Compared to established organizations, startups have advantages when it comes to social media because they have extremely limited resources and little to lose. These factors and the fact that the startup workforce and customer base are full of digital natives who live and breathe the stuff, and the fact that many startups are themselves built on the Internet first, give them a big leg up when it comes to social media success.

The first step should really be called step zero: exploring and laying claim to spaces in the major social networks. Just as domain names played a big role in the Internet’s origins, Twitter handles and the like play their part in the social space, though to a somewhat lesser degree. Today, intelligent search has made it non-fatal to not secure the best possible Twitter handle, but you’d still like to have something as consistent as possible across social media platforms. In Twitter, conciseness is at a premium. Every character in your Twitter handle comes out of a tight character budget – particularly when it comes to retweets and mentions. So brevity is not only better, it’s also a badge of honor. Facebook makes this less of a “Wild West” experience by requiring that you achieve a certain audience for your Facebook page before you can reserve your vanity URL, reducing pesky squatters.

The second step is to deeply and thoughtfully examine what you want to achieve in the social space, boiling it down to a single clear goal. Having a Facebook page is not itself a Facebook strategy, and simply doing what everyone else does, or says you should do, is a great way to blend in when you need to stand out. Once you have your goal, describe how you’ll know if you’re making progress toward it. It helps to get really measurable and specific on this, because if your goal is an ambitious one (and I hope it is), there will be a lot of leading indicators that will tell you if you’re likely to hit it. Then, metrics in place, describe a discipline of monitoring them and making course corrections as necessary.

By definition, everyone you encounter will be currently paying attention to something else. You need to find a way to pull their attention away from whatever that is. Think about how you will make them look. Charity: water, a nonprofit that is a complete master of social action, does this in a totally visceral way. Close your eyes and think about charity: water for a moment. I’ll wait. OK, what image came to your mind? The image that came to my mind was a perfect moment: a close-up of a beautifully joyful African child with a wet face in front of a spigot with flowing crystal clear water, captured in midair. This image, which they feature and repeat in a thousand different ways, is a visual manifestation of their single focused goal. This makes it immensely powerful as an attention grabber, because it leads the audience right up to the doorstep of the story, which is the reason to care.

Effective and powerful storytelling can make someone care and then act. We may think of ourselves as logical creatures, but we’re not. A cold presentation of unequivocal facts and data will always lose out to an effective story. Just ask any trial attorney. Humans are simply wired to understand stories, they precede our written or spoken language, and they trigger our imaginations and emotions in ways we often don’t understand. Find the story of your organization that moves you and the people you work with. Great startups don’t do it for a paycheck or a shot at being a zillionaire; they do it because they must. They do it because they care. That’s the story you are looking for. Make other people care too. Tell your story in a way that people can’t resist, and then they will share and buy or donate to support you.

Some reasonably small portion of the people who you made care about your organization will want to do more. These people are gold. These people are your growth hockey stick. Make it easy, creative, and fun for them to sign on to your effort as a member of your campaign and you’ll get more than you bargained for. You can get new ideas and a massive set of co-collaborators with completely different and complementary skill sets to those you have on your own team. Effectively re-deploying the tools you employed to get these folks to your doorstep while laying yourself open for their contributions is the subtlest yet most rewarding part of the entire Dragonfly process, but it’s worth every moment. The Dragonfly Effect demonstrates how to achieve both social good and customer loyalty by leveraging the power of design thinking with practical strategies. For more information visit our site.


Scott Harrison, a former nightclub and fashion promoter, was at the top of his world. He had money, power, and beautiful girlfriends. But there was something else that came with the lifestyle too: he felt “spiritually bankrupt.” Desperately unhappy, he wanted to change. He constantly wondered, “What would the opposite of my life look like?” In search of that answer, he signed up to volunteer aboard Mercy Ships, a floating hospital that offered free medical care in the world’s poorest nations. He traded his spacious midtown loft for a 150-square-foot cabin with bunk beds, roommates, and cockroaches. The upscale restaurants he frequented were replaced by a mess hall that served 400 people.

