NMR Exclusive: NASA And The New Frontier of Social Media

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In 2008, NASA approached the social media community cautiously. Armed with individual Twitter, YouTube and Facebook accounts, NASA looked to incorporate new media into their preexisting media coverage. Fast forward to 2012 and NASA is a giant in the world of social media. With close to 2 million followers on Twitter and dozens of affiliate Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts, NASA has made it clear that they are not afraid to dive into the world of social media.

I spoke with two of the men responsible for the success that NASA has had with new media, Bob Jacobs and John Yembrick. Bob Jacobs is the deputy for communications based out of NASA’s headquarters in Washington and John Yembrick is currently the interim social media manager for NASA. I was able to talk with both men about a variety of NASA’s social media strategies as well as the past, present and future of NASA and the new media community.

Embracing Social Media

NASA had always managed news and events as any government agency would. Teams of reporters would cover any developments through a variety of newspapers and television. However as social media exploded onto the media scene, NASA began to see a dip in news coverage.

“What we discovered is that over the past few years the number of reporters actually dedicated to covering NASA news and sharing information were dropping considerably. At the same we had this explosion of this tech that allowed us to connect with a worldwide audience and get them engaged in what we are doing,” Jacobs told me when describing NASA’s shift into new media.

NASA quickly discovered that social media was an invaluable resource in terms of connecting with fans beyond traditional media. When papers and television could not facilitate public discussion or criticism, Jacobs and Yembrick looked towards other methods.

Yembrick realized the importance of using social media to connect with the public. “In the past, you put out a web release, you put out a news feature and that’s it. You don’t know what happens to it. Well, here were people directly interacting with us and asking us questions. They were re-tweeting us and they were on the edge of their seats when something wasn’t working on a space walk activity, and all of a sudden you realize that you are able to measure that by re-tweets and the comments you are getting.”

NASA recognized the power of social media, especially in terms of connecting with the new media community. “Not only do we have the opportunity to talk to them and be in those communities but we also had the ability to engage them and hear what they liked and didn’t like,” said Yembrick.

Making NASA More Public With Social Media

NASA’s social media strategy has always focused on the importance of organic interaction with the public. Jacobs explains the lessons NASA learned from watching other agencies in the early days of Twitter. “Early on using Twitter, for example, we were really paying attention to what other agencies and organizations were doing. Many of them were simply in transmit mode, and it became apparent very quickly. That was something we did not want to do. We were committed to read the comments back to ourselves and try to answer the questions. “

NASA made it clear that social media would always be a way to better communicate and connect with their fans. Instead of setting up automated news releases, NASA was committed to embracing the new media community. One way NASA was able to do this was to cater to almost every individual NASA follower. NASA currently has social media accounts for every research center as well as one for each mission in progress.

“If you look at Coca-Cola, for example, I think they have one social media account. That might be fine for the products that they have. But for us I don’t know if that would work. There may be this one side mission that only 50 people care about but those 50 people know what this missions is and should have the opportunity to talk about it,” said Jacobs when discussing NASA’s multiple social media profiles.

NASA And The Future of Social Media

Already, NASA has seen great results from their now four-year-old Tweetup program. NASA extended invitations to influential followers in the world of Twitter to visit field offices and shuttle launches. The Tweetup program has been a revelation for NASA’s social media program. “We were building ambassadors for NASA through these Tweetups; a lot of them you will see to this day are obsessed with NASA, they are tweeting our news and re-tweeting NASA news. We have these lifelong people out there telling our story for us,“ Yembrick told me.

As NASA continues to grow in the social media community, Jacobs stressed the importance of blending all forms of media to promote the space program. “We are going to be looking for opportunities to erase those lines between traditional and social media and integrate them into our events.”

Social media will continue to evolve rapidly and it seems like NASA is more than willing to accept it. “I think it is important as an agency using social media, we need to stay hungry. We want to be on the cutting edge,“ Yembrick said.

What do you think of NASA’s move towards using social media to create for awareness for the space program? Comment below!

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