Measuring the effectiveness of social media is not always as easy as counting video views, or even donations. If an organization misrepresents its mission, how can/should measurement take that into account?
by Bill Paarlberg, Editor, The Measurement Standard
I have just finished editing the manuscript for Beth Kanter and Katie Paine’s upcoming book, “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit” due out this fall from Wiley publishers. It is a well-written, informative, and practical guide to social media measurement for nonprofits. It will no doubt be a popular and successful book, as Beth and Katie are leading experts in the fields of nonprofit practice and social media measurement, and the book is filled with inspiring case studies from successful nonprofits and plenty of how-to advice for using measurement.
So, I was excited to read "Online, a Distant Topic Soars to #1" in today's NYTimes. It is about the phenomenal recent success of "Kony 2012," a video by Invisible Children, a nonprofit that is working to end Joseph Kony's long reign of terror in Central Africa. The video has achieved amazing success in terms of views and resulting donations, but the whole story is a little more complicated—and more difficult to measure.
Turns out, the video vastly oversimplifies the situation, to the point of making "virtually no effort to inform." Despite what the video implies, Joseph Kony and his army of child soldiers has not, in fact, been in Uganda in six years, and his following is now reduced to a few hundred. Read Michael Wilkerson's article "Joseph Kony is Not in Uganda, and Other Complicated Things" in Foreign Policy for more about the video's (and Invisible Children's) shortcomings. (And for a defense of his actions, see this video for a Joseph Kony interview.)
The complex interface between the first and third worlds has always been fraught with misunderstanding. (I am well acquainted with this, as I lived in Uganda for a couple years while in high school, and nowadays take my family to live in an almost-as-distant culture each year for a month.) I do hope that Invisible Children does good for Uganda, but it is tempting to see them as just another in a long, long line of awkward efforts of Us to help Them. As Mr. Wilkerson says:
"...what are the consequences of unleashing so many exuberant activists armed with so few facts? Defining Uganda in the international conversation by issues that are either geographical misfires (Save northern Uganda!) or an intentional attempt to distract the international community (Death to the gays!), do a disservice to the many critical problems Uganda has."
But the point here is that measuring the effectiveness of social media is not always as easy as counting video views, or even donations. Thanks to the power of social media (tweets from Rihanna and Ryan Seacrest!) Invisible Children now has a pile of money, yet it appears they have misrepresented their mission. How can or should social media measurement for nonprofits take that into account?
3/12/12 Update: See this post from Ragan's PR Daily for how Invisible Children is handling criticism: "5 crisis PR lessons from ‘Kony 2012’ "
- This post makes the point that "Kony 2012" is using new media to achieve old media ends: "Kony video inspires but misses larger point."
- Ugandans are furious at how the video portrays and uses them: "Ugandans react with anger to Kony video"
- 3/15/12 Update: Conspiracy theory, or actual conspiracy? "The Kony 2012 Scam: Funded by Chase Bank; Big Oil"
--Bill Paarlberg is editor of The Measurement Standard blog and newsletter, and of Katie Paine's book “Measure What Matters.” He is also editor of the book “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,” by Beth Kanter and Katie Paine, which will be published this year by Wiley. The Measurement Standard is a publication of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement.
Follow Bill Paarlberg on Twitter.