Thursday, March 31, 2011

Can Social Media Save Lives?

Jennifer Aacker, author of the bestseller "The Dragonfly Effect," is on the marketing faculty at the Stanford  University School of Business

Jennifer Lynn Aaker, a professor at Stanford University’s business school, gave one of the most stimulating, emotional, and dynamic talks about social media I have ever heard, at  Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco on Wednesday, March 30. She shared a story about one of her students turning an assignment where he illustrated how social media could be used to save lives.

Robert Chatwani, discovered that one of his closest friends had leukemia, as did another friend. Both had a chance to get a new lease on life through a bone marrow transplant, but they needed as close a donor match as possible.

The two young men — Sameer Bhatia and Vinay Chakravarthy — were of South Asian descent, but only 1 percent of the donors in the national registry of bone marrow donors could be potential matches.  Getting a genetic match for them in a matter of weeks was going to be extremely difficult. Meanwhile, there were a billion Indians available in South Asia who could possibly donate, but there was no national bone marrow registry. A match could be found for every one in 20,000 South Asians. So the friends decided to form a new registry and find a match.

Using social media, they created a network of friends on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. They also created cut and paste form letters  to “Help Sameer” and “Help Vanay,” so others could easily spread the message and start their own campaigns, as well as creating viral videos and banner ads. Corporations stepped up.  In just 11 weeks, volunteers had arranged 470 bone marrow drives and registered more 24,611 South Asians. Bhatia received an exact match, while Chakravarthy got a close match.

Bhatia blogged prolifically about his experience, and even shared his bone marrow transplant on YouTube. Sadly, both died a few months after the transplants.

Lynn Aakers calls the revolution around social media the “dragonfly effect,” which she discusses at length in her book of the same name. Like the “butterfly effect,” where a small change like a butterfly flying can cause big changes in the world, the dragonfly effect is doing small acts that can create a big change, because the core idea has deep meaning for the creator.

Her recommendations on how to achieve these effects with social media are to:
1. Focus on a single goal.
2. Grab audience attention.
3. Tell a story.
4. Empower others to act.

Checkout the video of Jennifer's presentation, and I'm sure you'll find it as moving as I did. Have you seen any compelling stories like this, that show how social media impacted serious change? What  do you think of Jennifer's story? Have you read The Butterfly Effect? Share your comments here.

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