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US State Department coughs up $630k for Facebook Likes

Plus rogue manager left staff quivering in fear of the sack

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US State Department apparatchiks spent a whopping $630,000 in a bid to make millions of new Facebook friends on the say-so of a manager who left staff terrified of the sack if they challenged her, according to a recent report.

The department's Bureau of International Information Program (IIP) spent the cash trying to persuade people from around the world to befriend them and then "like" their posts, hopefully inhaling a great big lungful of propaganda along the way.

According to a report from the Office of the Inspector General seen by the Washington Examiner, the public cash splurge boosted the bureau's English-speaking likes from 100,000 to more than two million between 2011 and 2013. The campaign also saw Likes on Facebook pages aimed at speakers of six foreign languages shoot up from 68,000 to 450,000 during the same period.

However, the report said that "engagement is a means, not an end" and suggested the bureau would be better off producing more targeted material about actual policy, rather than simply trying to rack up fan numbers. Earnest IIP staff tried to put policy bumf on Facebook, but were discouraged for fear the serious approach would "drive away their youthful audience".

Just two per cent of the total number of friends for each of the IIP's four major Facebook sites bothered to engage with the material they produced, meaning that although the State Department has tonnes of virtual chums, they're seemingly uninterested in reading about what the department actually gets up to.

The report also slammed a culture of secrecy at the IIP, with "uncertainty surrounding the bureau’s mission and role".

The inspector general reported: "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.

"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," lamented the inspector general.

The IIP "provides products and services that support embassies’ policy-advocacy work", which now apparently involves setting up Facebook pages in non-English languages.

The social media scheme was introduced after a reorganisation in 2011, which was ordered by an unnamed boss singled out for special criticism in the report.

She was slammed for failing to create a happy workplace by fuelling fears of cronyism, failing to engage with staff and leaving some meek souls too scared of dismissal to offer dissenting opinions.

The report added: "The Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) leadership failed to convey its strategic vision to staff members, despite formalized communications. Leadership created an atmosphere of secrecy, suspicion, and uncertainty.

"A 2011 reorganization of the bureau did not resolve structural problems and caused new organizational difficulties. Morale is low."

The inspector general added: "Shortly after her arrival, the coordinator initiated a business review, led primarily by outside consultants with whom she had worked previously, which resulted in a full-scale reorganization of IIP.

"Staff involvement was limited. The coordinator’s top-down approach to change management and daily leadership damaged morale and created a gulf between her and staff. A new principal deputy coordinator, who arrived after the business review and reorganization, engaged in outreach that failed to resolve this fundamental disconnect."

What the report doesn't tell us is why exactly it's important for a wing of the US State Department to have loads of youthful virtual chums. Answers on a postcard, please... ®

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