Harrison traveled to Africa, serving as the ship’s photojournalist, and soon began to see a very different world from the one he knew. Upon arrival at a port, the ship’s medical staff showed pictures of the deformities and diseases that they could alleviate, and thousands of people would flock to the ship looking for an answer to a debilitating problem – an enormous tumor, a cleft lip and palate, flesh eaten by bacteria from waterborne diseases. Harrison’s camera lens brought astonishing poverty and pain into focus and he began documenting people’s struggles and their courage.

After eight months, Harrison moved back to New York, but did not return to his former life. Aware that many of the diseases and medical problems he saw while traveling stemmed from inadequate access to clean drinking water, he founded charity: water, a nonprofit that would bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. “It all started with a birthday party,” Harrison recounts. Harrison launched the organization on his thirty-first birthday, asking his friends to donate $31 for clean water efforts instead of giving him a gift. The birthday party ended up generating $15,000 and helped build charity: water’s first few wells in Uganda. And just like that, charity: water was born.

In the three years that followed, Harrison’s simple birthday wish has snowballed into over $13 million raised, 1,548 water projects, and more than 800,000 people who have benefited from clean water as a result. With innovative and successful social media campaigns like the Twitter festival (called Twestival), which raised close to $1 million dollars, or the opportunity for others to replicate Scott’s birthday party donations with mycharity: water birthday drives, charity: water serves as an example of the powerful ways social media can be used to engage individuals and inspire them to action.

The success of charity: water’s efforts can be explained through four important design principles:

1. Tell a powerful story

The first method Harrison employed was telling a story, one that evokes themes of redemption, change, and hope and engages others on an emotional level. Harrison, who comes off as a thoughtful and accessible thirty-something, candidly discusses in media interviews and on YouTube videos how and why he started the organization. Viewers fall in love with him and his cause as he shows his audience what’s possible.

But Harrison’s story is just a conduit to the hundreds of other powerful stories available through charity: water’s website. With powerful videography, photography, and graphics, charity: water engages its audiences by making the stories of both the people who donate their time and money and the people who receive the benefits of those efforts readily accessible. To see some of their stories, visit charity: water’s media page.

2. Make an emotional connection

Charity: water has found a way to evoke empathy through the use of photographs and videos that reveal the urgency of the water situation in the developing world. The use of visual images has been a pivotal part of the campaign process since the group’s founding, when it funded six wells in Uganda and took pictures of them.

Instead of relying on statistics and numbers, the organization promotes compelling stories from communities in need to their audience back home: stories of a fifteen-year-old boy in Murinja, Rwanda, who no longer walks five times a day with a twenty-pound jerry can on his head to get necessary water; a mother in Uganda who now has water to grow vegetables, clean her children’s uniforms, and bathe; and the people of Río Plátano, Honduras, who are no longer getting sick from contaminated water. Charity: water uses events to get other people to empathize, including its use of outdoor exhibitions where dirty water is displayed. People are forced to think about what it would be like to live without access to clean water because the images are staring right back at them. It’s hard to watch one of charity: water’s videos without feeling compelled, on a deeply emotional level, to act.

3. Be Authentic

Charity: water engages their audience by being candid and authentic; they uphold a commitment to transparency that is evident across all media platforms. Donors give to charity: water knowing where their money is going – and that 100% of their donations go to projects in the field. Then, through the reports and updates on their website and through Twitter, they are connected to the results. As a consequence of being constantly connected to their donors in genuine and accessible ways, charity: water feels less like an ivory tower organization and more like a group of individuals committed to a cause, eager to recruit others on their team to accomplish their goal of getting clean water to those who need it. Their authenticity radiates and breeds genuine engagement from individuals who become inspired.

