Your Tax Dollars: U.S. State Department Pays $630,000 for Facebook Likes

US State Department Buys Facebook Likes

According to a sensitive but unclassified report, the Bureau of International Information Programs, a part of the United States State Department, has paid $630,000 of U.S taxpayer dollars on two separate social media campaigns: to increase the number of Facebook Likes on their Facebook page. What’s even worse, is that these two social media campaigns were complete flops, with less than 2 percent actually engaging with their posts.

According to this unclassified report, in 2011 the Bureau of International Information Programs tried to increase their presence on social media site:

After the 2011 reorganization, the coordinator initiated a push to expand the bureau’s presence on social media and other digital platforms. IIP started or expanded English-language Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and blogs aimed directly at foreign audiences. The bureau also started or expanded online activities in six foreign languages.”

They started two social media campaigns to increase their number of Facebook Likes, increasing the number of Facebook Likes from 100,000 to over 2 million:

The bureau spent about $630,000 on the two campaigns and succeeded in increasing the fans of the English Facebook pages from about 100,000 to more than 2 million for each page. Advertising also helped increase interest in the foreign language pages; by March 2013, they ranged from 68,000 to more than 450,000 fans.

US Department of State Facebook Page

The problem I have is that internally, according to the report, employees at the Bureau of International Information Programs didn’t like the campaigns from the beginning, saying that it was “buying Facebook Likes”. The report details the following:

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. 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.

The report goes on to detail the fact that even though they got lots of new Facebook “Likes”, the people who Liked the page were NOT engaging with the content being posted, and less than 2 percent were interacting with the posts, according to the bureau’s own data:

IIP’s four global thematic English-language Facebook pages had garnered more than 2.5 million fans each by mid-March 2013; the number actually engaging with each page was considerably smaller, with just over 2 percent “liking,” sharing, or comment
ing on any item within the previous week. Engagement on each posting varied, and most of that interaction was in the form of “likes.” Many postings had fewer than 100 comments or shares; the most popular ones had several hundred.

The report claims that the lack of engagement is due to the fact that Facebook changed the way information is displayed on one’s Facebook Timeline. I tend to disagree. Personally, I think it’s due to the fact that the bureau paid for Facebook Likes, and they were targeting the wrong people in their advertising. I have not seen the advertising that was being done, but I bet that it was targeting the wrong people. Here’s the excuse that the bureau gives for a lack of engagement:

In September 2012, Facebook changed the way it displays items in its users’ news feeds. If a user does not interact with a site’s postings, after a time these postings will no longer appear in the user’s news feed unless the site buys sponsored story ads to ensure their appearance. This change sharply reduced the value of having large numbers of marginally interested fans and means that IIP must continually spend money on sponsored story ads or else its “reach” statistics will plummet.

Well, there goes another waste of our taxpayer dollars. How is it that they were able to waste over $630,000 buying Facebook Likes? And, furthermore, didn’t even get the proper ROI from that money in the form of engagement?

I did some additional investigating on this. Although the Inspector General’s report does not specifically state which Facebook pages are the ones in question, I found the actual Facebook pages that were promoted using the $630,000 of taxpayer money:





These Facebook pages all have over 2,000,000 million “Likes”, but frankly they’re still not being engaged-with. Posts are being made, and each post is currently getting somewhere around 600 “likes”. But, that’s 2 million Facebook page likes and ONLY 600 “likes” on the posts. Furthermore, when something is posted, there’s only about 2 or 3 comments being made, max.

My conclusion is that the majority of these Facebook “likes” on these Facebook pages are, quite possibly, from dummy “fake” accounts.

There has been some question as to whether or not an outside social media agency handled all of this. It appears that all of this was handled internally by the department. They did not hire an outside agency. All the money was spent on buying Facebook Likes. Here’s some evidence of that, a social media job posting for a social media manager:

Job Title:Social Media Manager

Department:Department Of State

Agency:Department of State – Agency Wide

Hiring Organization:Civil Service Personnel-Civil Srvc and Iraq Jobs

Job Announcement Number:IIP-2012-0011
$105,211.00 to $136,771.00 / Per Year
Thursday, January 5, 2012 to Thursday, January 19, 2012
Full-Time – Permanent
1 vacancy – Washington DC Metro Area, DC
Open to all U.S. citizens


This position is located in the Bureau of International Information Programs, Managing Director for Platform Management, Office of Web Engagement(IIP/PM/WE).

The purpose of this position is to serve as one of two Division Chiefs in the Office of Web Engagement with responsibility for the day-to-day control and coordination of all team activities. The incumbent also serves as a technical authority and expert advisor to management on the use of social media to advance the DoS’ goals with regard to target audiences and specific themes.

Update: Links in this post have been removed, as they weren’t working at last check. November 16, 2014.

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