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Guest Post: Social Media Lessons from NASA

Photo: Mark Brett, Western News

A couple of weeks ago, we reported on NASA‘s new social media campaign. David Parmet, a social media marketer and self-professed “space geek,” took part in a tweet up at the Kennedy Space Center last week and wrote a post about it.

The shuttle launch has been postponed until the end of the month, but Parmet walked away from the event with a few social media lessons. His thoughts, after the jump.

Last week I traveled to the Kennedy Space Center to join 149 other space enthusiasts at a #NASATweetup for the final launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. This gave me a chance to combine my profession as a social media marketer with my passion as a space geek who’s followed almost every manned launch since Apollo XI.

The first #NASATweetup was hosted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in January 2009. They had a great turnout, so NASA hosted the first in Washington D.C. at NASA headquarters in July of 2009, with the STS-125 Hubble repair mission crew, including Mike Massimino (@astro_mike), the first astronaut on Twitter. This week’s tweetup was the third to be held around a shuttle launch.

One hundred and fifty of us got a VIP tour of the Kennedy Space Center, including an inside look at the Vehicle Assembly Building and a drive out to the launch pad – two stops that you won’t get on the public tour. Along the way, we tweeted, took pictures, shot live video streamed to Justin.tv, and shared our experiences with the thousands of people following the #NASAtweetup hashtag.

The experience of using social media in real time to share an experience with the rest of the world brought home a few lessons on how social media is impacting every thing we do in the PR world and how we can use it to advance our ideas. Specifically:

  1. Social media is a great way to tell a complex story - The ability to use social media to tell a story with multiple medias, hyperlinked and open to all participants – has allowed NASA not only to tell why we should be in space, but to give us a taste of what it is like and to make us feel like participants.
  2. Not all social media channels are created equal – We all know this all to well, every problem has its own tool and in the social media world there are a lot of tools to choose from. Many companies blindly grasp at every new social media tool that arrives without thinking about what would really work for them. For NASA, Twitter hits the spot. It’s immediate and easily passed about by followers. It gives NASA staff – from administrators to astronauts – the ability to tell their own stories quickly and to describe events as they are happening.
  3. Social media is the best crowd control -There’s never been a better tool for self-organizing large groups than social media. Within hours of the invitations going out, participants found each other on Twitter. Within days there was a Google Group set up for us all to keep track of our plans leading up to the TweetUp. We organized housing and rides from the airport as well as gatherings during the downtime while we were in Florida. All of this was made possible by social media.
  4. Hashtag hashtag hashtag - Tagging has been around for a few years but as used on Twitter, hashtags are the best way to pass along an idea and make yourself findable online. From the very beginning, we tagged everything with #nasatweetup. This opened up the event up to the public at large – we were a trending topic for a while on Sunday – and it helped document the event as it unfolded. It also connected us to participants in previous #NASATweetups.
  5. Get everyone (and everything) participating - Many companies have one or just a small handful of Twitter accounts. For some this makes sense but for larger companies with many different divisions and markets, it’s sometimes a better idea to let many voices speak and tell the story. NASA has more than 100 Twitter accounts (see http://www.nasa.gov/connect) – everything from astronauts like @astro_ron and @astro_nicole to historic missions like @voyager2 and @MarsPhoenix.
  6. Twitter is real time - With all the delays and rumors of more delays – Twitter became the quickest source of news for all of us who needed to change travel plans and a way for us to inform each other when schedules slipped and plans had to change.

While I didn’t get to see a launch in person – the launch has been delayed due to mechanical and weather issues – the experience of sharing four days at the Space Coast with 149 fellow space geeks, meeting the folks from NASA and getting a VIP tour of KSC was unforgettable. We’re already planning a reunion. And we’ll have a hashtag to document it.

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