NASA Tweetup with Astronaut Doug Wheelock

9 Key Social Media Tips from a NASA Tweetup

NASA Tweetup with Astronaut Doug Wheelock

“Pretty awesome. RT @ageekmom: @NASATweetup How’s it feel making dreams come true with every tweetup? #burningquestion : -) ”    – Tweet from @NASATweetup, April 19, 2011.

When it comes to utilizing social media to extend a brand and engage, educate and excite an audience, NASA has the right stuff.  That was clearly demonstrated during a NASA Tweetup I attended at the NASA Headquarters in downtown Washington, DC.  NASA defines a Tweetup as “an informal meeting of people who use the social messaging medium Twitter.”

NASA provides a case study of how to successfully showcase science, or any other topic, product, or event, 140 characters at a time. Here are nine tips for out-of-this-world social media, based on NASA’s extensive media expertise.

1.  Treat your participants / followers / friends with respect.
Do you value your followers?  Do your actions show it? NASA sent a string of emails to Tweetup participants (who were chosen at random after registering online) that included a congratulatory welcome; details on the Tweetup (directions, the schedule, onsite tech availability); and a recommendation to swing by the nearby National Air and Space Museum to catch a special appearance of Robonaut 2 before the Tweetup.

At the Tweetup we received an official name badge and a swag bag full of goodies (pins, patches, stickers, fun pads and more). The event started on time and finished on time. From launch to landing, we were treated like space royalty.

What do you do for your followers to indicate how much you appreciate them?

2.  Don’t overlook the details.
There’s no point in having a Tweetup if people can’t tweet. We had Wi-Fi access with clear, written instructions on how to access the network. We were notified ahead of time that power outlets would not be available. The Tweetup, which was easily accessible by public transportation, took place in an auditorium outfitted with chairs that had desks and many folks set up laptops. Cameras were allowed. NASA created a Twitter list of participants (@nasatweetup/astro-wheels) and repeatedly provided its Twitter account and hashtag (@NASAtweetup, #NASATweetup).

How many times have you been to a social media-related event only to find you have no connectivity? If a tweet falls in the room and no one can send it, then no one can hear it and it doesn’t make a sound.

One very important, but often overlooked, detail during the Tweetup was that NASA showed the live Twitter stream, but made it small enough as to be unreadable (see left and right sides of the above photo). Tweetup participants could see that a very active conversation was going on based on the movement of the stream, but the chatter did not distract from the conversation going on among the participants in the room.

How many events have you attended where the virtual stream of tweets and retweets (RTs) overshadows the live event? When it comes to showing live Twitter streams, size matters.

3.  Provide exceptional value: Give people a reason to show up / like you / follow you.
Our Tweetup featured astronaut Doug Wheelock. “Wheels” spent six months on the International Space Station (ISS). He launched to the ISS on June 15, 2010 as part of the Expedition 24 crew. He assumed command of Expedition 25 on September 22 and returned to Earth on November 25, 2010. He worked on more than 100 microgravity experiments and conducted numerous space walks. He was known for sharing amazing twitpics from space and challenging his more than 100,000 followers to guess the locations.

“Okay…here’s one that you may need to dig out a World Atlas to find. Hint: These islands are small, remote, and i”  – Tweet from @Astro_Wheels, from the ISS, Oct 1, 2010.

Other NASA Tweetups occur in tandem with shuttle launches. Granted, not everyone can offer launch pads or robotics demonstrations, but do you provide a compelling reason for people to follow you or ‘like’ you?  What do you offer that’s ‘out of this world’?

4.  Be clear about your brand and identity.
Look at the photo above. Is there any doubt who hosted the event and who is speaking? Take a look at some of NASA’s social media accounts: @NASAedu, @NASA_Technology, @ISS_NatLab, @AstroRobonaut, NASA Facebook and NASA YouTube.

Do you have a clear brand and brand strategy?  What’s your Twitter background? ‘Default’ should not be your answer.

