NASA Reaches Out With Social Media by CA-Technologies


To say that NASA is engaged in social media is an understatement. It uses a dozen social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to promote and chronicle practically everything the space agency does.

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									NASA Reaches Out with Social Media

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NASA Reaches Out with Social Media

It's not rocket science, but social media is helping the U.S. space agency engage the
public in new and increasingly interactive ways.

Generated by Jive SBS on 2012-03-26-06:00
NASA Reaches Out with Social Media

Station, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) public
communications team asked him to use Twitter to share his experiences from
space. At first, Wheelock was dubious. “I’m a very private person in a very public
job,” he says. “I didn’t know if I wanted to share my thoughts with the world.”

But NASA officials were eager. The first U.S. astronaut with a Twitter account, Mike
Massimino, proved that the public is interested. His account, @Astro_Mike, has more than
1.2 million followers. Eventually, Wheelock agreed to tweet from space using the handle
@astro_wheels. Today he has more than 108,000 followers.

To say that NASA is engaged in social media is an understatement. It uses a
dozen social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube
to promote and chronicle practically everything the space agency does. (An
overview of NASA’s social media activities is available at

On Twitter alone, NASA has more than 100 accounts that it uses to post news and updates
and share its Image of the Day. A total of 1.6 million people follow its flagship account,
@NASA, which amasses about 4,000 new followers daily.

NASA also uses social media internally. Yammer, an enterprise microblogging
tool, helps the agency’s teams collaborate and quickly discover subject-matter
expertise among the organization’s 18,000 civil service employees and 40,000

Communicating with citizens is part of NASA’s founding mandate, dating back
to its creation in 1958. “Social media lets us go directly to citizens, rather than
having them come to us,” says Stephanie Schierholz, the agency’s Social Media
Manager. “We can see what people are most interested in, how they share our
content, and the type of comments they add.”

Some of those comments have led to changes at NASA. For example, thanks
to comments posted on social media, the space agency discovered that one

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NASA Reaches Out with Social Media

of its many acronyms, EVA —  short for Extra Vehicular Activity — was a total
mystery to the public. So NASA publicists came up with a clearer substitute:
“space walk.” After the change, Schierholz says, “we saw that we were reaching
a much broader audience.”

NASA has also convened more than 30 live gatherings, or “Tweetups,” for its
Twitter followers. One recent Tweetup was held in November at the launch of
the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, from the Kennedy Space Center in
Florida. There, 150 people (selected from more than 1,000 applicants) enjoyed a
two-day event that included a tour of the space center, access to speakers and
front-row viewing at the actual launch. Attendees paid their own way, and they
tweeted about their experience.

The space agency uses Facebook weekly, mainly to post less time-sensitive information.
To share its vast collection of photos, NASA uses Flickr and Twitpic, and it operates a 24x7
television service (, which is also available on YouTube and UStream.
Videos are freely available at, and NASA even offers tools that enable
others to embed video in other social media sites.

NASA also has a highly active blogging community. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver are among the many who post regularly to keep the
public apprised of their activities. Bolden, for example, recently blogged about his visit to a
company in Melbourne, Fla., that is collecting data related to the Mars Science Laboratory

As if that were not enough, the space agency also operates several RSS news feeds, hosts
Web chats, and makes podcasts available for download on Apple’s iTunes website.

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NASA Reaches Out with Social Media


NASA and mobile media go hand-in-hand. The official NASA app, available for both
Android and iPhone smartphones, is elegantly designed to squeeze a lot of material
onto a small screen. Users can find images of space, videos, tweets from various space
centers and research programs, as well as the history of NASA and its many scientific

Search for “NASA” on Apple’s App Store, and you’ll find some 50 apps created
by a variety of third-party developers using publicly available data from NASA
and others. Also, a search of the Android Market books section yields more than
100 NASA-related titles, ranging from “How NASA Builds Teams” to “NASA’s
New Innovation Framework.” – K.S.

Keep It Simple

With so much social engagement, how does NASA manage it all?  “The key,”
says John Hopkins, Chief of Staff for NASA’s Office of the CIO, “is to keep it

Simple, in NASA’s case, means charging the team responsible for overseeing
social media — which includes the Public Communications office, Legal and IT
— to apply existing communications policies to social media. “Why reinvent the
wheel?” Hopkins says. “We don’t want to destroy the free-form nature of social
media by introducing a lot of new rules and regulations.”

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NASA Reaches Out with Social Media

To keep bloggers, employees and astronauts on-message, everyone who speaks
on NASA’s behalf receives formal media training. Once training is complete,
NASA takes a hands-off approach. “If we can trust them with the space station,
we can trust them with Twitter,” Schierholz says.

So how is NASA doing in the social universe? By at least one measure, pretty
well. NASA’s Klout Score, an indicator of social media influence, is 86. While that
may not be as impressive as teen heartthrob Justin Bieber’s score of 100, it’s
considerably greater than Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 63.

Generated by Jive SBS on 2012-03-26-06:00
NASA Reaches Out with Social Media

NASA is part of a larger trend, as government and other public sector organizations quickly
adopt social media. In a recent report, management consultants McKinsey & Company
found that an impressive 74 percent of all public administration agencies worldwide
use social technologies. The only sectors that scored higher were high technology and
professional services.

What’s more, organizations that reap the greatest benefit from social media
use the technology both internally and externally, says Michael Chui, a Senior
Fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute in San Francisco and co-author of the
report, “How Social Technologies Are Extending the Organization.” Social media
enables communities of people with shared interests to come together to share
information and create new ways of doing things, he says. “Social media is a far
less expensive way to collaborate than the older knowledge management type
of systems,” Chui says. “And the quality of the output is better, because you
have communities of people actively and continuously collaborating to create

Astronaut Wheelock experienced the power of communities firsthand when he
took some photographs from space of forest fires in South America. He shared
the images via Twitpic and tweeted about the need for humanity to take better
care of our planet. The global response was overwhelming. “It was crazy,” he
says. “I didn’t realize the power of getting an idea out there and then watching
people run with it, share it, comment on it.”

Even now that he’s back on Earth after six months on the space station,
Wheelock maintains an ongoing conversation with his Twitter followers. “In
space, my number one goal was to survive,” he says. “But my number two goal
was to share my experience with every person on the planet. We’re reaching a
global audience that we never would have reached before.”

Karyl Scott is a technology journalist and content-marketing specialist based in California.

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NASA Reaches Out with Social Media

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