The State Department Spent $630,000 of Your Money Trying to Get "Likes" on Facebook



Between 2011 and 2013 the State Department spent $630,000 trying to get more Facebook users to "like" the Bureau of International Information Programs' Facebook page, according to an Inspector General's report. Foreign Policy's Jon Hudson reports

The IG report stings—especially because the Bureau of International Information and Programs is supposed to be Foggy Bottom's epicenter of online savvy. The bureau includes groovy-sounding divisions such as the Office of Innovative Engagement, which evangelizes on the "importance of using online engagement to drive offline, person-to-person activities and events." The bureau's stated mission is to be Foggy Bottom's "foreign-facing public diplomacy communications bureau" and supports its "growing social media community that numbers over 22 million followers."

Easier said than done. According to the report, first flagged by the Diplopundit, overlap and coordination issues trouble the various bureau's 150 social media accounts. The report also mentions a "pervasive perception of cronyism" exacerbating its already "serious morale problem."

Some of the issues are rather tedious, like whether embassy staffers should go to the Office of Web Engagement or the Office of Innovative Engagement for advice on social media. A section of the report is devoted to telling employees, hey, the "Office of Innovative Engagement is the proper place for this function."

Then there's the issue of "overlapping" Farsi outreach efforts. Apparently, both IIP and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affiars have Persian-language Facebook and Twitter accounts. "It is not efficient for the Department to have competing Persian-language Facebook and Twitter sites," reads the report. It suggests NEA take the lead given its closeness to actual "policymakers."

Other recommendations include boilerplate McKinsey-esque recommendations like consolidating weekly staff meetings and formalizing a process for "sharing research results." Total IIP funding since fiscal year 2011 is more than $71 million with almost $55 million spent on contracting. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment. Perhaps we'll post one to their Facebook page.

Compared to what various agencies currently spend on junkets and conferences, $630,000 is small potatoes. Nevertheless, bad things should happen to whoever signed off on the expenditure.