5.  Do your social media homework and practice what you preach.
If you’re going to host a Tweetup, you should be facile on Twitter. NASA has a Twitter roster that includes astronauts, engineers, programs, projects, and yes, even robots.

“@cafferatajm I’m not awake yet, technically. But when I am awake, I can see great! I have five cameras in my head.” – Tweet from @AstroRobonaut, aboard the ISS, May 5, 2011

NASA uses a single hashtag for all Tweetups (#NASATweetup). This is extremely active and builds a sense of community. NASA creates Twitter lists for each event, and repeatedly tweets about the events.

Decide on your hashtag and key messaging well in advance. Promote them across multiple platforms so people can share news about your event before, during, and after.

6.  Repurpose your content and utilize various social media platforms.
The Tweetup event was streamed live over NASA television. You can view it on NASA’s YouTube Channel, NASA Tweetup Rolls with “Wheels”. During the Tweetup, a highlight film of Doug Wheelock’s shuttle trip aboard the ISS was shown. To sum up, NASA refilmed its own film during a Tweetup and posted it on YouTube.

Of course not everyone is on Twitter. Check out NASA’s list of social media accounts. In addition to Twitter, it includes Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. NASA also has created numerous apps, hosts regular online video chats, and has an extensive program of learning technologies.

7.  Be willing to make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward.
During the Tweetup, astronaut Doug Wheelock admitted that initially he didn’t know anything about Twitter, but was “highly encouraged” by NASA to tweet. “What I wasn’t realizing and picking up on, and what you guys all know, is the power and the transformation of this tweet once it hits the internet. And it’s what happens after you tweet that’s the real power in this type of media.”

Colonel Wheelock then confessed, “I had to be careful, because I actually got in trouble early on. You guys were getting these tweet pictures before NASA was getting the official photos from space. So I sorta got the cart before the horse. And I got politely scolded. I got a phone call on a private line on board the space station. ‘Hey, we don’t mind you doing this Twitter thing, but when you tweet a photo, make sure that we have it, … because we get a request coming in for the high resolution photo’ … I had to pull those back a bit and rein them in, and make sure I was downloading the photos so when you guys asked for the high resolution photos, then NASA could politely say, yes we have that for you, we’ll send it to you.”

Don’t be afraid to take one giant step forward into social media. Often times the best way to learn is by doing. (Just be sure you have social media policies in place first).

8.  Be nimble.
Go to where your audience is – or will be. What’s trendy now? Foursquare. Doug Wheelock was the first astronaut to ‘check in’ from space on Oct. 22, 2010 when he checked in to the ISS. Thanks to a NASA-Foursquare partnership, Foursquare users can earn a NASA Explorer badge (shown on Wheelock’s right arm, above) by following NASA on Foursquare and checking in to NASA-related venues. NASA was also ahead of the virtual world social media curve with two islands in Second Life back in 2007.

Where should you be that you aren’t?

9.  Connect, communicate, and most importantly, have a conversation.
Social media is not one-way communication. It’s not posting links to press releases. It’s listening and engaging in a conversation with your audience. NASA responds to questions and engages. NASA understands that people always come first and that social media is only a tool to further your dialog, educate your audience and spread your message.

NASA invests a lot of time and energy in social media. In return it gets loyal fans – lots and lots of them (over one million followers on Twitter, ~400,000 likes on Facebook). NASA’s messages go viral, and even its Tweetups garner press coverage (Los Angeles Times, NPR).

In return for its investment in social media, NASA is educating individuals about its space program, creating loyalty, inspiring dreams, and – based on the beaming faces at the Tweetup – creating future generations of astronauts who may one day share 3D twitvideos from Mars.

The moon, by Astronaut Doug Wheelock. From the ISS, Aug 22, 2010.

“‘Fly me to the Moon…let me dance among the Stars…’ I hope we never lose our sense of wonder. A passion for exploration and discovery is a noble legacy to leave to our children. I hope we set our sails and venture out one day. That will be one glorious day… ” – Twitpic from @Astro_Wheels, August 22, 2010, from aboard the ISS.

Some of the coverage of the Tweetup with Astro_Wheels

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