What Does $630,000 In Tax Money Spent On Facebook Do For You?

ByPhil Kuck

Have you ever heard those tweens bragging about how many Facebook friends they have? What if I told you that the State Department was one of those tweens? According to the Inspector General’s Office (IG) audit of the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) within the State Department, over 2011 and 2012 $630,000 of your money has been spent on advertising programs to accumulate “likes” on Facebook for the State Department.

Nobody knows why former coordinator of IIP Dawn McCall authorized these programs, and some will be quick to point out the fact that the program was a success. Well, I guess it depends on how one defines "success." According to the IG, the money was spent to ensure that the State Department page went from 100,000 likes to about 2.5 million and the State Department’s foreign language page grew to 450,000 likes from 68,000.

Now for the bad news on those numbers. Despite the 2.5 million fans, most posts by the State Department had as few as 100 shares and comments. This means that even if each of those 100 shares were from different people (not likely), they would only make up .004% of its audience. Unsurprisingly, the State Department now is forced to recognize that it missed its target audience which the IG states was mainly older and influential people. The problem of seeking this target audience is probably not in the message the State Department is transmitting, but rather in the approach of using social media, where the average age of Facebook users is 38, to give the overall impression that “older and more influential people” are actually using social media personally.

What matters more, showing that you have a lot of fans on social media advertising, or gaining more fans by achieving public-policy goals? The IG says it is the latter. The State Department needs to realize that there are more productive things to do with $630,000.

How many employees could have been saved from furlough with that extra money? Could it have saved many employees from the upcoming Furlough Friday on July 5?  How many small companies could be saved from closing their doors without having to pay that much more in taxes?

Apparently, the State Department believes it is more important to feed the illusion of approval from social-media users than it is to address the needs of the people.