State Department Spent $630,000 On Facebook “Likes”

Apparently, the State Department is really, really concerned about the number of people that “like” it on Facebook:

Ostensibly web-savvy State Department employees spent $630,000 to earn more Facebook “likes,” in an effort that struggled to reach its target audience, according to a searing Inspector General’s report from May.

Between 2011 and March 2013, the department’s Bureau of the International Information Programs, tried to boost the seeming popularity of the department’s Facebook properties by advertising and page improvements. But the results weren’t so good, leaving the Inspector General with no choice but to send a frank message to the bureau’s Facebook gurus: You’re doing it wrong.

“Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as ‘buying fans’ who may have once clicked on an ad or ‘liked’ a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further,” reads the Inspector General report.

Ultimately, the spending was successful in artificially increasing apparent popularity of the bureau’s English-language Facebook page from 100,000 likes to 2 million. But the IG said the bureau’s target audience is older, more influential individuals; not the kind of people who spend hours online liking government Facebook pages, in other words. “What is the proper balance between engaging young people and marginalized groups versus elites and opinion leaders?” asks the IG report. It also didn’t help that in 2012 Facebook tweaked the mechanics of its News Feed, making static fan pages less prominent in users’ feeds. (Last year, a number of news organizations also suffered similar engagement issues from such tweaks)

The IG report stings — especially because the Bureau of International Information and Programs is supposed to be Foggy Bottom’s epicenter of online savvy. The bureau includes groovy-sounding divisions such as the Office of Innovative Engagement, which evangelizes on the “importance of using online engagement to drive offline, person-to-person activities and events.” The bureau’s stated mission is to be Foggy Bottom’s “foreign-facing public diplomacy communications bureau” and supports its “growing social media community that numbers over 22 million followers.”

With war in Syria, revolt brewing in Egypt, and the Korean Peninsula always a tinderbox, I’m glad to see that the guys at Foggy Bottom have their priorities straight.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. edmondo says:

    Who was Secretary of State during this time?

  2. beth says:

    Right now at the White House, there’s a department of people who are planning the White House Christmas Decorations. With war in Syria, revolt brewing in Egypt, and the Korean Peninsula always a tinderbox, I’m glad to see that the guys at Foggy Bottom the White House have their priorities straight.

    Shame on you for such a simplistic and “fox news-y” last sentence.

  3. Ah, good old SEO optimization and social media consultant bullshit.

  4. anjin-san says:

    @ Doug

    With war in Syria, revolt brewing in Egypt, and the Korean Peninsula always a tinderbox, I’m glad to see that the guys at Foggy Bottom have their priorities straight.

    Can you remember a time in your life (or in all of history) when there was not war, revolution, and hot spots?

    Meanwhile, mundane day to day life goes on, and marketing and PR types do their jobs while diplomacy goes on. Gee, an organization can multitask! Who would have guessed?

    Nice Faux outrage though…

  5. Jeremy says:

    There’s nothing wrong with a government agency buying Facebook likes–that’s just advertising and PR. I do think, though, that spending $630,000 on likes was way too much. And also, even though social media is useful, it’s not a panacea; they should have put more money into more direct PR campaigns. Email, believe it or not, is still the best (at least in the states.)

    Source: My experience in DC social media.

  6. Jeremy says:

    @Timothy Watson: I’m starting to think SEO is overrated. The only thing that really matter is Google+, bizarrely, because everyone uses Google (and if you have people +1 your stuff it appears higher in search results.) Now if only more people used Google+….

  7. anjin-san says:

    @ Jeremy

    Email, believe it or not, is still the best

    Well, if they send email blasts to people who have not opted in, they are violating the CAN-SPAM Act. How would they get all those people to opt in to their email list(s). Hmm. FB might be a good place to start…