Buying Facebook Ads Could be a Bad Call for Agencies

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Departments should focus more on mission and less on marketing, GSA says.

Buying Facebook advertising to reach a broader audience may be a bad bet for government agencies -- even if the money’s available and outreach is the mission, according to a new blog post from the General Services Administration’s digital government team.

The blog post from GSA’s social media lead Justin Herman is titled “Government Social Media Isn’t Lagging, It’s Different: And That’s Good.” It focuses on three new toolkits the team is developing to make government social media more effective, accessible and measurable, all of which are due out in the next three months.

A recurring theme in the post, however, is the updated Facebook algorithm, which makes it increasingly difficult for federal agencies and other organizations to receive public notice if they don’t purchase Facebook advertising to raise their visibility.

One division of the Veterans Affairs Department has spent at least $3 million on Facebook ads to gain popularity among veterans who may be missing out on VA benefits. A State Department bureau spent $630,000 on a similar campaign that proved unpopular among State employees, according to an inspector general’s report.

Here’s one representative paragraph from Tuesday’s blog post:

Also, while private sector social media managers can allocate funds for promotional posts, many government agencies cannot -- and if they are focusing on the right performance metrics and mission goals they shouldn’t need to. While programs like recruitment and awareness campaigns traditionally rely upon and benefit from promotional campaigns, citizens may not expect agencies to advertise in order for them to find official information on student loans or health care.

Here’s another paragraph. Note the link to a GovLoop post from a social media strategist with Seattle’s King County, suggesting “an exit strategy for Facebook.”

It’s common to hear that government social media lags behind the private sector especially when held to standards that don’t consider government’s unique needs and goals. Yet, even as marketers call for exit strategies from some platforms, many of our agencies see an increase in their performance even without paid promotions because of effective engagement strategies.

The post goes on to suggest that focusing too much on a single social platform is shortsighted and that social media managers would do better by diversifying their social outreach and thinking forward to how their missions will be affected by wearable devices, the Internet of Things and other developments.

“While changes to the Facebook news feed, for example, can mean improvements in how companies use the tool,” the post states, “they serve as a reminder to government social media managers to kick the tires of their programs and ensure that their goals address the needs of the mission and not the perceptions of what advertisers think we should be.”