4. Use Powerful Platforms

Charity: water excels at matching the media to its message. Scott Harrison says, “We really maintain a platform on about ten social media platforms. We’re sort of everywhere we need to be, because it’s as simple as a sign up.” The group has a staff member dedicated to updating the various social media platforms regularly, and creating distinctive messages for Twitter and Facebook fan pages. They also rely heavily on video. One of the most effective video projects involved convincing Terry George, the director of Hotel Rwanda, to make a sixty-second public service announcement for charity: water. Another was a video where Jennifer Connelly, a movie star, takes a forty-pound gasoline can to Central Park, fills it with dirty water from the lagoon, and brings it home to serve to her two children. Charity: water even managed to convince the producers of American Idol to broadcast the clip during their show, ensuring that more than 25 million viewers saw it. There is perhaps no website that is more thoughtfully designed with clearer calls to action than charity: water. The site engages visitors with powerful storytelling and graphics. Learning about and getting involved with clean water efforts has never been as compelling – or easy.

To learn more about charity: water, or to start your own campaign, visit

For other Dragonfly case studies such as Kiva, Obama ’08, Zappos, Groupon, and more, click here.

Social Good Guides (SGG): Is the number of followers and fans enough to measure the effectiveness of your social media strategy?

Andy Smith (AS): Having an audience is necessary to amplify your efforts, but as anyone who has spoken to a large group will tell you, it’s far better to have a small group of people who are listening and engaging than it is to have a crowd that’s tuned out and waiting for something that interests them. So the sheer number of fans and followers constitutes the “website hits” of this decade. They are useful only in the sense of “is this microphone on?” but for little more than that. When applied in conjunction with other indicators of involvement (i.e., comments, shares, and embeds), the metric begins to be more meaningful as a yardstick for the proportion of your audience that is actually paying attention.

SGG: As an established startup, who SHOULD you allow to maintain and operate your social media?

AS: People have unique expectations when interacting through social media, especially when communicating with organizations. It’s fundamentally a person-to-person medium, so we expect to deal with an individual. It’s not critical that everything originates with the founder or CEO. It is critical that the people involved are knowledgeable principals who respect and care for the values and mission of the company and, by extension, the people whom they engage with in social media. Whoever is responsible for maintaining and operating your startup’s social media, that person needs to be responsive because people quickly become disenchanted when they aren’t heard. Responders should be grateful, positive, and fast (responding within an hour is great, but within twenty-four hours is essential). They should also be active listeners, hearing and incorporating any golden feedback that they receive. If you employ a social media agency, they don’t often feel empowered to listen like an embedded employee might. So if an agency is going to drive a campaign, make sure they have the mandate to respond in the most constructive way.

SGG: Should startups use their social networks differently depending on the audience they’re trying to communicate with?

AS: Startups need to appreciate the different appetites of users in different networks, and as there are many people who use several networks, the different appetites of the same people in different social contexts. For example, Twitter is well suited to communicating broadly with extremely timely posts – created as short, punchy, and sharable headlines – and links to deeper content. Facebook is great for slightly longer-form content that allows people to self-express their interests and values while sharing something useful with closer sets of friends. Overall the core message, the startup’s story, needs to be consistent, but experimentation will reveal the types of content that propagate best on a particular network.

SGG: How do you use social media to expand into new target markets?

AS: First, understand the market and the issues it has and is trying to solve through a process of deep empathy. Design Thinking is extremely helpful for this effort. Explore where these people are having their conversations, listen for a while, and ask a few questions. Learn more and understand the norms for engaging. By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what makes the audience tick, the general nature of their problem, and a hypothesis for how your solution might help them. Create content, probably on your blog, which demonstrates that understanding and provides value without any obligation to buy your product. In fact, the more valuable you can make this free element, the more widely it will spread. Then you can share this analysis or tool or insight in the spaces where you were previously only listening.

SGG: How can you use analytics (i.e., Google Analytics) to best utilize social media?

AS: Analytics are critical, but as Google’s Avinash Kaushik says himself, companies can go down a rabbit hole managing vanity metrics. Google Analytics and similar tools (there are many, including the ones built into link shorteners) can help you to understand three things:

1. What time and day you should and shouldn’t blog or tweet
2. Which posts generate the most actions – likes, shares, comments, retweet favorites, etc.
3. Which types of information works best on which networks

Using the more advanced features of Google Analytics, such as setting up goals, can give a startup a critical advantage in their testing. A page view is almost never the sole desired action for a piece of content shared through social channels. Depending on the organization, the goal may more likely be a series of actions that reveal increasing levels of interest and commitment. It may be a whitepaper download, a contest entry, or possibly even a purchase. The average startup that offers a mix of free and paid services through the freemium model may enjoy an audience that is anywhere from 80% to 95% unpaid. Goal tracking can help a startup manage not only customer growth, but also profitability through backtracking what works to bring in the most desirable customers.

