If it’s good enough for the CIA, it is good enough for you

If the CIA can use humour on social media then so can your organisation, no matter how seriously they take themselves.

One of the favourite parts of my job is providing training and mentoring to our clients. That said, at times it can be frustrating, especially when talking about social media.

So many organisations are uncomfortable with the idea of social media. Marketing departments used to broadcast advertising feel out of control on social media. It terrifies them.

This results in social media streams consisting of announcements and press releases. In short most organisations attempt at social media is just downright boring.

Not that they would ever admit this is because of fear. Instead they argue that they are a serious organisation that needs to appear professional. Personal or humorous posts have no place in their brand identity.

To be blunt, this is complete rubbish. Social media demands a personal touch and sense of humour. I don’t care how serious an organisation you are.

Take for example the CIA. You cannot get a more serious and professional organisations than them. Yet when they posted their first tweet only a couple of weeks ago they demonstrated a superb understanding of social media. Their first post combined self-deprecating humour and stacks of their unique personality.

So no more excuses. If the CIA can include humour in their social media channels then so can you. And look at the result. At the time of writing their first tweet has been favourited over 175,000 times and re-tweeted over 290,000 times.

Take a moment to compare that to the FBI’s first tweet. It received one favourite and one retweet.

Enough said.

  • I take your point about injecting personality into social media. But a couple of points about your examples:

    1) The FBI first tweeted in 2008, when Twitter had less than 2M users. The CIA tweeted when Twitter had 250M monthly users and the norms and etiquette of the network were well established – the community ‘invented’ the idea of a retweet, with the easy single-click feature coming later. The two aren’t really comparable.
    2) The CIA is on a bit of a PR mission after the car-crashes of the Snowden revelations, extraordinary rendition, drone strikes etc. Their first tweet was in good humour, and was probably the highlight of their PR consultant’s career, but not necessarily reflective of how their feed will operate in the long run.

    None of this detracts from the strength of your argument, but I’m not convinced by the ‘proof’ you provide!

    • Find me another FBI tweet with that level of success and ill agree with you and I said nothing about the CIA being a laugh factory. I was making a simple point which you seem determined to pick apart. But then I notice you enjoy that so have at it ;-)

      The thing you have to remember David is that this is a blog not an academic paper. I was not attempting to provide ‘proof’. I was illustrating a point. Sometimes I think you misunderstand the purpose of this blog sometimes.

      • Thank you for telling me how to read and respond to a blog post, Paul. You are obviously superior to me in every way and I bow down to you ;-)

        FWIW, my reply was made with the best intentions of adding to the conversation, not to nit-pick. As per a recent Twitter convo, I am interested in many of the topics you talk about and have a lot of respect for you – even if I don’t always agree.

        I think that the points that I alluded to are valid and supplement your post. My first point was that one should be aware of the norms and etiquettes of the given network – the CIA had the benefit of being late to Twitter and working within the established norms. The second is that a good social network presence isn’t so much a channel as a reflection of the values and ethos of the company, and that it will be interesting to see whether the CIA can maintain its early tone with any sort of integrity. If social is a whitewash of a different organisational culture then it is, to use your parlance, marketing by being a douchebag.

  • DesignOrchard

    As a Christian, It seems odd that you choose an organisation involved in torture and execution to champion. I don’t know how to write that any more politely.

    • Paul Boag

      I wasn’t condoning them as an organisation.

      • DesignOrchard

        You didn’t exactly speak out against them, either. You have a wide readership. That carries some responsibility.

        • I am a web designer and not an activist. I am not informed enough to speak out on every issue that comes along. What is more people don’t follow me for my political views. It’s obviously a thing you feel strongly about so I recommend that you write about rather than suggesting others should. The web is great like that. It gives everybody a voice. If you do, let me know because it is something I would like to read so I am more informed.

          • DesignOrchard

            Ethics are everyone’s business. Just because you are a web designer doesn’t absolve you of your basic responsibilities as a human being. I do feel strongly about it, and I am writing about it right here, in your comments. I can write about it wherever I like, the web is great like that.

          • I fail to see how Paul’s use of the CIA as an example of social media practice is unethical. He’s hardly advocating or condoning drone strikes.

            The CIA’s activities are only relevant to this discussion in how they inform its approach to social media.

          • DesignOrchard

            Nothing exists in a vacuum, a helpful comparison might be a fashion designer talking about the styling of Nazi uniforms. It’s fine to appreciate the aesthetics, but a little political context goes a long way and a small caveat would suffice to show the author’s understanding of a subject. eg: Despite the human rights abuses and criminal activities of the CIA over the years, it seems that the CIA have retained a sense of humour, as can be seen in their impressive use of social media”. “If it’s good enough for the CIA it’s good enough for you” suggests they are in some way respectable, decent and worthy of respect. I dont think many right-minded, ethical people share this view.

  • This article gives 5 excellent examples of how even ‘boring’ companies can do social media well:


  • It takes courage and confidence to do this on social media and not all companies have it. The problem is not that they are serious but rather that they are worried about what might happen. The case of CIA also shows that they have a clear image of what their organisation is. Can you say the same for small and medium size companies ?