not in its audience. In any case, to me, this very much read like a book where the authors had pulled together assorted shiny things, stuck them in a box, kept adding stuff until it looked full, and then dumped it out on table to organize into something that fit the pattern they were looking for. There are useful bits and pieces in here, there are handy approaches to things, but (again, to me) this never seemed to gel into something coherent.

Anyway, here are the items that seem to stand out … there are “four key skills”: Focus, Grab Attention, Engage, and Take Action (oh, and each of these are “wings” on the dragonfly) … there are the concepts of “stickiness”, “ripple effects”, and “emotional contagion” … there are sub-systems like “HATCH” goals for focusing (Humanistic, Actionable, Testable, Clarity, and Happiness), the “PUVV” (?) “design principles” for grabbing attention (Personal, Unexpected, Visual, and Visceral), the “four design principles of Engagement”, “TEAM” (Tell a story, Empathize, be Authentic, and Match the media), and those for enabling others to take action: “EFTO” (Easy, Fun, Tailored, Open) … and grids like “how to ask” which takes dimensions of “emotional intensity” and “social distance” and blocks out approaches. An interesting feature of the book are the several “flow charts” included to walk folks through some of the sub-sub-systems, and there are various other “walk through” sidebars with pretty solid utility (the “tell a story” section, for instance). The entire “system”, however, manages to fit on a single page (p.162), and put out in that format it does look a bit thin. There is also “coaching” on how to get into and use social media, but it really is not integral to the process itself.

Given my near-exclusive reading of non-fiction books, I rarely have to make this sort of warning, but “SPOILERS AHEAD”. There are a number of “case studies” in here looking at how assorted people had used social media to achieve various aims. I found it bizarre that most of the stories involved terminally ill patients who, while achieving their organizational/functional goals, all died without having benefit of the efforts. The “group” efforts profiled are, generally speaking, great successes (such as Kiva), but it was grim going from case to case where the success is tempered with ultimate failures for the individuals! The book also focuses more on the Obama campaign than I feel is justified (sure, they made effective use of new media, but had 99% of the MSM working as enthusiastic unpaid shills for the campaign, which sort of skews the results), but what do you expect from a college professor from California?

Again, it may “just be me” here, but the caveats discussed above are not illusory, and (as noted), I'd be interested to hear what a “social change” person felt about this as a “system”. There is good stuff in here, but as Churchill said of a pudding, it appears to “lack a theme” to make it a satisfactory whole. Obviously, the plethora of voices involved might be to blame for this, or my suspicions of this being “reverse engineered” from observations of class projects, but it's a box full of stuff of assorted value, and I guess it depends on how that plays out to you to how worthwhile you'll find this.

This officially just came out last week, so it should be available via the brick & mortars, but Amazon has it for more than a third off of cover, and the new/used guys have “new” copies already at well under half of the cover price. This book and I never were connecting, but “your mileage may vary” … I didn't hate the book, but have a hard time recommending it unless it sounds like something you've been looking for! Your best bet might be to delve into their web site and see how this sits with you.

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Tags: book review
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