The story behind the CIA's Oscar night 'Black Panther' tweets

The CIA's PR and social media team take away the mystery behind the agency's Academy Awards Twitter strategy.

LANGLEY, VA: When the Central Intelligence Agency’s social media team was planning its "Black Panther" tweetstorm for Sunday’s Academy Awards, it expected people to be confused.

After all, what does a Marvel superhero film have to do with protecting America’s national security in real life?

The CIA fired off 13 tweets focused on the fictional technology featured in the movie to educate the public about its agents’ skills in developing cutting-edge technology.

"When people think of the CIA, they think about cloak and dagger and espionage; they don’t think about our expertise in technology," an agency representative said.

The agency’s PR and social media leads, who did not wish to be named -- hey, it’s the CIA -- said that the tweets are part of its Reel vs. Real campaign, aimed at leveraging the concept of myth vs. reality in Hollywood. One CIA representative said that 22% of the American public gets its perspective about the intelligence agency from movies.  

A major goal for the agency is to demonstrate that it is on the "cutting edge of technology," said a representative. 

"When ‘Black Panther’ took the nation by storm, one of the biggest things about it that was so appealing was the cutting-edge technology, which is something we have thought leadership about," said a representative.

The CIA’s other goal was to engage new audiences.

"The Beltway is always talking about the CIA and The Washington Post, but we want pop-culture types of media to pick us up, so we expand our reach," said a representative. "We recognize that only certain audiences are inherently listening for our content."

One of the CIA’s key audiences is 18-to-35-year-old potential recruits, because the agency wants to demonstrate to them that it is an "employer of choice." Tweeting about "Black Panther" was one way of catching their attention, and it did the trick, more than tripling the CIA’s typical social media engagement.

"We want people to be excited to be part of a team that helps create technology like they saw on ‘Black Panther,’" a source said.  

The CIA’s social media team said it was not surprised the tweets left some people scratching their heads, as reported by various media outlets. "This proves our point that no one understands this was part of our mission, so they couldn’t understand why we were engaging in this way," said a source. "But the people who did understand got it."

Some outlets and social media users contended the "Black Panther" tweets were inappropriate, given what Complex called the CIA’s "spotty history" with black people in the U.S. and sovereign African nations. Asked about that reception, CIA reps said they did not want to elaborate.

The CIA’s social media team is made up of three people who come up with content that is approved by the director of public affairs. The agency does not work with a PR firm.

CIA’s Reel vs. Real campaign kicked off last year. The intelligence agency also regularly fields questions from film and TV productions that are looking to accurately portray CIA officers.

"We know Hollywood has a job to do, and it is to be entertaining," said a representative. "Yes, there is exciting work to be done here, but we are not driving Aston Martins, so we try to have fun with it where we can."

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