The U.S. State Department spent $630,000 to get more Facebook "likes", according to an inspector general's report.
The discovery was prompted by employees complaining to the inspector general that the department was "buying fans" through various ad initiatives, the Washington Post reported.
The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs came up with the plan to increase engagement with foreign audiences. The money was spent to increase the "likes" on four of its pages between 2011 and March 2013. The "likes" increased from 100,000 to 2 million in that time. Only about 2 percent of its fans actually are engaged and active on the social network.
"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," according to the report.
The State Department couldn't be reached for comment, but the document can be viewed here.
It seems as if the State Department became caught up in its image or wanted everyone to think the bureau was more exciting and popular than it was. We like to think of this as the federal agency equivalent of Facebook envy-inducing vacation
pictures or posts about getting a raise, but the idea that it cost taxpayers $630,000 makes this a serious error in judgment.
In September 2012 Facebook also changed its approach to users' news feeds, and the expensive "fan" campaigns became much less valuable. The bureau now must constantly pay for sponsored ads to keep its content visible even to people who have already liked its pages.
Another problem with the bureau's social media outreach is a lack of strategy for reaching the right audience, the report said.
"The absence of a Department wide PD [public diplomacy] strategy tying resources to priorities directly affects IIP's work. Fundamental questions remain unresolved. What is the proper balance between engaging young people and marginalized groups versus elites and opinion leaders?" the IG said.
Not only does the bureau lack its own social media strategy, but various State Department bureaus have more than 150 social media accounts that are uncoordinated and often overlap, according to the IG.