In 2012, the Veterans Affairs Department spent $2 million on Facebook advertising. This year, VA officials expect to spend $1 million on Facebook advertising for VA’s Make the Connection program, according to its Project Manager Koby South.
The $3 million combined spend is funding the Make the Connection’s Facebook advertisements. The outreach program connects veterans to mental-health resources and information. It is the only VA program to spend money on this scale; the main VA Facebook page rang up at $1,000.
This revelation sparked reaction from a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“To most people, it’s painfully obvious that generating Facebook ‘likes’ should be the least of the department’s concerns,” said committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., in an interview with FedScoop. “The fact that VA leaders apparently don’t share that view is extremely troubling, to say the least.”
Representatives from the program said veterans are most easily reached on Facebook, and it is the most effective outreach method as a result of evolving technology.
“We feel like we’re getting a lot of return on what we put into it,” said Jan Kemp, national mental health program director at VA’s Office of Mental Health Services.
The $2 million last year came out of a $7.5 million outreach and advertising budget. In the past, these funds went toward television, radio and social media ads. This year, however, the funds are dedicated solely to online advertising.
For many agencies, it is illegal to buy Facebook advertisements. In early July, the State Department took a lot of heat when an inspector general report came out saying it spent more than $600,000 on Facebook advertisements.
When asked if such rules did not apply to VA, Kemp explained this wasn’t a decision VA made lightly; there was also an extensive clearance and approval process in place. For example, Kemp said there were meetings with the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the House appropriations committee to discuss the program.
“We didn’t talk about any particular venues [for advertising]; we talked about the concept of advertising and marketing,” Kemp said.
But a source who requested anonymity said no one on the majority staff of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs met with VA about this program or the department’s Facebook advertising expenditures.
The Make the Connection page has more than 1.6 million “likes,” and according to Kemp, Make the Connection has received more than 600,000 referrals to the website just from Facebook advertising. The site features YouTube videos of veterans sharing their story, and since the Facebook page launched, Make the Connection has had 6 million YouTube video views.