Thursday, 12 December 2019

Questions (11)

Niamh Smyth


11. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the amount spent in 2019 on social media and digital advertising; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52153/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Culture)

I would like to know the amount of money spent by her Department on social media and digital advertising. I ask the Minister to make a statement on the issue.

I am advised by my Department that the expenditure on social media and digital advertising engaged in by my Department to date in 2019 is €79,673, which relates primarily to the Creative Ireland programme, in addition to spending by Culture Ireland. This figure does not include the social media costs for the promotion of Cruinniú na nÓg, for which a detailed breakdown is not yet available. The Creative Ireland programme, with which Deputy Smyth is familiar, is a culture-based programme designed to promote individual, community and national well-being. The vision of the programme is that every person in Ireland should have the opportunity to realise his or her full creative potential. As such, a comprehensive and multi-platform information and citizen engagement campaign is in place to build awareness and understanding of the programme's aims and objectives. These are to enable the creative potential of every child; enable creativity in every community; invest in our creative and cultural infrastructure; and develop Ireland as a centre of creative excellence and as a creative and cultural nation. We also want to encourage participation in cultural and creative activities, with a particular focus on Cruinniú na nÓg, a festival for children and young people, which was held in June this year, as well as to support, enable and achieve maximum citizen engagement. To do this, it is essential for the programme to use a diverse range of communication channels and platforms to inform, encourage and promote participation in creative activities, as these are vital to our individual and societal well-being.

Expenditure in 2019 to date included €76,506 for social media content, including research, image sourcing, short films and scheduling of social media posts. Under Global Ireland 2025, the Government's strategy to increase the impact of Ireland's global footprint, a conference was organised by Culture Ireland on 24 January 2019 to explore how best to promote Ireland's culture worldwide.

That figure of €76,000 is staggering and, as the Minister said, it does not include costs associated with Cruinniú na nÓg. I have no doubt the figure for promotion by the Department using social media will exceed €100,000. It goes without saying that social media has an important role to play in highlighting the cultural, creative and artistic heritage activities taking place throughout the country. We all know and accept that. There has, however, been controversy regarding how much the Department is spending on social media, particularly during the first year of the Creative Ireland programme. I have been at the roadshows, which place great emphasis on media, digital media and filming. I question that.

I ask the Minister to give us a breakdown of the spending and to what exactly what it relates. I have received information in respect of spending through a request under the Freedom of Information Act, and the table provided to me shows that, from January to July 2019, bigO media provided social media services and was paid an average of more than €6,000 per month. Thereafter, TWB provided social media services to the Department and was paid an average of more than €8,000 per month. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but these payments seem to be for the operation of the Department's Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Do these costs include the promotion of social media content?

To be clear, the Department has developed its own social media platforms to showcase its work. This is separate from the work undertaken by Creative Ireland and Culture Ireland. Returning to Deputy Smyth's comment regarding Creative Ireland, more money was spent in the first year to create awareness of Creative Ireland in general. However, spending has tapered off significantly since then.

On the Department's social media use, greater use is being made of the Department's Twitter account, which has grown strongly, with 8,346 followers at the end of November. A Facebook account was launched in mid-May of this year and has 2,368 followers. The Department also has an Instagram account, which was launched in mid-May and now has 1,521 followers. These accounts have been developed at no cost. The social media presence and its management are undertaken by the Department's in-house communications and press office team, which has five staff who also look after the traditional press office duties. Content is also supplied by staff across the Department who are engaged in the day-to-day work of the culture, heritage and Gaeltacht divisions.

The Minister's answer raises the question as to why an expense has been incurred in contracting in external companies. If we look at the social media output of the Department in November, Instagram had four posts, Twitter had 15 tweets, 11 retweets and one comment, six replies to tweets and seven retweets. There were five posts on Facebook from original content and two posts highlighting articles. That is a small number of posts and a low level of activity for one month. I have no doubt that a professional level of skill is needed for creating online content. I have my own Twitter and Facebook accounts. The Department should undertake these activities in-house and should not need outside companies. I ask the Minister to comment.

I have already addressed that. As I mentioned, these accounts have been developed at no cost. The social media presence and its management are undertaken by the Department's in-house communications and press office team of five staff. They also look after the traditional press office duties. Regarding social media, I am not an expert, although I have someone separately in my own sphere who does my social media, but the issue is quality not quantity. Stating how many posts there have been is not relevant to engagement or reach. It is always about quality and not just constantly putting up different posts.

The use of social media, however, is of importance to the Department given the nature of its work. The mission of the Department is to promote, nurture and develop Ireland's arts, culture and heritage, to support and promote the use of the Irish language and to facilitate the development of the Gaeltacht and the islands. Social media gives us an opportunity to offer a unique window into the richness and variety of our culture and gives easy access to information on galleries, museums and events taking place locally. On heritage, social media helps to give the public knowledge and opportunities to experience our nature parks and our nature resources and waterways. It also builds awareness and knowledge of our national heritage and biodiversity and raises the appreciation of the Irish language.