“It’s free and always will be,” runs the longtime slogan on Facebook’s sign-up page. Taxpayers, however, have shelled out $630,000 on a campaign to boost the number of people who ‘like’ the U.S. State Department on Facebook, according to a new report from the department’s Office of Inspector General. The report states that the snappily named Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP for short) purchased large quantities of advertising space on the social network between 2011 and 2012 in an effort to build “global outreach platforms for engagement with foreign audiences by increasing the number of fans on IIP’s four thematic Facebook properties.” The expenditures had the desired effect:
The bureau spent about $630,000 on the two campaigns and succeeded in increasing the fans of the English Facebook pages from about 100,000 to more than 2 million for each page. Advertising also helped increase interest in the foreign language pages; by March 2013, they ranged from 68,000 to more than 450,000 fans.
However, as the OIG makes painfully clear, merely accumulating fans does not equate to effective diplomatic outreach:
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. Defenders of advertising point to the difficulty of finding a page on Facebook with a general search and the need to use ads to increase visibility.
IIP’s four global thematic English-language Facebook pages had garnered more than 2.5 million fans each by mid-March 2013; the number actually engaging with each page was considerably smaller, with just over 2 percent “liking,” sharing, or commenting on any item within the previous week. Engagement on each posting varied, and most of that interaction was in the form of “likes.” Many postings had fewer than 100 comments or shares; the most popular ones had several hundred.
The report dryly notes that simple measures such as ‘Like’ counts “do not evaluate the usefulness of the engagement because many people post simple remarks, like ’so nice pic,’ or comments on unrelated topics. A sampling of IIP’s Facebook sites raises questions about how much real interaction is taking place.” The $630,000 question, indeed.
Via Foreign Policy’s blog The Cable.