According to an inspector general’s report, the government spent approximately $630,000 from 2011 through 2012 to increase the number of “likes” the State Department’s Facebook page received. While the initiative was successful, having increased the numbers on the page dramatically, many critics are speaking out against the action, calling it a waste of money.
Before the campaign was started, the total number of Facebook fans on four Bureau of International Information Program Facebook pages totaled about 100,000, a number the State Department considered too low for its intentions. In order to boost the number of likes, the bureau initiated an advertisement and social media program with the intention of increasing the number of likes its accounts collectively had.
As a result, the numbers increased to over 2 million “likes” per Facebook page held by the bureau, with the total cost exceeding half a million over a two-year period. Beyond that, the effort also drew a smaller amount of attention to the company’s non-English Facebook pages, having increased the collective numbers from approximately 68,000 to in excess of 450,000.
Such likes were achieved via advertising, which is where the funds were used, with the inspector general’s report also indicating the use of photos to garner additional followers. Said the report, which was released in May: “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.”
While there are arguments on both sides, at the end of the day the numbers speak for themselves: the number of “fans” engaging with the four Facebook pages is reported as considerably lower than how many likes each page has. According to the report, the combination of numbers between fan commenting, sharing, and liking amounts to about 2-percent of the page’s total followers. The average status has less than 100 comments, and the average interaction with the pages come in the form of “likes”.