SGG: What’s the importance of having a unified voice throughout all of your social media platforms?

AS: Having a unified voice is critical to deliver on three key brand elements:

1. Centeredness, consistency, and, by extension, professionalism

Even if you are a fun brand or an irreverent brand, it pays to be consistent. Customer service and finance emails should reflect their disciplines, but should also stand up to the test: Does this, on its own, fairly represent our brand?

2. Humanism

More than any other media, social media sets an expectation for dealing directly with another human, not a faceless organization. Humanism leads to customer intimacy and lower barriers. It’s more difficult to feel that intimacy if it’s difficult to reconcile language and tone across platforms.

3. Truth and transparency

Wherever a customer or an employee sees their company in social media, it reinforces their own belief and experience making their connection stronger. If the company is going to encourage employees to participate in social media themselves, it’s critical that the brand on the outside reflects the brand on the inside.

SGG: What are some ways to drive customer/user engagement (i.e., contests or giveaways)?

AS: There are many ways to drive engagement, but the key is to find one that is true to your mission and values. An iPad giveaway sweepstakes may be the most effective way to engage people who don’t yet have iPads (or who want new ones), but are they the people you want to get on board, and does that iPad have anything to do with your organization? By contrast, Lexus Ignition is an example of a good program. It is a series of run-off contests that award prize money for beautifully developed pieces of technology, and the series is aligned with the launch of their redesigned ES series vehicle. It’s well thought-out and engages people who want to win things (makers) and people who want cool gadgets to mutually support and spread a contest that builds awareness for Lexus ES while associating it with leading innovation.

SGG: Would you say there should be a different social media strategy for nonprofits vs. social enterprises? If so, what do you recommend?

AS: Nonprofits tend to have more complex audience issues and have to strike a balance between those people who they serve and those who support the nonprofit. A foray into social media with its general absence of audience segmentation can prove challenging for a nonprofit that’s used to communicating with one audience at a time. For-profit social enterprises have less complexity here, but need to find the right balance between their messages of good relative to product- or service-related messages. A social good message can range from a leading point to a reassurance. Companies like Starbucks experiment with this when they dial up or dial down the degree to which they communicate that 100% of their beans are fair trade grown.

SGG: What percentage of posts should be pushing business and what percentage should be relevant information that connects to the product, industry, or business?

AS: There are as many opinions about this as there are people in social media. The short answer is that you should never be pushing anything. All social engagement should be created and shared to help solve the problem of your audience. You may believe that your product is the solution, but just as you don’t walk up to a stranger at a party and start trying to sell them a set of steak knives, you don’t do the equivalent in social media, where every message is meeting someone for the first time. The vast majority of your messages should help people in your target market solve problems and connect the dots for them, engendering a sense of gratitude as well as an inclination to share with their friends.

SGG: In your book The Dragonfly Effect you list four wings to succeed: Focus, Grab Attention, Engage, and Take Action. Why these four topics?

AS: We created the four wings of the dragonfly after studying scores of organizations that succeeded in surprising ways. The four wings map broadly into a sequenced, iterative order that an organization needs to go through to drive a campaign’s success. We injected additional efforts through a study of efforts that should have succeeded, but didn’t succeed because of what they lacked. The first three wings, Focus, Grab Attention, and Engage, have their roots in marketing and storytelling, while the fourth wing, Take Action, is a product of the social age and builds on the uniquely powerful capabilities in each of our social graphs. Each wing is built upon a series of design principles that elaborate and help guide the selection of a good, single-focused goal, but are kept simple so that anyone can quickly evaluate their effort and gain insight as to where they could improve.



• For more info and free resources visit The Dragonfly Effect resource page.

10 Must-Learn Lessons For Twitter Newbies
A great resource to teach basic Twitter skills to beginners.

Hot Social Media Tips for 2013 by Sysomos

HubSpot Blog
Social content that informs businesses to make sure their social media marketing is performed correctly.

