“Hi haters.” No, this tweet did not come from a disgruntled celebrity or Instagram influencer. It came from the official New Jersey Twitter account, @NJGov, on January 30, 2020.
The inarguably Jersey attitude of @NJGov flourished under the reign of Megan Coyne, who took over the account after Governor Phil Murphy hired her as his social media director. Coyne revived the New Jersey Twitter with a healthy dose of Jersey-level snark and millennial/Gen-Z humor. Now, the 25-year-old has taken on a nationwide challenge as the White House Deputy Director of Platforms. With a voice that combines inclusivity and personality, Coyne reaches eight million followers every day on @WhiteHouse, after starting with almost half a million on @NJGov.
Coyne started her work with Governor Murphy in 2017 as an intern for his campaign. She later joined his communications team as an intern, leading her to being hired immediately following her graduation from Rutgers University in 2019. Coyne grew up in Livingston, New Jersey, and her personal Twitter feed proudly proclaims her status as a Jersey Girl. In all of her work, she is unabashedly herself. From her Twitter feed, it’s clear that she can’t get enough of Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves, and she is always on the hunt for a fantastic new Sephora product. And she cries to Olivia Rodrigo just like the rest of us. It’s this same unapologetic personality that led to the New Jersey Twitter receiving national attention. Soon, other state government Twitter accounts followed her lead and began to engage audiences with humor.
In my personal favorite Twitter thread of all time, the Pennsylvania Twitter account, @PennsylvaniaGov, tweeted a picture of a sweater with a picture of New Jersey on it, captioned, “Happy Ugly Sweater Day!” Coyne’s response from @NJGov: “learn how to drive.”
But Coyne’s work wasn’t all attitude. Her Jersey-centric humor was a gateway to the true purpose of the page: to inform. Most people aren’t going to their state’s Twitter account on a regular basis, but a large portion of our news comes from social media nowadays. Plus, Twitter is a fast medium perfect for giving updates on quickly developing situations, such as weather events. So Coyne faced the dilemma of all government social media: keep people informed while keeping people engaged. Humor was her solution.
As a New Jersey native, I can tell you that Coyne’s strategy worked. Like most members of Gen-Z, I wasn’t constantly checking the New Jersey Twitter for my daily dose of all things Jersey. If something important happened in New Jersey, I assumed that I’d hear about it elsewhere. Then COVID hit. With such information uncertainty, I needed the fastest news possible to understand what was happening in the world. So I turned to Twitter.
That’s when I saw @NJGov tweet, “howdy. i’m the sheriff of staying home.” It was a glint of humor in an extraordinarily scary time. Upon opening the page, I saw informative tweets about COVID statistics and restriction updates interspersed with the same type of humor that drew me in. In a time of constant media bombardment, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the information, because there was comedic relief along the way. Needless to say, I became a mega-fan of @NJGov after that.
Coyne brings the same energy and Jersey flare to her personal Twitter, tweeting about both Bruce Springsteen and New Jersey politics. Now, her work has gone beyond the scope of New Jersey. In August, Coyne left Murphy’s team to work for the White House. Within the first month of her job, the White House was trending on Twitter, not because of President Biden, but because of Coyne. After President Biden announced his student loan forgiveness plan in August, critics flocked to Twitter to share their opinions. In response, Coyne tweeted from @WhiteHouse about vocal political critics who’d had their PPP loans forgiven. Same great comebacks, different account.
As is evidenced by the success of both @NJGov and @WhiteHouse, Coyne is a social media powerhouse. Her success tells a story of how Twitter can be used for unity and information, rather than hateful commentary and fighting, as Twitter is known for.
The #1 lesson from Coyne is that humor is a place of respite in politics. Coyne strategically weaves humor and information in such a way that neither one becomes overpowering. There’s just enough humor to balance out the endless stream of information that we receive every day. Even more important, she knows her audience. For @NJGov, her audience was New Jerseyans, so her humor took the form of sarcasm and jokes about the great Taylor Ham vs pork roll debate. And to engage with the primarily young audience on Twitter, she used popular meme formats that most would recognize. Clearly, Coyne still knows her audience well, as she shifted her tone on the White House Twitter to stay true to her humor-information balance while appealing to a broader audience.
Through her use of audience-based humor, Coyne draws in people who may not otherwise follow or read a political Twitter. This is an incredibly powerful tactic that could bolster the social media presences of numerous organizations and figures. In the process, greater audiences are able to stay informed.
Coyne also demonstrates through her humor that Twitter can be a place of unity, rather than just division. At a time when politics (and Twitter) can be so divisive, Coyne manages to bring her audience together through a simple yet effective unifying force. For @NJGov, it was being a New Jerseyan. For @WhiteHouse, it’s being an American. Focusing on what brings her audience together, rather than what divides them, allows Coyne to deliver information to a wider audience. While the White House Twitter is partisan, Coyne sticks to the facts. She tells it like it is, albeit with a sense of Jersey snark sometimes.
So what can we learn from this young social media champion? There is an inextricable relationship between levity and unity. In a time of violent polarization, we need to bring personality and lightness into the political sphere to release the pressure. While I will certainly miss Coyne on @NJGov, the White House could not have picked a better person to lead their Twitter page to success.