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Book Review: The Dragonfly Effect, a good place to start for people who are new to social media

by Mark P. McDonald  |  February 21, 2011  |  1 Comment

The Dragonfly Effect is recommended as one of the better books to discuss how social media works and to get advice on how to think about your own initiative. The authors focus the book on the application of social media to social causes, but do not let this focus deter you from thinking that the book is only applicable to not-for-profit situations.

The book is organized around the four things the authors have learned in developing course materials at Stanford’s business school. The four things are:


Grab Attention


Take Action

The authors employ these areas and their own advice in this book by concentrating on a focused subject – the use of social media to do good. They start with attention grabbing stories of individuals and how they and groups formed using social media to do good.  The material is engaging from the perspective that the reader can see how they can apply these ideas or would want to participate in such a cause. Finally, he decision trees and other support leads one to take action.

This places the book somewhere between the thinking and content found in a Seth Godin or Clay Shirky book and the plethora of recipe oriented books about social media. The advice in this book is similar to what you will find in just about every book on social media. That may lead you to discount this advice, but I believe that Aker and Smith found it first and have described it better.

The book is recommended for people who want to understand the principles, practices and ideas that drive social media as its more at the general public than others. Marketing and Communications will find more advice than managers who are looking for ways to think through these issues with an eye toward implementation.

The Dragonfly Effect is a good book; you will not waste your time reading it. Highly recommended as the first book on social media, you should read, but if you have read others chances are, you will hear a similar refrain in this work. Still worth the read.


Action oriented in describing both what works, why it works and how it might work for you. Each chapter ends with a decision tree that reflects its contents and offers a way to put the ideas into practice.

The stories are personal and compelling describing how people used social media to support creating positive results in the world. This is an attitude that reflects both the social dimension of social media as well as its application as a business tool.

The book is comprehensive without being onerous. It is written in a style that makes for clear reading and the ideas very accessible. Its focus is descriptive and its audience appears to be aimed more toward marketing executives than general or line managers.


The book could benefit from more discussion of the application of the technology and the techniques that drive the four forces they describe. Instead, the book describes the situation and the results with limited discussion of how they got those results.

The book tries a little too hard to ‘brand’ around the idea of the dragonfly. The point the authors make the dragonfly a focus because it has the ability to move in every direction equally well. That is true and its true of good social media, but the advice provided in the book appears more as a sequential process than a set of interdependent abilities.

The stories in the book, while engaging and illustrative, basically follows the same pattern of the four actions of the ‘dragonfly.’  This makes the books messages tight, but it keeps the book from exploring the richness of the innovations and different ways people are using social media to create good.

The book’s examples place have an over reliance on Facebook and Twitter as the basis for social media success. While these platforms are important and give the individuals discussed in the book a basis to build a community, they are not the only means to engage in social media.

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Category: book-review  management  marketing  web-20  

Tags: book-review  social-computing  social-media  web-20  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

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