Up-to-date social media news, tips, and tricks.

Salesforce Blog

Salesforce Top 10

Tips and tricks for nonprofits using various social media platforms.

Social Media Today
The top experts on social media post their social media wisdom on this site.


Branding + Identity
Building Your First Website
Marketing: Lean In and Control The Lane
Publicity: Getting the Word Out
What’s Strategy Got To Do With It?
Why Great Design Matters

ANoteToOurInternationalReaders_new_blueThe guides are primarily intended for social entrepreneurs based on the United States, though some of the resources may be generally of interest to an international audience. Please remember that many of the topics covered by the guides, such as corporate structures, laws and legal customs, accounting, business planning, funding and fundraising, etc., vary widely from country to country, and that the information presented here may not be correct, applicable, or relevant to any other country or jurisdiction.

We strongly advise those of you building social impact ventures outside the United States to seek advice and support from reputable professionals who are licensed in your jurisdiction, and/or have area expertise in the country where you plan to build your businesses. For more information, please see our Terms of Use.



Principal, Vonavona Ventures
Co-Author, The Dragonfly Effect

Website | Email | Blog | @kabbenbock | @dflyeffect

Andy Smith co-authored The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways To Use Social Media to Drive Social Change, a book that Daniel Pink called “the single best road map to social media I have ever seen.” Andy serves as principal of Vonavona Ventures, where he advises and bootstraps technical and social ventures with guidance in marketing, customer strategy, and operations. He previously led marketing teams at Dolby Labs, BIGWORDS, LiquidWit, Intel, Analysis Group, Polaroid, Integral Inc., and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

When guest lecturing at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Andy speaks on social technology, human-centered design, and brand building. He has appeared as an expert on programs including Bloomberg West and NBC’s Press: Here and moderated GE’s live Ask Anything online conversation for their Ecomagination Challenge. He’s spoken to audiences at the Web 2.0 Expo, SXSW, The Warm Gun Conference (presented by 500Startups), The 140 Characters Conference, Social Media Breakfast, NCG 2011 Corporate Philanthropy Institute, World 50, and Marketing Week. Andy is a contributor to GOOD, where he writes about businesses that embrace and integrate a social mission. His work has also appeared in Fast Company, Psychology Today, OPEN Forum, McKinsey Quarterly, and Stanford Social Innovation Review. An advisor to a score of businesses ranging from startups to Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble, Andy is also a board member of The Glue Network, CafeGive, 140Proof, One Family One Meal, ManCrates, and Bettermint.

A permanent transplant to the Bay Area from New Jersey, Andy has studied in the Parthenon, lived in a former South African prison, and counts a regiment of Windsor Castle’s Scots Guards among his friends. Andy is a gardener, gadgeteer, and a serious tech geek. Once bumped from a flight that tragically crashed, he has since learned to accept travel mishaps, and most everything else, with equanimity.

Andy earned his MBA from The Anderson School of Management at UCLA and holds a degree in Economics from Pomona College.



Behance | Email

Katie Ingersoll is a Chicago-based graphic designer. She excels in traditional print and web design as well as presentation design, experiential event design, branding, and advertising. She is a Senior Graphic Designer at Kym Abrams Design. In this position she works extensively with HFMA (Healthcare Financial Management Association), The MacArthur Foundation and the Harris Theater.

Katie has freelanced with global leaders in digital advertising, such as VivaKi, Digitas and McGarryBowen. In previous positions, Katie has successfully designed and produced events and collateral for the Canadian Tourism Commission, the Merit School of Music, and Publicis Groupe, while working at agencyEA. At SamataMason she collaborated in creating CUSP, an annual conference about the “design of everything.”

Katie is a 2006 graduate of Ohio University where she holds a BFA degree. She received the Karen S. Nulf award for excellence in graphic design and typography while attending Ohio University. She is an active member of the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) and the Ohio University Alumni Association of Chicago. She volunteers with the Urban Initiatives Group and The Chicago Design Museum. Katie also provides pro-bono design work for the Young Irish Fellowship Club of Chicago and the Chicago International Poster Biennial.

