Agencies trade ideas on getting a message to go viral


"Grumpy Cat," unwitting star of a popular 2012 YouTube video, is one of many images that show the power of popularity in spreading a message virally.

Agencies can learn a thing or two from Grumpy Cat, the dour feline whose owners turned a viral video into a line of licensed products.

At the SocialGov Summit on Viral Government in Washington, D.C., speakers from various agencies shared how they are connecting with the public in more ways than ever before using viral social media.

The Federal Social Media Community of Practice sponsored the July 30 summit, and invited BuzzFeed's Benny Johnson to share his thoughts on how to make government content viral.


Get the presentation slides.

"These are multi-millions of people that are looking to relate with you online," Johnson said. They want to share your content. You're not online to be a ghost, you're online to be a part of this community."

Johnson, who covers politics for BuzzFeed, said personality is the key to creating viral content in the government arena. He gave the example of Col. Chris Hadfield, an astronaut who went viral by sharing life on the International Space Station through videos posted on Facebook and Twitter.

Jacob Parcell, manager of mobile programs for the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, spoke about how agencies have been successful in using mobile applications to connect with people. "

Other agencies shared their success stories in social media use as well:


The space agency recently began using Google+ Hangouts to broadcast conferences, shuttle launches and meetings to anyone with an Internet connection. "It kind of humanizes what's going on with your government organization," said Jason Townsend, NASA's deputy social media manager. "A lot of people think we're nameless, faceless, big, behemoth entities, and so we're able to go out there and say no, we're a collection of individuals trying to accomplish big things."

NASA broadcast its first Google Hangout on Feb. 22, 2013. "It was a huge success," Townsend said. "We had about 1,500 people directly connecting with the space station at one point in time…usually it's however many people we can fit in a room."

Transportation Security Administration

The TSA launched its TSA Blog in January 2008, and to date has amassed more than 550 blog posts and 11 million visitors. "It's a good tool to have, to educate the public about new initiatives with TSA, and also to defend ourselves when something negative goes viral," said Bob Burns, who runs the TSA blog.

In 2009, a blogger wrote a post called "TSA agents took my son," in which she said she was separated from her child during a security screening for an extended period of time. The blog post went viral, and TSA was harshly criticized. The agency immediately looked into the incident, reviewing the CCTV video that recorded the screening, and found her claims to be untrue. TSA posted the video on its blog and sentiments immediately changed. "We were able to resolve the situation before it hit the news cycle on Monday," said Burns.

Health and Human Service Department

HHS is using Vine, a mobile app owned by Twitter that lets users create and share six-second video clips, to spread awareness about health topics. "We were actually able to grow a community on Vine. We're up to about 800 followers, just by the fact that [our Vine account] exists," said Kathryn Hambleton, new media strategist for HHS.

The Federal Social Media Community of Practice has several resources available online for agencies to plan a social media strategy. For more information, visit the group's website.


About the Author

Natalie Lauri is an editorial fellow at FCW. Connect with her on Twitter: @Nat_Lauri.


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