Staying the Course with Facebook

Despite big changes, don’t jump ship with your agency’s Facebook page.

by / October 24, 2014

Editor’s Note: Starting this month, Kristy Dalton will write a regular column exploring government’s use of social media.

About a year ago, I spoke at a forum on social media in government with Katie Harbath, a politics and government outreach manager for Facebook. She told the audience of city and county communication managers about some Facebook changes in the works.

We listened intently as she described that Facebook was adjusting its algorithm to take into account thousands of variables to filter which posts get displayed in fans’ news feeds. She explained that this was an attempt to put relevant content in front of users. I realize that we were actually lucky to learn about this so early, as the business world started talking about it months after.

How to Play the Ad Game Smartly

  • Focus ad spend on promoting programs that earn revenue
  • Point ads to website landing pages, not your Facebook page
  • Retarget website traffic to ensure ads are reaching those most likely to click
  • Understand what works by placing a Facebook tracking pixel on your purchase confirmation pages
  • Try out Facebook’s new Business Manager tool to oversee your ad accounts
Fast-forward to a year later and page managers have seen a dramatic decrease in the “organic reach” of their posts. This refers to how many people see posts that are not sponsored, which is reportedly down to 6 percent.

A general frustration over these changes has led to talk in the government community about whether agencies should give up on Facebook altogether. The sense is, why waste time posting on the platform when so few people will actually see your efforts?

My advice is to stay the course with Facebook — but play the game smartly.

Why Stay the Course?

Let us talk through what abandoning your Facebook presence might look like. Your options would be to either delete your page entirely, or to keep your page, but not actively post on it. You might even change your profile language or create a pinned post at the top explaining your reasoning. Would this do the trick?

The reality is that your citizens are going to be confused with your actions. They will either observe that you do not have a profile or that you have an unmaintained profile. In either case, their conclusion might be that your agency is out of touch.   

Let us consider, just for kicks, that you decide to play the ad game. What would a smart ad strategy for government even look like?

Ad Strategy for Government

Government is no stranger to advertising, but many times funds are allocated toward offline products, such as water bill inserts, newsletters and print brochures. Shifting the focus to social network ad spending will require a smart strategy of centering your ad dollars on programs and services that earn revenue. Revenue-generating programs might be a campaign focused on promoting the payment of uncollected taxes, or parks and recreation activities that charge a registration fee, for instance.

The key here is that you track the dollars put into every paid promotion and correlate that to the sales resulting from Facebook ad conversions (yes, this is traceable), in order to determine the dollar-for-dollar return on your investment.

It becomes a lot easier to secure an ad budget from departments when you can claim that for every, say, $20 put into ads, on average you generate $500 in revenue that can be directly attributed to the Facebook ad.    

Admittedly, it’s hard to put ad spend toward a platform that previously garnered much more free exposure. However, a strategic advertising program can yield much stronger results than even when organic reach was in its heyday.  

Kristy is known as “GovGirl” in the government IT industry. A former city government Web manager with a passion for social media, technology and the lighter side of government life, Kristy is the CEO of Government Social Media.

Kristy Dalton Contributing Writer

Kristy is known as “GovGirl” in the government technology industry. She is a former city government web manager who has a passion for social media, technology and the lighter side of government life. Kristy is the CEO of Government Social Media.