Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tempest in a digital diplomacy teapot

Or much ado about IIP's "likes."

The Cable on Foreign Policy continues to take pot shots at IIP over the bureau's digital diplomacy buy.  Frankly, I think John Hudson on The Cable has done a real disservice to PD and the outlet by going shallow on IIP and also the recent Smith-Mundt changes.

DiploPundit is a more charitable and thorough, but still has a bit of snark to the tone.  I can live with it.

Prof. Craig Hayden has a very good piece about offering another perspective on IIP's digitial diplomacy outreach.

And here are my own two Francs about what it means to invest in digital outreach, borne out of my own experience running social media (TY JB for the push).

The way that Facebook ad buys work is this: you can purchase a few different things to increase impressions and "likes."  First, you can simply do ad buys so for your content.  Pics and a link, and you can tailor the ad's audience to country, state, city and demographic.  You can also dig deeper to interests, such as bluegrass, football, gardening, and just about any other tailored interest so that you can narrow down the number of people to those who might actually pay attention.  I did a lot of this for the outreach for the American Music Abroad program, looking for interested country music musicians in Nashville and Austin, or Hip Hop artists in New York.  You can tailor advertising campaigns by length, or by budget, and it can be an effective way to gain more likes and more traction for your site. Such sponsored advert land on the right side of the user's Facebook page.

Meanwhile, you can sponsor stories to accompany the ads so that people who may be interested in your content will both see your adverts and see links to your page.


2,034 people like American Music Abroad.



This was a more general advert aimed at anyone over the age of 18 in the U.S. who indicated they like bluegrass.  It has a maximum capacity to reach 1,200,000 people. You can decide how much you are willing to pay per click, the more you spend on the clicks, the more people will see the advert.

The other accompanying piece to the ad campaign is a sponsored story.  The second component features the page and helps push the advert further.  It shows the advert/sponsored story to friends of people who liked the AMA FB page, friends of people who liked an AMA post, friends fo those who commented, etc.

 So, for the above advert, $100 was spent on the campaign lasting for 2 weeks.  Of the $100 allocated, some $33 went to promoting the advert itself and it ultimately reached 29,000 Facebook users.  41cents was paid per click, and it generated approximately 150 clicks to the advert, as well as another 205 "engagements," meaning that a combination of people liked the AMA FB page because of the advert, or liked a page post after viewing the advert.

Meanwhile, the remaining $67 went towards promoting the sponsored story.  It was seen by 17,000 users, and it was optimized at $1.99 per click and led to 920 clicks on the sponsored story. Because the cost per click was higher, it led to a better engagement ration (approx 800 page views, and 400 page post likes).

I hope I didn't lose anyone in the weeds during my explanation.  The short of it is that if I had just posted on the AMA FB page for musicians to apply, it would have gone only to people who already liked the page.  Because I did an advert and sponsored story, the content went out to people who like bluegrass in the set demographic, as well as the network of people who already like the page and like the genres so that more people who might like the content were reached.

Another aspect of Facebook advertising is promoting posts.  Promoting posts is to give further impressions to a particular story.  Depending on the nature of your FB page, it changes the number you can reach (ie NGOs/nonprofits can get more impressions for less money than say, a concert tour).  So, if you post something on FB, it might be seen by 200 followers of your page.  But if you add $5 to promote the post, it might be seen by 1,100 to 2,200 people who are friends with those who like your page.  If you pay $25, it might be seen by 20,000-30,000 people.  The more people who see the content, the more "likes," comments (engagement), shares and otherwise you will have.  See under: my previous post about this biz, and my point about the 100 or so likes for the story about Ramadan service in Detroit posted by the US Embassy in Malaysia.

All of this is important in the case of IIP's digital outreach, and the outreach of Embassy FB pages.  You can't just post and expect people to "like" or engage, but rather you need to reach out and build the followers through adverts, sponsored stories and promoted posts.  And you can tailor it to the demographics you are seeking to "engage."  It takes investment in digital diplomacy to get State dept FB pages from 100k "likes" to over 2 mil "likes" as what took place during IIP's outreach.

I consider IIP's investment to be sound, and work to be pretty good if your goal is creating a broader, better audience for social media content.  And I sincerely doubt that most of the naysayers understand how any of this really works.  $630k is not even the price of one soldier in Afghanistan, and I dare say that the digital engagement strategy is a much wiser investment.

This digital diplomacy effort will bear long-term fruit if given an opportunity to grow, but this is where I fault State.  State needs to speak up and explain better why its digital outreach campaigns are a worthwhile investment. And I do know better than most the difficulties they have in communicating their good work.

But cheap shots at IIP and the digital diplomacy outreach by The Cable and Mr. Hudson is digital yellow journalism (dare we even say, propaganda), selling salacious stories to an audience ready to pounce at governmental malfeasance.

PS: Matthew Wallin at ASP has a great take on all this, and I am not saying this simply because he quoted moi.

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