Harnessing the Collective Power of Small Acts: Lessons from the Dragonfly Effect

March 6, 2012

The Dragonfly Effect should be an essential part of any reading pack for the budding social media expert, and as I’ve written before it is filled with amazing examples and sound principles of social media successfully driving positive change.

Well, over at their blog, they’ve got a very interesting article by Vineet Singal, leader and advocate for100KCheeks – an organisation that promotes bone marrow donor registration.

Here’s the background to 100KCheeks:

Many of you know the story of Amit Gupta, a 32 year old entrepreneur that was recently diagnosed with Leukemia.  Under the guidance of Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker (co-author of The Dragonfly Effect), I have had the privilege of heading an organization aimed at helping people like Amit; people in need of a bone marrow transplantation. We are a team of 12 inexperienced but infectiously enthusiastic and passionate college students at Stanford. Our goal: bank 100,000 people into the bone marrow registry in one year.  We call ourselves One Hundred Thousand Cheeks (100KCheeks).

About two months ago,100K Cheeks began helping Amit to register more South Asians in the United States and India.  This was not only a call to arms to uncover a match for Amit, but also to help increase the odds of other South Asians in need of a bone marrow transplant.  The current odds for people of South Asian descent of finding a compatible bone marrow donor are 1 in 20,000.

100KCheeks not only have a fantastic website that helps make the bone marrow check and registration process simple (and provides advice on how to organise your own donor registration drive), but it also runs an active Twitter account that is constantly engaging with supporters.

Singal reports three important lessons from the 100KCheeks campaign:

ONE: Cultivate Optimism

Cancer is a word that elicits so many emotions and thoughts; most of them negative. Yet we know it is hope that truly motivates people to act.  This is a problem that many campaigns face: how to move people into action when the issue at hand can be so depressing?  We decided to build a campaign that revolved around fun, hopefulness, and humor.  For Amit’s campaign, that wasn’t hard because those attributes are a part of who Amit is (here is a picture to prove it). Emphasizing humor over tragedy, empathy over pity, hope over guilt was extremely important in creating a successful campaign.

TWO: Design to Enable Action

As a group, we realized that it was important to spell out to people how they can help, while also making it easy for them to do so. While signing up to be a donor was simple, running a drive was a little more complicated. We got so many requests from people who wanted to run a bone marrow drive but simply didn’t know how or where to start. Nicole and Siddhanth, two members of the 100KCheeks team, created a website called Drive in a Box.  This platform was essentially a simple instructional manual for running an Amit-specific bone marrow drive, involving 6 easy steps: Step 1 Find a place; Step 2 Recruit some volunteers; Step 3 Advertise and so on. For each step it provided resources, cut and paste letters to send out to potential donors, and tips on how to run an effective drive. We wanted to make it is as easy as possible for people to run a drive, to make a difference. We launched the site in a week, and within a day over 30 people around the country were using it to run bone marrow drives.  Simplicity was key in moving people to act.

THREE: Harness Networks

After implementing the first two steps, we focused on harnessing social networks and media outlets to spread the word. By pushing Amit’s story through the Social Media stratosphere, hashtags #ISwabbedforAmit and #4Amit achieved 100,000,000 impressions on Twitter, and a video describing Amit’s story had over 200,000 views on YouTube.

Through perseverance and the power of the individual story, we were also able to connect with Traditional Media outlets; Amit’s story was covered by Sanjay GuptaNBCThe Huffington Post, just to name a few.

Through persistent optimism, designing for others, and harnessing networks, over 1200 people signed up to conduct drives. Be the Match, the largest bone marrow registry in the US, told us “they had never seen anything like it”, and had to hire extra staff in order to accommodate the flux of incoming registrants.  Online registrations for marrow donors in the US tripled; over 20,000 people requested a cheek swab kit for Amit, and over 40,000 people worldwide were registered.  Through this effort, we completed our goal of swabbing 100,000 cheeks…it was incredible.

How can unions and progressive organisations use this?

Firstly, I believe the role of optimism is very important. I’ve written before that union members want positive, people-focused communications from their unions. Focusing on the positives rather than the negatives is is what optimism is about.

For example, a nurses collective bargaining campaign against a hostile conservative state government could have as the image “listen to nurses” rather than “don’t silence nurses” — positive images of empowered, effective nurses with a good story to tell, rather than negative images of nurses being silenced or gagged by a anti-worker government.

Secondly, it’s important to focus on what is easy for your members to do, not what is convenient for you. I’ve seen a lot of unions hampered by inflexible IT, financial or other organisational systems (many of which are outdated). For example, for unions that allow members to join online, the online membership form should be simple and intuitive. How much information will you make “required” and how many clicks are needed to join? The less information and page-loads, the more likely someone will bother filling out the form or be able to complete it without giving up in confusion or frustration.

Finally, using the power of networks is an easier task for most unions with established memberships. Most white-collar unions for example will have a large proportion of members with email addresses, and even blue collar unions will find that most of their members probably use email at home (it’s just a matter of getting those addresses). With peak bodies like the ACTU (or the AFL CIO) also holding large databases of contacts (or groups like Labour Start), it’s simpler than ever to get your message to a large audience — using email. This can be the foundation for engaging people using social media.

[box border=”full”]The Dragonfly Effect has a lot more useful, practical advice on how to harness social media and online campaigning, so I suggest you get it now.[/box]


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