IG report: State Department spent $630,000 to increase Facebook ‘likes’

The State Department spent over $630,000 to increase Facebook “likes” for four of its pages on the social-networking site, according to an inspector general’s report.

(Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)
(Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

The efforts, which involved advertising initiatives between 2011 and March 2013, increased the fan numbers for each page from about 100,000 to more than 2 million, the report said. But employees complained that the agency was “buying fans,” according to the inspector general.

The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs came up with the campaign as a way to engage with foreign audiences, the report said.

The IG found that the number of Facebook users who actually engaged with each page was relatively small, with only about 2 percent “liking,” sharing or commenting on any item within the previous week.

The department’s ad campaign became less effective in September 2012, when Facebook changed its approach to users’ news feeds. The agency would not have to pay for sponsored ads to keep its content visible to people who have already “liked” its pages.

“This change sharply reduced the value of having large numbers of marginally interested fans,” the report said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during a Wednesday briefing with reporters that the agency had reduced its spending on Facebook advertising and that it plans to implement the inspector general’s recommendations.

Psaki said the Bureau of International Information Programs now spends $2,500 per month on online advertising. “I think that’s a clear indication we’ve taken the recommendations seriously and put changes in place,” she added.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks · July 3, 2013