The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) just released a scathing report exposing the State Department's wasteful spending on social media. In exchange for Facebook "likes," the Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) spent $630,000 between 2011 and March 2013.
Under the guise of "public diplomacy," IIP campaigned to increase English-language Facebook page "likes" from 100,000 to more than 2 million.
With only 2% of fans interacting with State's social media pages, the OIG report correctly argues that "likes" do not translate to fan engagement, therefore rendering the entire $630,000 operation useless.
To further exacerbate problems for IIP, after Facebook changed the way "liked" content appeared on user's newsfeeds in 2012, fan page updates became even scarcer, resulting in an additional reduction in fan engagement.
Despite all of this, the greatest problem with the State Department's social media spending spree is likely the redundancy of its Facebook pages and Twitter handles.
For instance, often times State will have multiple departments targeting the same demographic. Specifically, IIP is currently competing with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to target Farsi-speaking people.
Moreover, even within the Department, there seems to be confusion regarding who is actually in charge of social media. With ambiguously named departments such as the Office of Web Engagement and the Office of Innovative Engagement, it's no wonder why there is a duplication of efforts.
According to the Inspector General's report, "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 PD goals."
This suggestion clearly states that the point of social media is not just to gain "likes," but instead it is to spread awareness at a much lower cost. This should not be news to IIP however.
This very concept was made clear in the November 2012 report of the Social Media Working Group, which advocated, "judicious and targeted use of paid advertising."
In case IIP missed that advice, it was reiterated by telegram 13 State 06411, Social Media Guidance Cable #1: Social Media Advertising, which suggested "a 'selective use of social media advertising' in a 'strategically planned, well-targeted' campaign with preset goals and evaluation."
Surely, there is an argument to be made on behalf of "public diplomacy," but with a $630,000 price tag attached, it is clear that this venture was a devastating waste of American tax dollars.