Social media: Tip of the recruitment spear?

Social media: Tip of the recruitment spear?

 Government agencies are not shy about experimenting with social media. Even the CIA launched itself into the Twitterverse, offering a clever debut post: “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.”

And beyond simply using social media to directly engage with broad audiences, agencies believe that showing the more interesting aspects of government work to new audiences can help recruit the next-generation workforce.

 “We’ve always had a public affairs office,” said Preston Golson, the CIA’s chief of public communications, at the Nov. 30 Digital Citizen Summit held by Government Executive. “But we’ve always wanted to expand that with social media to reach out…and to connect with the next generation for talent, for diversity and for recruitment.”

Jason Townsend, NASA’s deputy social media manager, said recruitment is “one of our core goals with audiences we’re reaching. We’re trying to reach that next generation of explorers who are out there and get them interested and inspired to go into STEM fields. That is our future pipeline at NASA -- if not for a lot of industries in this country -- and we want to be that vehicle for inspiration.”

Rebecca Matulka, deputy director of digital at the Interior Department, said the photos her agency shares on social media have been used by teachers, who now have access to official agency materials at the click of a button.

Townsend joked that NASA’s plethora of active and approachable social media accounts has led to students’ asking for help on homework assignments. He made it clear that NASA officials view social media as an opportunity to “give [students] an awesome space picture, give them a link to go get more information and hopefully inspire them.”Townsend said that rather than using a separate communications office to handle outreach, social media-savvy members of NASA’s scientific teams can send out tweets and publish posts directly.

“This cuts out a lot of the bureaucracy” without compromising the accuracy of the information, he added.

Important aspects of social media outreach are knowing your audience and providing something for everyone, Golson said. For example, the CIA segments its audience into groups and provides tweets for those who want bite-sized information while posting links to articles and original documents for those who want deeper dives.

When topics relevant to agencies’ work begin trending, the agency needs to be ready to join the conversation, Golson added. For instance, when the musical “Hamilton” and the TV show “Turn: Washington’s Spies” became popular, the CIA took the opportunity to “draw attention to the role of intelligence in the founding of our country.”

Townsend said NASA had a comic book illustrator who worked for Marvel create a comic strip that depicted NASA employees as superheroes who were “doing the impossible and making space happen.”

He acknowledged that digital communication is useful for exciting prospective employees but added that social media is also an entry point that can lead to in-person events.

Through NASA’s social media program, for example, citizens can apply to “come behind the scenes and get a really compelling in-person experience where they see things that are not generally available to the public,” such as tours of launch facilities.

“It’s those unique sorts of things that reach and connect audiences that are not the traditional space audience…and we try to use that to get the word out,” Townsend said. “It’s kind of virtual word of mouth.”

This article was first posted to FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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