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Clandestine to Clever: Tweets Reveal Government's Human Side


On June 6, the Twitter world was rocked by the entrance of a new player: the CIA.

Its first tweet went viral, cropping up more than 300,000 retweets and garnering the agency more than 200,000 followers on the 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 700,000 followers. For the most part, the 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.” The agency has 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 the CIA’s museum of artifacts. On the whole: fairly tame, standard government tweets.

But on July 7, the CIA jumped into the spotlight again when it decided to celebrate its one-month #twitterversary by answering the top five most asked questions the agency had received. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll either hear that the tweets were hilarious or a mistake.

While others criticize, I applaud the CIA’s communications department. Officials 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 as controversial as the CIA.

This approach has won the agency a slew of new followers. As a result, officials 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 that’s 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.

Lindsey Backhaus is a senior consultant at Corner Alliance who specializes in strategic communications and social media for federal, state and local agencies.

(Image via Quka/

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