A State Department division spent $630,000 to attract more “likes” to its Facebook postings, prompting complaints that the bureau was using government money to buy fans.
According to an agency inspector general’s investigation, the department’s Bureau of International Information Programs spent the money between 2011 and March 2013 to attract older, more influential people.
However, while the effort increased the division’s English-language Facebook page likes from 100,000 to more than 2 million, and up to 450,000 people on its foreign language pages, the effort didn’t reach the target audience.
In addition, only about 2 percent of the page’s fans liked, shared, or commented on postings, meaning that while the bureau spent a six-figure amount to get its message out to the public, its intended audience likely wasn’t seeing the efforts.
The International Information Programs describes itself as the State Department’s public diplomacy communications bureau that “provides and supports the places, content, and infrastructure needed for sustained conversations with foreign audiences to build America’s reputation abroad.”
In 2011, the State Department abandoned its website, America.gov, which was launched to promote democracy abroad, and shifted the IIP’s resources and workers to social media projects.
The push for “likes” – which help spread an organization’s message – was still underway in September 2012, when Facebook changed its approach to users’ news feeds. Now, companies and organizations must pay for sponsored ads to keep content visible, rather than having the message spread through people liking pages.
Meanwhile, the State Department’s lack of social media strategy meant the department could not reach “a proper balance between engaging young people and marginalized groups versus elites and opinion leaders,” the inspector general said.
The State Department’s problems with social media aren’t isolated just to the IIP division, but spread across the agency, where various departments have more than 150 social media accounts that often overlap, the report said.
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