Twitter blasts off at NASA social event

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

For the launch of the rocket MAVEN to Mars, NASA brought together a group of highly engaged and active fans who, in essence, acted as beat reporters on the ground at Kennedy Space Center. They built buzz leading up to the launch and were among the people who were breaking the news of the launch on Twitter.

This NASA Social event took place from November 16 through the launch on November 18, as the space agency invited 150 of its social media followers, mainly Twitter users, to Kennedy Space Center for an inside view. The lucky group watched the launch live and shared their observations with the world.

The brainchild of John Yembrick (@yembrick) and Jason Townsend (@jtowns), NASA’s social media manager and deputy social media manager, respectively, the gathering served a couple of purposes. “Not only is there value in opening NASA’s doors and simply inviting members of the public inside to see what we’re doing behind the scenes,” Yembrick said, “but our Twitter users also were sharing that experience online with their followers.”

Here’s how NASA launched a successful social event.

Promotion leading up to the launch
NASA announced the event on its website and promoted it over social media, randomly choosing attendees out of the more than 1,100 who registered. The one qualifier: Those who applied had to already be active social media users.

NASA Socials transform the curious into lifelong advocates and ambassadors for the organization.

Social Media Manager John Yembrick (@yembrick)

Social media accreditation
Elevating the power users and influencers within its own community, NASA gave social media followers the same credentials given to traditional news media. This group was hand picked based on its respective audience and influence on social platforms. For example, high-profile Twitter users like Bill Nye (@TheScienceGuy) joined in to help NASA expand to reach new audiences.

Event promotion
Since NASA has been hosting socials since its first Tweetup back in 2009, it has an ever-growing community of alumni on Twitter to help with promotion. Space aficionados not attending in person could still participate as NASA steered the conversation with live Tweets, photos and videos.

NASA used the rocket handle @MAVEN2Mars to engage with fans:

And other users created their own watch parties:

Activities at the event
At the social, NASA gave its guests special access to its facilities and personnel. Visitors could meet and speak with the spacecraft’s engineers, Mars scientists and managers — and even an astronaut.

Then, of course, they were on hand when MAVEN lifted off for Mars. “The best thing about the social, was that we launched on time, and our guests got to experience MAVEN lifting off Earth toward another planet,” Townsend said. “There’s nothing like it.”

Spreading the word
Of course, guests were encouraged to share their experiences beyond the walls of the Space Center. “There isn’t a requirement to post anything,” Townsend said, “but we feel that the content and access we provide you with is so compelling you’ll naturally want to share it with your followers.”

Guests were asked to use the hashtag #NASASocial as well as the mission handle (@MAVEN2Mars) or hashtag (#MAVEN).

Organizing the discussion with specific hashtags and handles allowed NASA to follow along and discover all the great content — be it photos, videos, blog posts or something else — that was being shared with the public. “Our guests become micro-journalists for us,” Yembrick said.

Also noteworthy was the powerful kinship that the guests formed with each other over their shared passions of spaceflight, engineering and science. NASA created a Twitter list of the group so the attendees could meet and tweet each other before and after the event. As the list is public, anyone could, and still can, subscribe or follow along for information on the MAVEN launch from this unique community of space-fan Twitter extraordinaires.

To other organizations interested in doing similar events, Yembrick offered this advice:

“If you believe in your product, let people experience it first-hand. If you’re a bakery, bring your customers in and show them how you make your cupcakes. It builds brand loyalty and helps develop passion for your product. Although many people who attend NASA Socials are diehard space geeks, others are simply curious.”

Do you know of other innovative uses of Twitter? Write to [email protected].