NASA is now building “social colonies.” Their efforts and discoveries using this radical new approach could change the way businesses use social media, and marketers can start taking advantage of it today.
I experienced one of NASA’s new “social discoveries” firsthand, and came away with some exciting key learnings about the possibilities of social marketing.
NASA is a lot like your business
Just as you may feel your business is charged with the impossible everyday, NASA is too, as the preeminent government agency famous for doing the impossible through advanced methods of problem solving.
In 1958 the newly formed agency quickly began satellite and human space flight missions. Ten years after formation it sent astronauts to the surface of the moon and returned them home safely. Their customers, (the citizens of the USA and quite frankly, everyone in the world,) were enamored by their work and the dollars flowed in to continue their progress.
Today the general public is much less fascinated by NASA’s efforts, particularly since it receives less coverage from a celebrity-focused press. No matter how amazing or significant their discoveries might be, fewer people care. This translates to a struggle to secure funding for projects big and small.
To solve this problem, NASA is focusing on conquering the social sphere. Its mission is to significantly grow its audience to include not just fans of space, but a much broader network that actually benefits from its work, to ultimately drive greater awareness, support and funding of its programs.
One giant step for social media
This month I attended the launch of OCO-2, NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in our climate. NASA turned this event into a “social discovery” in an effort to “colonize” social media in a compelling, in-person manner.
I was lucky to be selected among a group of social media influencers invited to attend the discovery. NASA’s Chief Administrator, Astronaut, Major General Charles Bolden Jr., told us it is imperative that the agency conquers new frontiers through social media, just as they have done and need to continue to do in space. He implored us to share our passion and understanding of the importance of what NASA is doing with the OCO-2 project and other missions with the people we reach socially.
As you can imagine, having a discussion in-person, with the head of NASA, by the launch pad and with the engineers and scientists leading the project live on NASA TV, the day of a rocket launch was quite the impressive experience. And one that certainly left me with the desire to post about NASA with fervor via my social media sites. Other attendees did the same.
The post-event results speak to the power of NASA’s social colonization at work: the associated #OCO2 hashtag was a top trending phrase in the social sphere; Major General Bolden shared that through social events like this, they are already reaching millions more who would have never heard about the program and social engagement is up significantly, which has already led to more funding for future programs and more media coverage of the launch.
NASA’s challenges are not all solved with this program, but it has laid some exciting groundwork.
Creating social media colonies for your business
My experience made me think: social media colonizing isn’t only for NASA. Engaging social media influencers for an in-person event that they can then promote to their networks is a tactic that could work for marketers in a variety of industries. A few tips for doing so successfully:
- Create an event your best customers would find valuable and attend
It might be a little easier for NASA to do this, what with rocket launches and everything. But each business does have a unique value. Stretch your imagination and consider, “What can we do to blow the minds of our best customers by bringing them together in-person for something they could not experience in their everyday lives?”
- Require application for attendance to your event and limit the number of attendees
Make your customers earn the experience by investing their time to apply. As part of the application, have them identify what new audiences they will share their experience with and how they are reached. Be up front in your communication and generate demand: this is an unprecedented experience that only a few who apply can attend.
- Review the applications to identify who can bring you new customers
Comb through the applicants to identify a diverse mix of attendees that can optimize your social reach.
At the NASA event I attended at Vandenberg AFB, there were close to 40 of us, with significant and engaged social followings. The group was made up of authors, teachers, reality TV stars, bloggers, social media consultants, photographers, journalists, non-profit directors, college students and more.
I was chosen because I am one of the most followed CMOs in the world on social media. My content is primarily focused on marketing and technology. But as a hobby, I created a social, self-publishing newspaper that covers NASA and space news that I sometimes promote on my marketing and social platforms.
- Communicate socially with attendees, as a group, before, during and after the event
Establish social platform groups to communicate with all attendees together. Assign and use hashtags so information can be shared and readily accessed. This will also drive group engagement and interaction before, during and after the event.
At the event I attended, one hashtag was used: #NASASocial. They asked that we use it in all of our social posts. This allowed us all, and anyone searching the hashtag on various social platforms, to find and repurpose content easily.
- Encourage the group to get to know each other
Using a shared social platform that all invitees can view, encourage them to share who they are and why they are participating. Push them to communicate and work together prior to and after the event and contribute regularly to the platform, by posting news and previews.
- Provide easy-to-disperse, customized content
Be prepared and have content available for the team to repurpose. NASA provided links with key information and content to easily disperse through existing social media platforms. Their content included pictures, video, information documents and website source links that were very user friendly.
- Stay in touch
Once the event was over, NASA stayed in touch with us by providing ongoing information and encouraging us to return to future events on different subject matters.
Imagine what you could achieve by walking in NASA’s footsteps. It’s the press conference of the future. Marketers big and small can easily and inexpensively create limited access, behind-the-scenes events for their biggest fans with significant social followings, have them apply to attend and bond them together with readily available social share groups – cultivating a colony with the potential to grow into a much bigger following and influence.
Rodney Mason (@rodmoose) is CMO of Parago. To learn more about NASA OCO-2 visit http://oco.jpl.nasa.gov/