Social media training: What you can learn about social media from the CIA

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What you can learn about social media from the CIA

The Twitter account of a spy agency is perhaps not the most likely place to look for social media inspiration.

But there is much other organisations can learn from the way the CIA captured attention last week.

Its post about its dog bomb-sniffing training programme went viral when it began to tell the story of Lulu.

The black Labrador had started out as a promising recruit among the latest intake of puppies for the US intelligence agency’s training programme, but suddenly lost interest in ‘detecting explosive odours’.

In a series of posts we learnt that Lulu’s change of attitude was not temporary, despite the efforts of ‘doggy psychologists’ and that no amount of food ‘motivation’ was going to make her change her mind.

The free-spirited pup had decided this was not the path for her.

And the ‘tail’ even had a happy ending as we learnt the dog had been adopted by her handler and spent her time happily playing with children and sniffing out rabbits and squirrels in their back garden – which sounds a lot less stressful.

At the time of writing the main post about Lulu’s plight attracted 365 comments, 4,000 retweets and 17,000 likes, while the final post in the ‘pupdate’ thread attracted 290 comments, 313 retweets and 21,000 likes.



The heart-warming story went way beyond Twitter and made headlines around the world. Here are a few examples:


Bomb-sniffing dog fired from CIA after she loses interest in finding explosives Daily Telegraph

Lulu the dog flunked out of CIA bomb-sniffer school because she just didn’t care The Washington Post

CIA retires sniffer dog because she wants to play instead of search for explosives Independent


What this shows other organisations is that if a story is strong it can still be told through Twitter, whether you are restricted to 140 characters or are one of the lucky few to have the new 280 limit.

People love stories and when told through this shorter format it simply means the audience eagerly awaits the next instalment.

And now the CIA has our attention it is continuing to tell the story. We've subsequently learnt that Lulu’s place on the Explosive Detection K9 Training Program (SIC) had been taken by Heron.



The best stories are the ones people can identify with and many people were seemingly able to relate to Lulu’s plight of being stuck in a job they no longer enjoy.



Importantly, the CIA’s storytelling has not only made the agency appear more human - and allowed the audience to get to know it a little better - but it has also raised the profile of its work in training dogs to find explosives and help keep the US safe.

This is, of course, not the first time the CIA has used Twitter to great effect.

It’s well-judged first tweet, back in 2014, which read ‘We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet’ attracted more than 300,000 retweets and 251,000 likes.



Storytelling, human-interest and humour – who knew a secretive government organisation could be such a rich source of social media inspiration?


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

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