Few organizations can match NASA’s celestial social media prowess.
The space agency has more than 120 million followers across all networks, including more than 33 million on Twitter. Of course, NASA enjoys innate advantages—not everyone can take stunning photos from space, after all—but marketers can learn plenty from the space agency’s cosmic content.
Keep these five lessons in mind as you shoot for the social media stars:
Join (or create) niche communities. In addition to its main @NASA account, the agency has hundreds of social media accounts aimed at niche communities. The supplemental accounts include individual astronauts, space stations, rovers and missions. The Curiosity Rover, @MarsCuriosity, has more than 4 million Twitter followers. Its Spitzer telescope, @NASAspitzer, has nearly 131,000.
With these niche accounts, the agency can send content to followers who are most interested in narrower topics. For instance, followers of @AsteroidWatch like to keep tabs on large objects that may or may not be hurtling toward our planet at alarming speeds.
Partner with enthusiasts and influencers. NASA encourages fans to share information through its NASA Socials program. Formerly called NASA Tweetup, the program offers special activities and behind-the-scenes events at NASA facilities to influencers who share the agency’s news “in a significant way.”
Leading advocates of space exploration and NASA get to meet astronauts, scientists and other NASA personnel and can apply for press-level access to attend spacecraft launches, media briefings, tours and other activities. You might not have legions of adoring fans, but offering exclusive deals or views of facilities, products or events can work for many organizations.
Note: NASA achieves its stellar results with no paid promotions, but earth-bound marketers might need partnerships to achieve social media marketing liftoff.
Educate while entertaining. Some of NASA’s social media accounts are straightforward, but some blend educational content with humor, pop culture references and hip lingo.
On Tumblr and Snapchat, NASA avoids scientific jargon and strives to entertain. On Twitter and Reddit, where more users are interested in robust scientific minutiae, the accounts share more-informative posts.
Find insights through social media monitoring and measurement. Keeping tabs on online feeds can unearth positive mentions that you can reshare—as well as weaknesses you must address and improve.
Through social media monitoring, NASA found that followers can’t get enough of photos from space and behind-the-scenes views of missions. However, it also learned that many people prefer to listen instead of watching. That insight prompted it to add audio clips into its content strategy. NASA now creates podcasts through a SoundCloud account and posts sounds from space.
“Everybody has that little bit of childlike wonderment in them,” Jason Townsend, the agency’s deputy social media manager, says on Twitter’s blog. “If we can find that curiosity in every person out there and pull it out of them, then we can really engage with an audience that is interested in what we’re talking about.”
Don’t act like a robot, even if you are one. NASA humanizes its machines. In NASA’s niche social media accounts, spacecraft speak in the first person. They even take selfies.
“It’s easy to anthropomorphize a rover, because we always have stereoscopic cameras on them, which means it looks like they have eyes,” says NASA Social Media Lead Stephanie L. Smith. “From eyes, it’s easy to imagine a face. There’s this natural human response to look at these little robots almost like Wall-E and feel a personal connection to them. Then, when they’re tweeting in first person and telling you what they did at work today, it’s easy to cheer for them.”
A version of this post first appeared on the Glean.info blog.