Malaysia: Costly Government Spending on Facebook Pages

The Malaysian Tourism Ministry is now involved in a controversy after revealing that it had spent $RM 1.8 million (US$594,000) in developing six Facebook pages to promote tourism in Malaysia.

The Malaysian Insider reports that Deputy Tourism Minister James Dawos Mamit had given the answer in reply to a question by an opposition MP. The six pages are: Cuti-Cuti 1 Malaysia (1 Malaysia Holidays), Citrawarna 1 Malaysia (Colours of 1 Malaysia), Karnival Jualan Mega 1 Malaysia (1 Malaysia Mega Sales Carnival), Festival Pelancongan Seni Kontemporari 1 Malaysia (1 Malaysia Contemporary Arts Festival), Kempen 1 Malaysia Bersih (Clean 1 Malaysia Campaign) and Fabulous Food 1 Malaysia. In total, each page cost $RM 293,072.

It has generated a lot of protests online among Malaysians, many of whom feel that it is absurd to be spending millions to create a Facebook page.

As a result, they have created their own page- Curi-curi Wang Malaysia (Stealing Malaysia’s Money) on Facebook and currently, the page has 3 times more ‘Likes’ than the Ministry pages (123,974 to 42,541 as of 21 June 2011, 12.30pm GMT +10).

Fared Isa blogged:

Facebook is FREE, that's one of the reasons more and more businesses are using it to promote their products and company. Even if u wanna do high-end Flash or other coding also do not need so much. To think that the Tourism Ministry threw away RM1.8 million of taxpayers’ money on something that is free, makes me want to throw up.

Blogger Glam feels the same way:

I am wondering why anyone would require six Facebook pages when the singular target of this campaign is to sell only one product, i.e. Malaysia. It is not difficult to create tabs for the different events. If you are a Facebook user, would you ‘like’ all the six pages and then have your news feed crowded with updates? Very unlikely, right? Ultimately, the question on everyone’s lips is whether it is worth RM1.8 million or not? I definitely don’t believe so!

A glance on Twitter also reveals that most users use words like ‘stupidity’, ‘ridiculous’ and ‘shameful’ to describe the incident.

However, there are those who believe that it is not an exorbitant amount. Many quoted the fact that the Tourism Minister has clarified in a media statement that no money was spent on the setting up of the pages; and that the money was used for content development, online advertising on Google and Facebook, content management, maintaining and updates on campaign as well as database management and compilation.

Aizuddin Danian thinks that it is just a public relations failure:

To the layperson, it seems like an exorbitant sum, especially since setting up a page is free. So where did all the money go to? Another prime example of corruption, kickbacks and Government wastage? Perhaps not, at least if you speak to people who are actually familiar with the media and branding industry. It isn't free, and it certainly isn't cheap. Pepsi spent US$20 million on a social media campaign. Yup, that includes ONE Facebook page. Closer to home, AirAsia spends nearly ALL of its marketing budget online. Yup, that includes a handful of Facebook pages too. Millions of ringgit, easily. So what's the problem here? An ignorant and easily misled public (the Internet is free, amirite?). And a Ministry that doesn't have the smarts to come clean, instead choosing to waffle over silly terms such as “unquantifiable creativity“.

Popular blogger Ahirudin Attan also believes that it is not a huge amount to be spent on marketing, and came up with tourism budgets from other countries:

1. Click H E R E on Australian government's heavy use of Social Media. They have set aside a budget of A$150 million over the next three years to manage a social media campaign to attract tourism to Australia. That's a lot of ringgit and should excite our big spending minister, Yen Yen, but YB please don't get over-excited, eh.

2.  Our poorer neighbor the Philippines, which has drawn many Malaysian tourists especially the men, spends 100 million pesos or about RM7 million on social media to promote tourism, including attracting more Malaysian men to come instead of going to Jakarta, Medan or Bangkok.

Quah Seng Sun thinks that the amount of ‘Likes’ on the Curi-curi Wang Malaysia might not necessarily reflect the disapproval of the country:

Personally, I do not know how to interpret these numbers. On the surface, it indicates a wide dissatisfaction out there among Internet users to perceived sillyness and abuses of government funds. But I suspect many of the facebook users who had clicked on their “like” buttons were just jumping on the government-bashing bandwagon. Were they actually concerned over the issue or were they just simply clicking “like” because their friends on facebook were doing it?



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