State Dept. Spent $630K Buying Facebook 'Likes'

Inspector general not a fan of the effort, per new report

By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 3, 2013 1:00 PM CDT
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(Newser) – Good luck liking this story: It turns out the State Department blew $630,000 in taxpayer cash "buying fans" on Facebook. A report by the agency's inspector general says the Bureau of International Information Programs' spending on sponsored posts, which occurred between 2011 and March 2013, did boost the bureau's English-language Facebook pages from 100,000 likes to more than 2 million each ... but few of those people were in its older target demographic, and only 2% of those people were actually engaged in commenting, liking, and sharing on the page, the Washington Examiner reports. (Oddly, the report doesn't seem to list the individual pages.)

"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," wrote the IG. According to the report, the bureau has lately been focusing on engagement over likes, but in doing so, it has been using Facebook's automated ad system to blast out posts "regardless of the item's content, importance, and relevance to the countries in which the ad appears." The report also notes the department's offices and bureaus have a combined 150 social media accounts, with no top-level coordination across them, adds Foreign Policy. The IG suggests that the bureau could "increase its strategic impact" by focusing its ad dollars on achieving policy goals, rather than making Facebook friends. "Engagement is a means, not an end," reads the report.

A sign with Facebook's Like logo is posted at Facebook headquarters.
A sign with Facebook's "Like" logo is posted at Facebook headquarters.   (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
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