Mar 19 2013

NASA Soars to New Heights with Social Media

Government agency leverages social platforms to engage citizens and spark new interest in space exploration.

NASA has grabbed the attention and the hearts of many social media users in the last few years. It was one of the first federal agencies to embrace social media, investing a huge amount of time and effort in connecting with friends and followers on the web.

In fact, it’s been a social agency since its early years:

NASA was organized in 1958 in part as an answer to Russia’s launch of the Sputnik. As part of the conditions of its formation, it was mandated that NASA would share what it was doing as widely as possible with the American citizens. Being a government agency, it is naturally funded by taxpayers and as such it behooves the agency to be transparent about where its funding goes.

Traditionally, NASA spread word of its missions via television and newspapers, just as any other government agency would. In the early 1980′s, NASA TV was born to provide mission video to engineers and program managers, but NASA archived the footage as well in order to provide it to media organizations. As time moved on, these broadcasts began to be disseminated via more traditional means to the public over satellite and cable TV.

Read The history and future of NASA’s social media strategy on The Next Web.

Social Media Is Budget-Friendly

For the same reasons that publishers began migrating to the web, NASA began leveraging social media and the agency’s website to deliver information to interested citizens. The lower costs and bigger audience have been important in disseminating information with the use of tax dollars. The agency has not been afraid to jump headfirst into social media, according to a recent feature article from The Verge:

NASA has been using social media since 2008, more than a year before Mike Massimino became the first astronaut to tweet from space. NASA has 487 social media accounts, including 161 Twitter accounts and 36 YouTube channels. The rest are spread across eight other platforms including Facebook, Ustream, and Google+. The agency has also hosted more than 50 "tweetups," or "space socials," for which online fans have traveled from as far as Spain to watch a launch or spend a few hours with NASA engineers.

Read NASA rockets into social space, but lacks a clear mission on The Verge.

Stephanie Schierholz, NASA’s social media manager, has taken the agency to new heights. She offers advice that social media managers in other agencies should heed:

What is the most important lesson you have learned regarding new media?

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it is all about engagement, and you are building ongoing relationships, so you have to treat all your posts that way. That means, you have to be present, you have to be there. You have to be willing to answer questions and clarify comments and admit mistakes and not over-sell things.

Read Meet Stephanie Schierholz on New Media Rock Stars.

Check out the video below to learn more about NASA’s social media strategy.