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Consultant and Strategist, Social Good Guides

Website | LinkedIn | @think5577

As a Design Strategist and Creative Facilitator, Marc focuses on human-centered design and social innovation. Marc organizes, plans, and leads creative workshops to create positive change and tackle some of today’s gnarly social challenges.

Through playful exercises, he helps people come up with fun, usable, and innovative solutions to challenges. With a graphic and web design background, Marc is able to put ideas generated from these workshops into action, which continues conversations and encourages further collaborations across multiple industries. He loves finding ways for organizations to make huge changes and impacts in unexpected places.

Since 2009, Marc been actively involved, as both an advisor and facilitator, in Project M, an immersive program designed to inspire and educate young creative individuals by proving that their work can have a tangible impact on the world.

A multitude of his collaborative workshops and projects have been featured in the New York Times, Fast Co, AIGA, GOOD, Print, ID, PSFK, and various other design and culture outlets. Marc has lectured and facilitated numerous workshops at a number of distinguished universities and conferences throughout the country. Among other things, Marc is building out Secret Project @ CCA along with teaching in the graphic design department, and leading GOOD SF. He also rides a bamboo bike, makes homemade hot sauce, and unplugs in the outdoors. You can follow him on Twitter, @think557

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Founder, Social Innovators Collective
Series Producer, Art Director and Editor, Social Good Guides

Website | Email | LinkedIn | @shanadressler | @sic_org

In 2011, Shana Dressler founded the Social Innovators Collective with the mission to train and nurture the next wave of social change leaders to help them achieve measurable impact and financial sustainability. Since then she has been creating and leading workshops on business development for social enterprises and nonprofits at General Assembly, New York’s premiere center for entrepreneurship, the Social Good Summit, and social enterprise conferences at Harvard, Columbia, New York University, Brown, the School of Visual Arts, Rhode Island School of Design, and others. In 2014, she designed the curriculum for a startup business school designed to support 21st century entrepreneurial problem-solvers and creatives tackling the most pressing social and environmental challenges of our time.

A deeply committed social entrepreneur, Shana is widely recognized as the first person in New York to organize rigorous educational programming for social entrepreneurs in startup mode. To fill a notable gap in the lack of resources available, Shana co-created the Social Good Guides, a series of 20 guides focused on the essential small-business skills that would-be changemakers need to know and an 8-week workshop called Social Good Startup: Idea To Launch.

Shana is an Aspen Institute Scholar, a member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and a judge for The Webby Awards. In 2014 she became a Delegate to the United Nations Foundation Global Accelerator which brought together a “100 of the world’s top entrepreneurs to work together with policy leaders on global issues.” Shana was recently honored by the World CSR Congress as one of the 50 Most Talented Social Innovators. In addition to frequent travel to far-flung places, Shana loves all things chocolate, and makes her way around New York on a midnight blue Vespa. You can follow her @shanadressler and @sic_org.


Project Manager: Caitlin O’Malley
Copy Editors: Kelly Cooper + Jessica Winney
Web Developer: Keyue Bao
Consultant + Strategist: Marc O’Brien
Series Producer, Art Director + Editor: Shana Dressler


Three years in the making, the Social Good Guides are the result of the generous contributions of a team of esteemed authors, designers, copywriters, proofreaders, project managers, marketing consultants, researchers and interns. Initially conceived as a “nights-and-weekends” labor of love, the project quickly expanded beyond its original scope once we realized that accessible information about the essential small-business skills needed to build sustainable social impact organizations was missing in the social impact space.If you would like to make a general donation so we can finish the last four guides, click here. If you received value from reading this guide, and you would like to make a donation click here.


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Text © 2015 Andy Smith
Text © 2015 Katie Ingersoll
All other graphic design and elements © 2015 Social Innovators Collective.

All rights reserved. All guides have been created for private use. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, published, transmitted, photocopied or stored by third parties for download or for sale in any form or by any means, including electronic or mechanical methods, except with the written permission of the publisher, the Social Innovators Collective. Please see our full Terms of Use for more information.

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