The CIA is lifting the shroud of secrecy—a bit, anyway—to engage younger citizens online.
The federal agency, which has been on Twitter and Facebook since 2014 and has amassed more than 3.44 million followers across its accounts, recently joined Instagram.
The Central Intelligence Agency debuted its Instagram profile with a photo of a desk covered with clues, accompanied by the cheeky description: “I spy with my little eye…”
The inaugural Instagram post was similar to the CIA’s first tweet:
We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.
— CIA (@CIA) June 6, 2014
In addition to the sassy tone in its Instagram post, the CIA is giving people a chance to sleuth.
The post challenges its more than 6,000 followers to spot items on the desk that are significant to the CIA.
The somewhat cluttered desk includes a few maps, some bamboo and a bag labeled “TOP SECRET PULP.” There are also some items that may seem familiar, such as a CIA badge that appears to belong to CIA Director Gina Haspel and a clock set to 8:46 a.m., which is the time the North Tower of the World Trade Center was hit on 9/11.
“It garnered over 2,000 followers and over 100 comments—some more benevolent than others—within hours of going live,” CBS News reported.
The decision to join Instagram is meant to boost the agency’s recruitment efforts, as well as to help it appear more transparent.
The CIA decided to take to Instagram as part of a recruiting effort, hoping to attract a younger generation of agents and analysts.
A spokesman said: “We’re looking to spark the curiosity of Instagram’s users about the many ways CIA’s global mission has us going where others cannot go, and doing what others cannot do.
“Joining Instagram is another way we’re sharing stories and recruiting talented Americans to serve. Through the Instagram account we’ll give a peek into agency life, but we can’t promise any selfies from secret locations.”
CBS News reported:
[CIA Director Gina Haspel] first announced plans for the account during a question-and-answer session at Auburn, where she was asked how the intelligence community and its employees had changed in recent years. One principal difference, she said, was new hires’ social media savvy.
“[T]he CIA does have a Twitter account,” she added. “There are some people still around at agency who really don’t know what that is—and are against it in principle, I’m sure.”
An Instagram spokesperson told The Verge on Monday, “Our team worked with the CIA, as they do with many partners, to provide best practices and guidance when it comes to launching an Instagram account.”
Even though it might sound unusual for a social media platform to be working with a federal intelligence agency, it’s not unheard of. Twitter officials have worked alongside federal lawmakers and agencies to launch their social media accounts before as well. After the 2018 elections, like several elections that preceded them, Twitter collaborated with congressional committees and lawmakers to ensure a smooth transition from one congressional session to the next.
CIA recruitment might well benefit from tantalizing amateur sleuths, and its transparency will take up the challenge of grabbing Instagram users’ attention in a sea of images and videos.
Other government agencies, including the FBI, have feeds on social media. Like its fellow federal agencies on Instagram, the CIA will probably offer glossy photos of its best elements, instead of delivering a day-to-day peek at the less-secretive aspects of working there.
Why do the folks at Langley want an Instagram presence? Haspel said last week that the CIA would launch an Instagram account in an effort to increase transparency. Unfortunately, Instagram’s world of filtered “I woke up like this” selfies, influencers posing with sponsored products in exotic locales and celebrities posting staged Instagram stories probably isn’t the best place to do it.
Instagram is for making other people jealous, as federal agencies like NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense have quickly learned. NASA’s Instagram account has over 41 million followers; it will regularly post jaw-dropping shots of planets, constellations, and rockets that will garner over a million likes. The DoD has paratroopers. NOAA has baby seals and closeups of sea creatures that look like they came out of Alien. It remains to be seen what the CIA will bring to the cutthroat world of federal government Instagram accounts, but let’s hope for its growing number of followers (roughly 3,000 and counting) that it’s something good.
With its more than 988,000 followers on Instagram, the Transportation Security Administration offers an excellent example of combining important messages with captivating visuals meant to increase retention and engagement.
[David] Johnston, TSA’s social media director, is following in the footsteps of Curtis ‘‘Bob’’ Burns, who created unlikely internet buzz for the not-always-beloved agency by showcasing the weirdest stuff travelers pack in their carry-ons. He died suddenly in October at age 48.
Burns’ work created a model for other federal agencies. The quirky photos combined with a hefty dose of dad humor helped lure in more than a million followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, who would then see important messages about the dos and don’ts of airline travel.
… During a TSA Facebook live, ‘‘Ask Me Anything’’ episode last year, Burns said the success of the account was partly due to the shock value.
‘‘People don’t come to a government Instagram account and expert to see humor,’’ Burns said, ‘‘And they also don’t expect to see these crazy things that people are trying to bring on a plane.’’
For now, the CIA is continuing to show off its agents on Instagram. The strategy has garnered the agency more than 111,000 followers.
What do you think of the CIA’s decision to join Instagram? What advice would you give its social media team as the agency expands its following?