Inspector General: State Department’s Facebook ‘Digital Diplomacy’ Falls Flat

July 10, 2013 - 3:42 PM

Facebook like
(CNSNews.com)  -- The mission of the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) is to communicate U.S. diplomatic goals with foreign audiences abroad. But a recent report (IIP report May 2013.pdf) released by the Office of  the Inspector General found that the bureau’s use of social media  to advance that mission – including spending $630,000 to increase its number of Facebook “friends” – has produced disappointing results.

“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,” the OIG report stated.

An estimated 1.1 billion people use Facebook worldwide, but IIP had trouble actively engaging even a small fraction of them. “A consensus is emerging that developing numbers of Facebook followers and Twitter fans may not lead automatically to target audience engagement.”

Although “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 commenting on any item within the previous week,” the OIG report noted.

“IIP must master social media and exploit mobile technology growth while maintaining a vital presence in traditional media. It also must strike the right balance between engaging young people and elite audiences.”

But not being “liked” on Facebook appears to be the least of the bureau’s problems.

Inspectors also found “functional overlap with other agencies,” plummeting morale among the bureau’s 209 employees due to “cronyism,” “reorganization fatigue,” a “toxic atmosphere” that does not tolerate dissenting views, and “insufficient attention to mission-critical management controls, particularly in the areas of performance management, contracting and travel.”

Meanwhile, “top-level communication between IIP and the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Agency for International Development does not take place.”

“Despite formalized communications,” the report added, IIP leadership “failed to convey its strategic vision to staff members…Absent a Departmentwide strategy, IIP decisions and priorities can be ad hoc, arbitrary, and lack a frame of reference to evaluate the bureau’s effectiveness…..

"The Office of Audience Research and Evaluation is producing little work and is not engaged with either the bureau or other elements of the Department,” the report continued. “There is near universal agreement that the number of meetings leaves little time to complete vital work.”

However, a management review of the IIP’s public diplomacy efforts recommended by inspectors back in 2004 was never done, inspectors pointedly noted, and “uncertainty surrounding the bureau’s mission and role” remains “problematic today.”