The IRS Has Wisely Steered Clear of Instagram

The IRS’ use of social media has always seemed sort of awkward to me.  There’s the IRS Facebook account, for example.  Completely bare bones.  A couple pictures of IRS national headquarters, a blurb about this not being an official source of information about the IRS, and links to the official IRS homepage.   Zzzzzzzzzz.

Yes, I know it has 38,000 likes.  But you have to wonder if these people really “like” the IRS, or if they are acknowledging the IRS in the only way that Facebook allows, there being no “unlike” button.

The IRS doesn’t have an Instagram account.  Their complete social media portfolio includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and IRS2Go, their mobile app (which I’m not sure really counts as social media).  But thank goodness they don’t; there is nothing really visual about what they do.  One look at an tax law firm Facebook page will confirm that.  What kinds of pictures would they post? Suits and cubicles, Friday potlucks, maybe some of the stuff they have seized and sold at auction?

Just for fun, I looked at some of the 46,738 photos with an IRS hashtag and they are nothing special.  Most of the #IRS posts are advertisements.  The second most common, as far as I can tell, are pictures that have nothing to do with the Internal Revenue Service.  Maybe IRS means something else in another country, that’s what I’m thinking.  Lots of Ford Mustangs – maybe a special edition or some fancy tuning.  By far the best ones are the memes.  There is one meme of a guy sitting in his car with a tethered cheetah sitting shotgun that says “When you get your tax return and start buying unnecessary sh*t.”  There are a few memes of skeletons “waiting for their tax refund” or “waiting at the IRS office.”  There is a cartoon in the style of Far Side (accredited to “Reynolds”) that shows a couple sitting at the IRS office.  The sign says “THE IRS” and the guy turns to his wife and says, “Like the sign says . . . it’s all THEIRS.”  My favorite, probably because I can identify with it best, is a screenshot of a cell phone displaying the IRS toll free phone number and the call timer at 50 minutes.  The caption: “This is why no one likes the #IRS…”  Thank you for that @caitlinmaguffee.  It helps to have a good sense of humor this time of year.

IRS Not Concerned About Likes & Followers

The IRS is still intent on growing its social media presence.  Yesterday it unveiled a Tumblr account, even though it has actually been quietly sitting around for about six months.  I’m not sure why the IRS waited until now to formally introduce it.  According to Mashable, nobody has paid much attention to IRS Tumblr, so maybe the Service was hoping to see some more activity first, but it never came.  I’m still not sure there’s much of a place for the IRS in social media, or mobile apps, or the like.  I think it’s hard for people to socialize, even virtually, about something so boring or loathesome (loathesome for those who have a tax debt, boring for those who don’t).

Isn’t all social media supposed to be a venue for sharing and discussion?  That’s the goal, right?  I don’t know, maybe I’m missing the point.  Maybe the IRS has different goals when it comes to social media:

 The new Tumblr platform is part of a larger effort at the IRS to get information to taxpayers when and where they want it.

~ Terry Lemons, IRS Communications Director

If their objective is to “spread the word” and make tax information available, I suppose they’re doing a decent job at it.  So, while the IRS has only 33,274 Twitter followers*, its Facebook page has only about 9,600 likes (probably a vast majority are tax attorneys, accountants, and the like), and it’s had a rather dismal Tumblr debut, I think the stated goal of getting information to people “when and where they want it” is being achieved.  The IRS seems pretty content with their 3.1 million YouTube video views.

The bottom line, I think, is that you can’t measure the success of IRS’ social media campaign by counting likes and followers.  Not many people “like” the IRS so why would they care to follow them?  What visitors probably do is they get what they need and move along.  No committment, no lasting relationship, and very little actual socializing.  I suppose it’s no surprise people would want to keep their distance virtually, much like they do in real life; normally the less of a role the IRS has in your life, the better.

*33,274 Twitter followers is pretty crappy considering the IRS, in one way or another, impacts pretty much every household in the country.  Compare this to the 380,666 San Francisco Giants followers on Twitter, a team that nobody pays much attention to outside of California.  And never mind the 33.6 million people around the world who hang on every word produced by Justin Bieber’s two thumbs.