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Government Agencies Get Real, Funny, and Human on Social Media [Examples]

Developing government agency content (or any “boring” or “red-tape” industry) to engage, entertain, and still communicate your message presents challenges.

Bland, bureaucratic content causes people to keep scrolling or have their eyes glazed over. Fortunately, some local, state, and federal agencies have found an antidote, creatively connecting with their constituents by humanizing their content.

Look at three public agencies that keep their content fresh and entertaining while sharing important public service updates.

Local Agency: Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

A public utility with a cult-like social media following might sound crazy, but the Northeast Ohio Sewer District is proof. The agency treats 90 billion gallons of wastewater and stormwater from 62 communities – and tweets like a content boss.

A recent thread put images of actor Pedro Pascal alongside a corresponding image of an NEORSD job and garnered over 56,000 views. Other tweets bring potty puns (flushable wipes – that are the bane of a sewer treatment organization – are a favorite target), pop culture, and cool employee profiles to build rapport with audiences.

That creativity and willingness to engage outside the normal utility content bring a human side that allows the district to connect uniquely with customers and others across the country, says John Gonzalez, communications manager for Northeast Ohio Sewer District.

NEORSD is active on other social platforms, and its podcast Clean Water Works, which started in September 2022, is gaining traction.

John credits employees within the organization for sharing creative content ideas. “The number of employees who have content to share – whether it is photos from the field or suggestions for content or a space where we can record a video and bring them into it – that support goes a long way. And it comes from the relationships that we’ve built internally,” he says. “Most of our (audience) growth in the recent years was because we began to move into more of the personal reality side of our work.”

John and his team also work to be in the moment, be responsive, and go where the trends lead them. “We like to create content that will make people think. We want them to pay attention to our work and be able to trust us to know when they have a question. We’re going to give them an answer,” he says.

A sense of humor, humility, and humanity works well on any platform. As John explains: “I’ve had people say that they have applied for jobs at the district because of something they saw on our Twitter account … It reflected something about the organization that they wanted to be a part of. When I hear those things, it [shows] that those human connections go a long way. And you can’t put that into a tweet metric.”

Cool content moment

On Dec. 29, 2021, NEORSD tweeted a phone number inviting followers to call and receive a personal message from the sewer district and to leave their own messages. About 900 responded.

“It was humbling to realize that there was a real connection we had made with people just by being honest, by thanking them for giving us their time. The sense of personal connection that they felt with our account and the emotion – there were literally people crying in the voicemail messages – just shocked me,” John says.

State agency: California Volunteers, Office of the Governor

California Volunteers aims to engage state residents and encourage them to participate in service opportunities. Communications director Katie Vavao says social media content drives brand awareness, helping them to increase their volunteer force that’s already larger than the Peace Corps.

“Seeing different faces, speaking different languages, doing a variety of community work is what makes our stories so compelling,” Katie says. “By uplifting their stories, we hope to inspire others.”

California Volunteers’ best-performing content is typically short-form videos like YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels, such as this California Climate Action Corps recruitment video.

Recently, the organization found new audiences on LinkedIn and TikTok. “It can sometimes be a challenge to break through and get those viral moments, but posting fun, visual content has been key,” Katie says.

With just one videographer and two social media staff, they rely on user-generated content. “We receive photos/videos from volunteers and service members uploaded through our website. Our hope is to have thousands of content creators working all over the state to share their stories about service and volunteerism,” Katie says.

They use the hashtag #CaliforniansForAll across platforms to allow for consistency wherever people engage.

Cool content moment

A simple TikTok promoting the College Corps fellows program, which provides a college stipend for students doing meaningful work, garnered over 333,000 views. It’s a 46-second walkthrough of the application process, but with the right target audience (TikTok), it had a big impact.


Federal: National Weather Service safety team

“A good metaphor for our challenge in garnering the public’s attention is this: Weather safety and preparedness are like broccoli. People know it’s good for you, but they don’t want to eat it. It is our job to make weather safety and preparedness appetizing,” says Douglas Hilderbrand, preparedness and resilience program lead at the National Weather Service.

The seven-person NWS safety team shares national safety and awareness materials to save lives and property. It’s all about connecting a weather forecast to an expected impact and capturing how weather impacts everyone every day.

“Because our mission is tied to the human element, it is important that our social media outreach reflects that,” Douglas says. “Success is most tied to connecting with our audience, driving action (whether that be preparedness, learning, or interest in partnerships), and building trust.”

The NWS safety team does that with sprinkles of humor, irony, and fun, so their audience appreciates the important underlying messages. “If more people follow us because they get entertained once in a while, they will view our posts when the topic is much more serious,” Douglas says.

Because their content’s impact can save lives, clearly communicating the message in a way people will appreciate is crucial. They partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Association, Auburn University, Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, and others to create this infographic for tornado warnings. It divides the options for where people shelter into boxes labeled worst, bad, good, and best. The list ranges from mobile homes and vehicles (worst) to gymnasiums (bad) and basements (good) to tornado storm shelters (best).

Douglas says it has become the “gold standard for communicating tornado sheltering” on social media and traditional media.

Cool content moment

In April, NWS created #SafePlaceSelfie Day. It encouraged the public to take a photo of themselves in a spot where they would be safe during an extreme weather event. Meteorologists, local weather bureaus, colleges, and interested people participated.

“By making one preparedness action fun, we hope it motivates people to take other preparedness steps,” Douglas says.

Translating messages into content people will consume

Content teams at government agencies must often work a little harder than B2C brands to get buy-in from their bosses to publish content that real people will consume. But those who get the OK (and you can use the anecdotes to help your case) will find human-focused content can deliver better results.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute