State Department bureau spent thousands for Facebook fans

Wednesday - 7/3/2013, 4:22pm EDT

By Cogan Schneier
Special to Federal News Radio

A State Department bureau is more "well liked" on Facebook after two campaigns to increase its visibility on the social-networking site. The problem, however, is it cost them $630,000 — and the increased number of "friends" may have little impact on how it meets its mission.

State's inspector general said in a recent report that the Bureau of International Information Programs' (IIP) campaigns succeeded in gaining more than 2.5 million fans, though the percent of fans actually engaging with Facebook pages was just more than two percent. Fans mostly engaged in the form of "liking" posts, and many of the postings had fewer than 100 comments or shares, the report said. The most popular posts had several hundred shares.

"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," the report stated. "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."

But these efforts may not matter in the end as Facebook changed the way its site displays information on users' newsfeeds in September.

Now, if a user does not regularly engage with a particular page, that page's posts will stop appearing on the user's newsfeed. Page owners, however, can buy story ads to ensure that their posts appear on newsfeeds regardless of user engagement.

Due to this change, having a large, unengaged fan base means that the bureau must continually buy sponsored story ads for its pages, or else "reach" statistics will fall dramatically, the report stated. The report said the department needs to consider the value of having more social media fans.

"The bureau could reduce spending and increase strategic impact by focusing its advertising not on raising overall fan numbers or general engagement statistics but on accomplishing specific [public diplomacy] goals," the report said.

The report also pointed to two overlapping offices, the Office of Innovative Engagement and the Office of Web Engagement, and suggested their respective roles be clarified.

IIP paused its Facebook advertising program to assess its social media goals during the IG inspection, the report stated.

(Cogan Schneier is an intern for Federal News Radio)

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