'Hello, world': GCHQ reaches Twitter landmark three years after emerging from the shadows

The UK intelligence agency GCHQ has reached the milestone of 100,000 followers on Twitter, three years after setting up its first social-media account in a PR push to help the public understand its role in security.

GCHQ's decision to create a presence on social media has paid PR dividends
GCHQ's decision to create a presence on social media has paid PR dividends

The secretive organisation made its debut on the platform in May 2016 with the two-word tweet "Hello, world" – a phrase often used to introduce novice coders to programming language.

The account acquired 30,000 intrigued followers within its first few days, and has since gone from strength to strength as followers check the feed for a daily dose of puzzles, history and behind-the-scenes peeks at the intelligence, cyber and security agency.

Along with its famed code-breaking and listening skills, the GCHQ account regularly deploys that most British of secret weapons, a sense of humour, in its tweets.

Among its most popular posts was one responding to a Doctor Who New Year special in which the Daleks invaded GCHQ’s Cheltenham base.

This summer, GCHQ celebrated the decision to put one of the most famous code-breakers of all time and the father of modern computing, Alan Turing, on the face of the new £50 note.

And in November, when GCHQ celebrated its centenary as an organisation, another tweet garnered widespread public engagement.

Centenary year

The government agency has been at pains to make itself more transparent and help the public understand the work it does to keep them safe.

Earlier this year, the Queen unveiled a centenary plaque at Watergate House, the organisation's first home, while the agency released the GCHQ Puzzle Book II, with all profits going to charity.

In addition, GCHQ was the subject of an exhibition at the Science Museum entitled: 'Top Secret: from Ciphers to Cyber Security', and assisted the Royal British Legion with this year’s Poppy Appeal.

The agency's Twitter account reached 100,000 followers on Friday; it marked the moment with a tweet thanking them.

GCHQ's head of external comms, Matt, said: "Generating fresh social media content which protects our staff identities but provides a peek inside GCHQ was always going to be a challenge. Fortunately, we've spent 100 years thinking differently and solving seemingly insurmountable challenges."

He added: "Reaching 100,000 followers in our centenary year is a great achievement, and shows the growing understanding the public has of our mission to help to keep the country safe."

Continuing its engagement drive, GCHQ celebrated hitting its landmark follower-count by offering people who like or share its content a chance to win a copy of its puzzle book, signed by the agency’s director, Jeremy Fleming.


But Twitter is not GCHQ’s only social-media account. In October last year, the agency launched its Instagram account in an attempt to reach a younger audience, with more self-deprecating humour.

Award winning

In September, GCHQ won a gong in the annual Digital Communications Awards in the category of Recruiting and Employer Branding for its 'Journey into the known' campaign to attract more women and young people into the service.

Working with the government's in-house design agency, Design 102, the campaign promoted existing staff members' journeys into employment at GCHQ and showcased how people from all walks of life can flourish while working there. 

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