[On March 25, 2012, Mike Daisey issued another, more succinct apology.]

Recently, radio program This American Life broadcast Mike Daisey’s piece about going to the Foxconn factory in China where Apple’s products are made, meeting the workers, and learning of their horrific working conditions.  Sadly, it appears to have been embellished and This American Life just retracted the story.   Then Mike Daisey issued a Rush Limbaugh-style apology:

I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations.

I happened to notice that Mike Daisey has 569 fans, and 159 people are talking about his topic on Facebook.  If

159 people are talking about Mike Daisey. Riches and fame will soon be his with that kind of social media activity, right?

you were measuring his work using “Activity-based metrics” in social media like People Talking About, or Conversation, or even Amplification (how many people share), you’d probably think he was doing great.

But I really dislike these metrics.  I think they matter very little, and only for fine tuning what you post to social media.  It sort of like measuring open rates of your email subject lines.  It helps you with email, but nobody gets paid in open rates for emails, they get paid in money, which is what I help people tie their metrics to.

What really matters is your economic outcome.   That’s the first metric you should be paying attention to, things that you did that made you money, and things that came very close to making you money.

The fact that Daisey’s social media activity metrics look good while most of the Internet is calling for his head on a stick, should tell you a lot about why you should often ignore social media activity metrics, and only pay attention economic outcome metrics.

Measuring bookings that come out of social media and online activity are what Daisey should be looking at.  Since Daisey just had an upcoming show cancelled that was supposed to be co-produced with This American Life, that’s the whole story right there.   If he was a data-driven nonprofit, this would be the evidence that lying is bad for business, though I would hope that his own ethics would have told him that already.

I get why people focus on social media activity metrics: lots of people are not seeing an economic payoff from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.  It’s hard to make money off Facebook unless you’re a social media consultant telling people how they should be making money off of Facebook.  You want to show progress in your social media work, but since the money’s not there, what do you do?  Some people pick a different set of metrics, social media activity metrics, and try to move the needle there.  Unless you get your paycheck issued in Likes and Retweets, that isn’t going to further your organization.  Go back to the money.

There are other techniques to measure the contribution of social media to a donation, even if social media didn’t directly spawn that donation, and these are the sorts of techniques I work with my clients to put in place.  I like to look at the entire mix of what interactions a person had with your brand in the 30 days leading up to a donation.   Setting this up isn’t easy, but it helps rationalize the appropriate ROI of social media.

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