On June 6, the Twitter world was rocked by the entrance of a new player: the CIA. Their first tweet went viral, cropping up more than 300k retweets and garnering the agency more than 200k followers on their first day. I think we can all agree, at least from the government perspective, that the CIA won the Internet for the day.
Since then, the CIA has put out a mere 82 tweets to a crowd of more than 700k followers. For the most part, their content has adhered to CIA Director John Brennan’s original intent: “… to more directly engage with the public and provide information on CIA’s mission, history, and other developments.” They have tweeted about things like George Bush’s 90th birthday, the U-2 spy plane from the 1950s, and other cool gadgets you can find in their museum of artifacts. On the whole—fairly tame, standard government tweets.
But on July 7, the CIA jumped into the spotlight again when they decided to celebrate their one-month #twitterversary by answering the top 5 most asked questions they had received. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll either hear that the tweets were hilarious or a mistake.
But while others criticize, I applaud the CIA’s communications department. They are confronting the jokes, rumors, and distrust that surround their agency, and in doing so, they are showing that the CIA has a personality. They are reminding the public that the agency is populated by real people—people who have a surprisingly sharp sense of humor. That’s not an easy hurdle to overcome when you’re an agency as controversial as the CIA.
This approach has won them a slew of new followers. As a result, they can now reach hundreds of thousands of people with the content they really want to share. If you sift through the CIA’s Twitter page, you’ll find that for every “funny” tweet, there are about 10 that stick to the traditional government content we’d expect. And amazingly—the public is responding to that content as well. Each tweet boasts hundreds, if not thousands of retweets, favorites, and replies. Not bad for a government Twitter account less than two months old!
In the end, by showing a little personality, the CIA has managed to achieve its original goal: to start a conversation with the public about its work.