State and local governments often use social media to publicize administrative accomplishments or emergency information to thousands of residents. But few accounts are as funny — or culturally representative — as @NJGov, a Twitter account run by the office of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
The 19-month old account has amassed 83,500 followers since its creation, nearly as many as the official accounts of New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania combined. But the growth can’t be attributed just to Twitter users curious for the latest alerts about the Garden State Parkway or promotions of New Jersey’s tourism industry.
Rather, say Pearl Gabel and Megan Coyne, the Murphy staffers who run @NJGov, the account’s newfound popularity can be attributed to a steady flow of Jersey-centric observations, memes and other irreverent posts that seem more likely to come from a Glen Ridge teenager than a state government — like the instantly infamous rejoinder to a question about how New Jersey even got an official Twitter account in the first place.
Gabel said there was about 30 seconds of deliberation on whether to post the “your mom” tweet, but they ultimately decided it was a fair response to the question of “who let New Jersey have a twitter.” Coyne is from the northern part of the state, while Gabel is from the southern end of the state, and together, they feel comfortable assuming the whole of the “Jersey identity” under the account.
According to Coyne, the account started by posting several memes that promoted New Jersey cultural tropes, like an ASCII image of a bunny holding a sign that said “Central Jersey is real,” a nod to the state’s oft-forgotten middle section that isn’t tethered to New York City or Philadelphia.
Later, Coyne said, she and Gabel riffed on New Jersey’s law that says drivers cannot pump their own gas, another cultural oddity the state claims. Crediting the structure and support from Murphy, Gabel, the office’s digital communications director, said the fun has only increased from there.
“@NJGov is dynamic, original, and has that in-your-face Jersey attitude we all love,” Murphy told StateScoop in an email. “Thanks to Pearl Gabel and Megan Coyne—the architects of @NJGov—that voice has come to life and is resonating with the public. We’re drawing people in with fun and humor, but also giving them the opportunity to learn about issues like health care and education.”
Gabel and Coyne, who comprise two-thirds of Murphy’s digital communications team, told StateScoop they are just emulating their “true, authentic Jersey selves” on the account, which they operate as just one of the official state accounts, in addition to Instagram and Facebook accounts for Murphy and his wife, Tammy. The digital team is also responsible for advising the digital brand of state agencies, maintaining the governor’s website and creating graphical and video content, Gabel said, so the majority of the work is policy-heavy and oriented toward promoting Murphy’s agenda of expanded pre-K schooling and community-college funding.
“@NJGov is a great way for us to get the administration’s message out in a digestible way that connects with New Jerseyans,” Coyne said.
But when asked why more states don’t adopt the strategy of directly engaging with residents using colloquial internet-speak, like responding to tweets with “mood” and “hot take,” Gabel said it’s because she and Coyne aren’t following a strategy at all. Some states might be limited in the bureaucracy of their digital communications department, she said, a limitation evidently absent in New Jersey. For example, the state last Friday responded to a tweet remarking that the account seemed to be run by a “sarcastic Jersey girl” with a Lil Wayne lyric: “my name ain’t bic, but I keep that flame, man.”
Other times, @NJGov will deflect comments with a more home-grown reference:
“We try to walk a line, we don’t want to go over a line,” Gabel said. “We don’t know what the line is yet.”
Certainly, it’s not your mom.