Home » Secrets Revealed: How the CIA Manages Social Media

Secrets Revealed: How the CIA Manages Social Media

by | Oct 15, 2016

IMG_2107Communicators balancing the complexities and demands of social media accounts learned how the Central Intelligence Agency manages its social media presence despite the restrictions and with a mix of humor and pop culture references.

During a workshop hosted by the PRSA Maryland chapter, CIA Social Media Lead Carolyn Reams and Chief of Public Communications Branch Preston Golson covered topics such as obtaining the @CIA Twitter handle, the 11-month approval process, how to overcome organizational reluctance and how their small staff manages accounts including Twitter that in just two years has attracted 1.5 million followers.

The first tweet from CIA’s verified Twitter account (“We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.”) remains one of the most retweeted and favorited first tweets and is on BuzzFeed’s list of “The Most Epic Tweets Ever Tweeted.”

“We have an obligation in a democracy to explain what we do,” said Reams. Other reasons the agency decided to embrace social media: conversations are happening online whether the CIA participates or not, and the CIA wants to explain its mission to protect the national security of the United States.

Also, people typically don’t “surf the web” and randomly visit websites; instead, they expect the information to show up on their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Content from deep within the CIA website, such as the popular “World Factbook” section, can be brought to light via social posts.

The CIA also uses social media to humanize the agency: “We can’t tell you what officers are currently doing, but we can tell their stories later…how they lived, their background and their service,” said Reams, who also serves as CIA.gov content manager.

Among the tips and best practices shared:

  • Answering the “when is the best time to post?” question, they advised: noon is good to simultaneously reach the East Coast lunch crowd and 9 a.m. West Coast users; then 2 p.m. for West Coast lunchtime browsers; 5 p.m. will hit East Coast transit commuters; while 8:30 – 9 p.m. will reach West Coast commuters and East Coast multi-screen TV watchers.
  • Make sure “two sets of eyes” review each post to prevent missteps; their preferred collaboration and scheduling tool is TweetDeck.
  • Don’t aim for a pre-determined number of posts per day or week; it’s OK to skip a few days and have multiple posts on others. The focus should be on relevance and quality of the content.
  • Connect your posts to your organization’s core messages whenever possible.
  • Add personality to posts through humor and cultural references. (If the CIA can do this, most organizations can). The CIA has commented and shared relevant links on topics such as World Elephant Day, the Olympics opening ceremony and Shark Week.
  • Use ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) posts to get additional views of select content.
  • What to tweet? Interesting history factoids; connections to pop culture moments; recurring weekly content (CIA posts “Artifact of the Week” from the CIA Museum); recruitment/internship opportunities; anniversaries/milestones; unusual/fun content, such as dog training tips from the CIA K-9 unit and “How to Investigate a Flying Saucer” (from the CIA website).

Photo: CIA’s Golson, left, and Reams with PRSA Maryland Board Member Claudia Ciolfi, right.

About the Author

Jeffrey Davis

Jeffrey A. Davis, APR has more than 25 years of news media and national public relations experience and heads J. Davis Public Relations, LLC, a PR and social media consultancy. A three-time PRSA Maryland president, he serves as Maryland regional editor for the Capitol Communicator and is co-founder of Podville Media in D.C. where he co-hosted the "Practically Social" podcast. Jeff is the regional representative of the national Public Relations Consultants Group (PRCG). He began his career as a reporter at daily newspapers in Ohio, New Jersey and at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.


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