Facebook Advertising Is No Longer The Exclusive Preserve Of Big Business.

Who would you think would be one of the biggest spenders on promotional advertisements on social media?

Which business or enterprise would shell out the largest sums for a ‘like’ or two? Well, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it would be a commercial enterprise that would be at the head of such a list, if one existed, but the truth is one of the biggest spenders on Facebook promotional ads is actually the UK government. Just how much has been spent over the course of the last year or two on social media advertising is hard to pin down, but the BBC has learned from the Cabinet Office that one government departments alone spent almost £100,000 on promoting our British interest online.

No doubt the Cabinet Office will claim this is money well spent and good news for Britain.

The jury, however, still appears to be out and mulling over its verdict. One thing is definite, and that is it’s definitely good news for Facebook and may go some way to halting the slide in its market value in the longer term. So is this money well spent and does it add value for the taxpayer, or is the government needlessly promoting a ‘product’ that would sell anyway?

The figures, released to the BBC by officials at the Cabinet Office following a Freedom of Information request, show that the government had spent £98, 418.25 with Facebook up to 19 July this year, advertising its ‘Great’ campaign. You’ve also probably seen the adverts on TV, starring Stephen Fry and Julie Walters to name but two, pointing out the special characteristics that make Britain truly great. So what sort of response did the government generate for this outlay? Well, according to officials the campaign generated more than 472 million ad impressions which in turn led to 782,000 ad clicks, and 583,000 ‘likes’ across  13 Facebook pages. Now on the face of it that sounds mightily impressive, but is it value for money and what do other government departments spend on advertising?

Unfortunately the Cabinet Office wasn’t in a position to give the BBC that information, and suggested that the reporter approach individual departments for an answer. What has been pointed out is that as a proportion of total government advertising spending which totals roughly £37 million, £100,000 is a drop in the ocean. Whilst this might be factual, it doesn’t really answer the question. Is £100,000 justified spending when promoting something as amorphous as a national or corporate reputation?

According to a government spokesperson and some social media marketing consultants the answer is undoubtedly, yes.

They claim there is concrete evidence that the sponsored advertisements and television campaign generated great interest and facilitated much greater involvement and engagement on social platforms like Facebook. They maintain that the ‘buzz’ created around the advertisement was easily sufficient to justify what was in truth a minimal outlay. Whether the ‘buzz’ led to more spending on activities, holidays and tourism is less well defined.

However, one question remains unanswered. 2012 is, and has been, a special year in many ways. We’ve had all sorts of local and national celebrations and sporting spectacles to drive tourism and whip up interest in a country that already attracts more visitors than many other countries anyway. Wouldn’t this have been sufficient to promote brand Britain? Wouldn’t the summer spectacle of the Olympics, Paralympics and the Diamond Jubilee have done the trick just as well? Surely the feel good factor that these events have engendered would’ve created the required levels of engagement anyway?

The problem is that it is still too early to judge the effectiveness of sponsored advertising on social media channels for companies and for governments. Many people still view the medium as purely a social channel where they engage and socialise with their friends and acquaintances. Will these people really want to be bombarded with marketing messages and commercials when they log in for a chat? Well, the answer to that question is one which governments, businesses, and Facebook in particular, would like to know.

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