The Obama administration's new Facebook-powered jobs program is just the latest sign that the social network is establishing a heavy presence in D.C. Thursday morning, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced the Social Jobs Partnership that hopes to lower unemployment. The news comes a month after Facebook announced a similar arrangement with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce geared towards helping small businesses succeed as well as the formation of a political action committee. For the past two years, Facebook has been hiring like crazy inside the Beltway and boosting their spending on lobbying, and now that they're actually helping the government solve serious problems, it looks like they're becoming quite the political force.
The new Facebok-Labor program is pretty cookie cutter so far. A new Social Jobs Facebook page features links to career resources. It looks like any other Facebook page; there's a Like button and a Wall. With the new portal displayed behind her, Solis gave reporters the token thumbs up at a press conference Thursday morning and described how Facebook and her department would be working much more closely in the near future. "At DOL we have the content to engage, assist and connect unemployed Americans with employers. At Facebook, they have the audience, the people plugged into, on a large scale, on the World Wide Web," she said. "There is enormous potential in the Social Jobs Partnership. This is really just the beginning."
In the larger narrative of Facebook's relationship with Washington, however, it's just another chapter. At the beginning of 2009, Facebook only employed one person in D.C., but they've been adding staff steadily ever since. Most recently, President Obama's former special special assistant for legislative affairs Louisa Terrell and privacy expert Erin Egan joined the company. The hires came just a few months after that of Washington veterans like former Clinton White House spokesman Joe Lockhart and former Bush aide Joel Kaplan. During that two year period Facebook's lobbying spending also grew from $208,000 in 2009 to $550,000 during the first half of 2011. DC-based spokesman Andrew Noyes recently told The Washington Post, "It's imperative that we scale our policy team so that we have the resources in place to demonstrate to policymakers that we are industry leaders in privacy, data security and safety."
The new jobs program doesn't seem related to that specific mission, but it's certainly a good public relations effort. With future plans to develop a job listings portal, the program will eventually turn Facebook to become America's ultimate career fair and will also become a megaphone for existing employment programs. Similarly, Facebook's partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offered Facebook the chance to talk directly to small business about how to improve their marketing efforts. The social network also committed to giving away $50 in free advertising to 200,000 small businesses. David Fischer, vice president of advertising and global operations for Facebook, told The Wall Street Journal that the effort meant much more than getting more small businesses to use Facebook. "We see an opportunity for Facebook to give small businesses a boost," he said.
Time will tell if Facebook's new programs does help small businesses grow or lower the unemployment rate. The partnerships will certainly help the company's activities in Washington evolve from simply trying to influence policymakers on privacy and data security measures to being involved in how the government is carrying out other policies. At the very least, it gives people more things to do on Facebook. Meanwhile, the administration gets to reach more young people. Building better lines of communication with young Americas was also President Obama's mission when he held a town hall meeting at Facebook's headquarters this spring. Obama talked Mark Zuckerberg into wearing a tie and explained his economic policies. He also took questions from Americans--via Facebook, of course.