Councils spend big on social media

Social Media

Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams says the hundreds of thousands of dollars council's spent on social ...

South Taranaki District Council can lay claim to being the country’s most thrifty when it comes to social media advertising, spending just $11.39 on Facebook in the past year.

The Taxpayers’ Union has accused councils of “propaganda branding” for spending nearly half a million dollars on Facebook and LinkedIn advertising in the past year.

Figures obtained by the union under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act reveal councils spent at least $446,000 advertising on the two major networks in the 12 months to June 30.

The largest council, Auckland, was the biggest spender, forking out $164,287 to Facebook and $23,583 to LinkedIn.

But some councils are snubbing the social network with Wairoa, Timaru, Opotiki, Marlborough and Kaipara District Councils spending nothing on Facebook advertising.

South Taranaki District Council spent the least on social media advertising in the past year forking out just $11.39 on Facebook and nothing on LinkedIn.

Social media marketing strategist Michael Carney said Facebook advertising was generally cost-efficient, and councils appeared to be getting good engagement.

“In an era where people expect to express their opinions and be heard, the councils are successfully tapping into the social networks to connect with their constituents.”

Facebook ads cost as little as $5 each, he said.

Some councils may have budgeted more on Facebook advertising but the ads did not run so they were not charged, he said.

“In some ways they (councils) are constrained because Facebook serves a limited number of ads to users at any one point.

“It may be the realities of the limitations of Facebook’s algorithms.”

Facebook advertising was not always suitable depending on what audience an organisation was trying to reach, he said.

Some small councils were achieving good community engagement without spending anything on advertising for example Wairoa District Council, serving a population of about 8000, has 2500 people following its Facebook page.

“If you’re posting interesting and relevant content then people are likely to share it but if you’re being a corporate mouthpiece then no one is going to share it.”

LinkedIn was also a cost-effective recruitment tool, especially for filling specialist and executive positions, Carney said.

Christchurch City Council spent $21,592 on Facebook promotions and $4919 advertising 20 roles on LinkedIn – an average spend of just under $245 per job vacancy.

The survey did not include the country’s 11 regional councils and some regional councils did not supply figures.

Taxpayers’ Union executive director Jordan Williams said while Facebook had a role to play in getting information to the public “these figures make it clear that councils are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on propaganda branding exercises. Ratepayers get absolutely no value for that.”

Williams said councils should be more concerned with delivering essential services in a cost-effective manner rather than spending money increasing their their Facebook “reach” and “promoting pictures of politicians”.

But in its letter to the Taxpayers’ Union outlining its social media spend, Auckland Council defended its use of Facebook as “an important, cost effective way for us to communicate with Aucklanders about the range of services we provide at council and important community news”.

“It also allows us to encourage more Aucklanders to have their say and participate in specific council consultations which impact upon their communities.”

In the 2014-15 financial year Auckland council’s communication and engagement department spent $9.8 million and employed 104 fulltime equivalent staff.

It said advertising council job vacancies on professional networking site LinkedIn “allows us to connect and attract critical talent for our organisation”.

The second highest spending territorial authority, Dunedin City Council, reported spending $65,293 on Facebook. However the council said the bulk of the money – $55,693 – was spent by its tourism and economic development unit, Enterprise Dunedin, on promotional campaigns. A “large proportion” of that money would be recovered through contributions from local businesses including tourism operators.

The other $9600 was spent by the council’s communications department on public consultation and to promote a range of council events and festivals.