A Stanford Graduate School of Business Course Harnesses Social Media to Make a Difference

STANFORD, Calif.--()--It took just three months for a tight-knit group of friends to get over 24,000 people into a bone marrow registry in an effort to save the life of friend and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sameer Bhatia. The key to their extraordinary results? They harnessed the power of social networks.

Despite a perfect match, Bhatia ultimately succumbed to leukemia, but his legacy lives on. In addition to the dramatically expanded pool of South Asians in the Marrow Donor Program, his story inspired faculty member Jennifer Aaker to develop a class, The Power of Social Technology, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The class focuses on research and techniques behind cases like Bhatia’s where internet-based social media were deployed to make a difference.

At the heart of the class is the “Dragonfly Effect,” an original framework that uses design-thinking mindsets and psychological research to instruct how individuals may support their own causes and spur their own movements. It is also the title of a forthcoming book (available in fall 2010 from Jossey-Bass; see also www.thedragonflyeffect.com) coauthored by Aaker, who is General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

The Dragonfly Effect taps social media and insights in consumer behavior to create change. The mnemonic Focus + GET: (Focus Your Goal, Grab Attention, Engage Others, and Take Action) represents the four pillars of the framework.

Focus: Think Human. Focus on the person you are trying to help. Resist the urge to rush in with a preconceived solution to the problem. Test alternatives and be prepared to return to square one again and again. Also, focus on the person you need help from — your audience. What are their goals and dreams? How can you help them be realized? Who are you to them? Where are your leverage points in terms of causing them to act? Also, match your appeal to the medium. For example, use short bursts for Twitter, deeper discourse for blogs, and emotional envelopment on YouTube.

Grab Attention: Dream with Purpose. What matters to you draws others. Emotions are contagious. Meaningful purpose garners extraordinary support. The right idea — seated in emotion — grows exponentially.

Take Jessica Jackley. While earning her MBA she raised money online to bootstrap entrepreneurs in the developing world. Now Kiva.org has generated over $120M in micro-finance loans with the assistance of thousands of individual lenders.

Engage Others: Connect with People. Tell stories. Stories are sticky: they bring facts to life infusing them with passion. Our brains are hardwired for stories to organize and orient information, and we need patterns to understand things. Stories also increase the chance that your audience will remember you. Salient meaningful messages, however brief, mobilize communities.

Blogger Beth Kanter personally raised over a quarter-million dollars for orphans in Cambodia by simply asking for donations through her blog. She engages her community daily and focuses on stories about individuals to turn interest into action.

Take Action: Turn Ripples into Waves. Learn from trials. Think critically. Iterate. The right tests — and the subsequent tweaks — can amplify growth. Small details such as wording, images, and placement of links, can massively impact your campaign. Use social media tools to observe users and refine your approach.

As an example, Barack Obama’s social media strategy during the 2008 election transformed the history of American political campaigning — an initiative built on trial-and-error testing of images and messages and their results using online tools.

“Last year, the class proved more successful and inspirational than I could have predicted,” said Aaker. “Not only did it demonstrate that people are clamoring for ways to use social media for social good, but it also suggested the existence of a replicable framework that would allow people to execute their goals efficiently and thus achieve meaningful change.”

For more details on Aaker’s class, including links to case studies developed for the course, go to http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/research/aaker_social.html. Aaker herself is active on Twitter and engages the community under the Twitter name @Aaker.

(This story reports on related research in the latest edition of Stanford Knowledgebase, the free monthly information source for thoughts, ideas, and research at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. To dig deeper, visit http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/research/aaker_social.html.)

Contacts

Stanford Graduate School of Business
Helen Chang, 650-723-3358
chang_helen@gsb.stanford.edu

Release Summary

Internet-based efforts to save the life of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur inspired Professor Jennifer Aaker to develop a business school class on harnessing social media to make a difference

Contacts

Stanford Graduate School of Business
Helen Chang, 650-723-3358
chang_helen@gsb.stanford.edu