Social Media and NASA – A Marriage Made in Space

I love NASA. With a long history of innovation, leadership, and doing more with less, I’m a huge admirer. With that being said, I try to be objective in my criticism of NASA, especially with major flaws that resulted in the loss of human life such as the Challenger and Columbia disasters – both of which were preventable.

However, I have to give it up to NASA. Being a government agency, the expectations that they would embrace the quickly changing world of social media were not that high, at least in my mind. But they’ve done everything right when it comes to their social media strategy, especially when it comes to their recent successes such as the Mars Curiosity Rover.

It’s All About the Master Plan

It’s not just the number of social networks NASA participates in. These social networks include your usual Twitter, Facebook, and Google plus, but also a YouTube channel, flickr, slideshare, UStreamTV, and Foursquare accounts. Here’s what makes NASA the master of their social media domain (oh Seinfeld. . .you will live on forever): NASA incorporates every NASA-related account into their social media plan.

Think of the main NASA social media accounts as the “Main Hub”. NASA has a TON of related accounts, such as the Curiosity Rover’s Twitter account, JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) social media accounts, Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center. . . .just the list of Twitter feeds alone would be enough to keep you busy.

Each of these “sub-accounts”, if you will, connect with the main NASA accounts, and they both feed into each other. A great deal of planning goes into their coordinated messaging, but what makes NASA so special is they allow each subaccount to be creative and do their own thing.

The picture below, courtesy of Wired.com, is a visual of what it may have looked like when the rover checked in on Foursquare. Needless to say, it may be a while before anyone unseats Curiosity as the Mayor of Gale Crater.

It’s Also About Throwing Out That Plan

The other thing about social media that you always have to keep in mind is the speed at which things happen. As a social media manager, you have to know what to respond to and what to filter out. That’s why you get paid the big bucks (HA-you do not get paid the big bucks. . .I know because I am ONE OF YOU). Let’s say that you’ve spent a few months getting ready for an event. Everything’s laid out, you’ve charted your timeline . . .the event starts, and. . .your plans change. Maybe your feedback isn’t what you expected, maybe the traditional media has picked up on your campaign and taken it in a direction you weren’t expecting. You have to be adaptable to the flow of where social media takes you. Plan for what you know, gird yourself for what you don’t.

So, to recap so far: Have a plan, but be adaptable. This last point is, what I think, what makes NASA truly exceptional in the social media world.

Make ‘Em Laugh

Want to engage your followers? Be funny. Want to encourage behavior change? Be funny. Want to spread your message throughout your partners and beyond? Be funny.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Sometimes the subject matter does not lend itself to humor. Being funny and witty is one of the hardest things to do in real life, let alone in 140 characters.

But research shows that these messages resonate with the public. For instance,  let’s look at a tweet from Curiosity:

First of all, you have to take something very sciencey, fit it into a tweet, and make it understandable. NASA not only did that, but they really brought their point home with their awesome use of hashtags. We all know that #pewpew is the international language of lasers, and that’s the take-home message here. Lasers are cool. Curiosity shot freaking lasers. If you learned nothing from the tweet other than that, that’s the point. Here’s another example:

This tweet accomplishes the same goals as above, and also endears itself to those of us who grew up in the 80s with an Inspector Gadget reference. Pop culture references are a great touch, but you just have to be careful not to use them too much. At a certain point, it can turn into a gimmick.

#Pewpew, NASA. #Pewpew.

To wrap up, I give laser kudos to NASA for their use of social media to not only share information, but to share it in a way that’s entertaining and meaningful at the same time.

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