Why the Jersey girls behind @NJGov are embracing the state's reputation

Keeping it appropriate for a state account, but with an attitude.

@NJGov's Twitter avatar
@NJGov's Twitter avatar

TRENTON, NJ: The state of New Jersey’s official Twitter account, @NJGov, has attracted 100,000 followers in just the past month thanks to two words: "your mom."

The account is the most-popular state handle on Twitter, with 154,300 followers, said Pearl Gabel, digital director of the New Jersey governor's office.

Gabel runs the account with digital assistant Megan Coyne. They trace its fame to a fateful day in December when @ayeitsgary tweeted, "Who let New Jersey have a Twitter?"

Their response was automatic, coming "straight from the core of New Jersey" to become @NJGov’s most popular tweet.

Gabel and Coyne were sitting back-to-back in their cubicles when they started discussing the "your mom" response. Gabel initially thought it was too mean, but Coyne convinced her that it’s a common and funny phrase, and totally acceptable.

"We had a 20-second meditation and then we said the two words we love to say when we are about to drop a bomb: ‘bombs away,’" said Gabel.

That tweet has propelled the fairly new official state account into the spotlight. There was no state of New Jersey account or even a handle set up for the governor before Phil Murphy took office in January 2018 and hired Gabel. Along with the @NJGov account, she set up @GovMurphy and @FirstLadyNJ.

"Everything [with the social accounts] started off slowly because there was so much to do on every single level," said Gabel. "New Jersey needed a lot of TLC."

At that point, the digital team was only two people: Gabel and Murphy’s photographer, Edwin Torres. Coyne was in college, working as an intern in the press department. When she graduated in June 2019, she was hired as a digital assistant.

"Then we were able to breathe," said Gabel.

The @NJGov account had 10,000 followers as of mid-2019, so Gabel and Coyne talked about how they could make @NJGov more relatable to connect with people. "We are two Jersey girls," said Gabel. "Our basic thing was: Let’s embody that and be proud of that."

The two put their heads together to figure out how to identify Jersey’s brand and express that through the voice of the account. "New Jersey is all these great things and all these bad things, with a bad reputation," said Gabel. "It is owning everything and pushing that forward as two confident Jersey girls."

Although Gabel reports to Mahen Gunaratna, communications director for the New Jersey governor's office, she has gained his and Murphy’s trust over the past two years and can freely tweet without approval.

"[Coyne] and I can be spontaneous," said Gabel. "We don’t pre-plan anything. Social media users are super-savvy. They can tell the difference between something too thought out or overplayed and something spontaneous and fresh."

Gabel is an older millennial and Coyne is a Gen Zer, so they balance each other. Gabel is also an ex-journalist who is used to the 24/7 news cycle and Coyne has been tweeting since she was 12, "so it feels very natural to always be online."

"[Coyne] and I can text each other at any time with ideas," said Gabel. "That is not the healthiest work-life balance, but we are happy to keep it moving."

Jokes aside, the point of the account is to inform, educate and engage with New Jerseyans. It’s a vehicle to put out information that is digestible and relatable.

"We put out information about [Murphy’s] important initiatives like how he is expanding access to high-quality pre-K and his path for clean energy for New Jersey," said Coyne. "Earlier this month, the minimum wage increased, so we used @NJGov to tell people. Engagement on our more policy-focused stuff is improving, which shows that it is working and the message is penetrating."

Gabel is particularly proud of the tweet she posted to spread awareness of open enrollment for Get Covered New Jersey, which is a way for state residents to sign up for health insurance.

"We were really thinking outside the box with that one, and it did pretty well," she said. "We were getting policy out in a fun way."

In between important messages, tweets revolve around only-in-New-Jersey topics, such as how residents don’t have to pump their own gas and the long-running debate about whether Central Jersey exists.

The account is undoubtedly snarky, but Gabel and Coyne are cognizant of the fact that it is a state account, so there is a line they have to carefully toe.

"We are representing the state, and we have to be careful," Gabel said.

But not too careful. The account takes some chances and puts its own witty twists on risque or NSFW topics.

"We just tweeted about a thirst trap, but instead of putting up a picture of a hot person, we put up a picture of the Jersey Shore," said Gabel.

Gabel sees no reason why other state accounts can’t have the same success on Twitter.

"All states have their own thing," she said. "We thought Florida could be awesome. Minnesota could be written with its accent. The key is getting to know the culture of each state and embody it."

As for what’s to come from New Jersey: Fans could soon see a New Jersey TikTok account.

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