CIA Tweet and Langley headquarters

CIA’s First Tweet: Why it’s Brilliant

The CIA officially joined Twitter on Friday, June 6, 2014. Some might have said that they’re late to the party—other agencies have been on much longer—some might have thought their content would be dry and only of interest to policy and intelligence wonks in D.C. But with their very first tweet, they proved any would-be doubters and critics wrong. They didn’t use any links or trending hashtags. And they did it in just 61 characters!

Here’s what they posted:

This is brilliant on so many levels—as evidenced by the 240,000+ retweets, 140,000+ favorites and 457,000+ followers that it got them in just over 24 hours and climbing rapidly.

How the CIA’s first tweet “won” twitter:

  1. It’s instantly recognizable. The line has become such a standard term in politics, especially when it comes to government intelligence, that everyone around the world now uses it in many variations; from presidential administrations to celebrity publicists.
  2. It’s got personality. For the CIA to come out of the gate with a play on a line that they are infamous for shows personality and even humanity. For a large faceless organization glorified and vilified in movies, media and the general zeitgeist, it just said “hey, we get it, we’re people, too.”
  3. It’s authentic and unique. The phrase might now be ubiquitous, but it was invented by the CIA in the 1970s. No other agency could have opened with that line and gotten the same response from the twitterverse.
  4. It’s got history. You don’t have to know the history of the “Glomar response” to appreciate the humor, but if you do (or if you happen to have listened to this recent podcast by RadioLab) this just takes on fathoms (pun intended) more meaning and humor—and makes you feel like an insider.

Added up, it starts to tell a story that engages their audience. It promises something unique, intelligent and fun—three words that most people would want associated with themselves, and therefore retweet/favorite/follow for the borrowed “cred” of being connected to this story.

Congratulations, CIA social media team! Of course, now you’ll have to keep delivering on the high expectations you just set…but that’s a great problem to have.