Uncle Sam isn’t the first to come to mind when you think of being Internet savvy. But NASA is using social media to rocket into the Twittersphere and other popular social media channels.
After record numbers online watched last month’s Mars Curiosity landing, NASA is wowing crowds — on the ground and online — with flyovers of the retired orbiter “Endeavour” as it travels piggy back on a 747 from Florida to its new home at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.
The shuttle flew within 1,000 feet of the ground today at Moffett Field, California — the last flyby of any shuttle as NASA’S 30-year shuttle program comes to an end, with pictures and videos capturing the historic moment.
NASA’s Twitter audience is sharing their Endeavour sightings using hashtags such as #spottheshuttle. And 40 lucky Twitter followers of NASA using #NASASocial were invited to an in-person Endeavour ‘social’ at Edwards Air Force Base.
When the Curiosity rover landed on Mars August 5th, its Twitter account of @MarsCuriosity shot to stardom with 100s of 1,000s of followers. Three women at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. were the ‘voice’ behind the tweets, writing in a first person, lively style to break news and provide updates on the mission.
On Facebook, Curiosity did something most of us would love to do, and that’s to snap our own Facebook profile picture. The rover turned one of its 17 cameras around on itself and took a snapshot of its very own “face on Mars.”
NASA’s online numbers speak for its success:
- 3 million Twitter followers
- 1.2 million Facebook fans
- 3 million viewers for the live ustream broadcast of Curiosity’s landing (in the middle of the night at 12:30am ET)
- NASA was the first government agency to use Google Plus
Astronaut Ron Garan has been on two missions to the International Space Station (ISS), and spoke last week at Ragan’s Social Media Summit for Government Communicators about why he tweets, posts and uploads from space.
“It’s a way to bring people along on a mission. You send it down real time and get a real-time response.”
Garan says astronauts also feel ‘closer’ to certain worldwide events because of their birds-eye view of the earth, and shared pictures online of Hurricane Katia hitting the east coast last year and the wild fires in Texas. They also do geography quizzes by tweeting out pictures and asking “Can anyone guess where this is?”
Garan says astronauts are such a small group of people with a very unique story to tell. “Letting astronauts blog and tweet gives NASA a face and it’s not the official voice, which is often seen as propaganda.” He says the ‘tipping point’ for him was during a mission training class when he realized the educational value of what he was doing, making him want to share it using social. He got hooked when he saw all the comments and questions come in and was inspired by the two-way interaction.
Garan says he looks at social media three ways:
- Personal: his own Twitter account of @Astro_Ron
- Professional: for example, NASA’s YouTube channel
- Official: NASA’s web site of NASA.gov
“Part of our jobs is to tell the stories. So many times, we’re heads down and concentrating on getting the job done …even in space. You always feel behind and time pressure,” says Garan. He says he always took a minute to set up a camera and say “welcome aboard”. When an astronaut tweets a photo, he says they got about 160 retweets immediately and not nearly as many if it was just text.
NASA is proving it’s as adept at entertaining a global audience as it is at landing a rover on Mars. We all should explore the new frontiers of social media, and share our own unique stories.
Next week, I’ll have a video blog of an interview with Victoria Treyger, who was CMO at Travelocity when it launched the hugely successful “roaming gnome” campaign, and her advice for creating great buzz for a brand. Please share where you’ve seen great online buzz, and tips to do it.