Tuesday, September 29th, 2015 | 8 min read
“The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I scroll through Instagram on my commute to work, I can always rely on one brand to ease the pain of protruding elbows and crowded train cars. With a feed full of nebulas and new worlds, NASA continuously stands out with content that’s equal parts entertaining and informative.
Sharing information about its projects with the public has been a core part of the NASA mission ever since it published the National Aeronautics and Space Act in 1958 – long before modern-day social media was even a glimmer on the horizon.
Our recent piece on how NASA mastered social media storytelling explains how social has been the perfect home for the organization’s digital storytelling initiatives. With over 490 social channels spread across 12 different platforms, NASA has a lot on its plate in terms of information dissemination. But it manages time and time again to engage its massive audience.
Here are three qualities that make NASA’s social media presence absolutely interstellar.
With an added dash of wit, NASA has a knack for taking complex news pieces and breaking them down into digestible, bite-sized social media posts. Out of their approximate 4.5 million Instagram followers, I’m guessing only a handful are astrophysicists with the ability to understand the minutiae of space science.
Knowing that, NASA uses accessible language and breathtaking imagery to make complicated concepts exciting and relatable for the general public.
Recently, the Internet stopped in its tracks to admire the ghostly beauty of our galaxy’s dwarf planet Pluto. On July 14th, 2015, a robot the size of a piano (that had traveled over nine years and 3+ billion miles) beamed home one of this decade’s most important observations. On top of the many reasons this mission was remarkable, the Flyby gave researchers their first up-close view of Pluto, which has remained mysterious since its discovery in 1930.
NASA told this incredible story through Instagram with the closest shot of Pluto we Earthlings have ever laid eyes on. The hashtags #PlutoFlyBy and #NewHorizons were soon trending across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
NASA’s #PlutoFlyBy Instagram post has now garnered more than 362k likes, and people are still talking about it.
NASA’s concerted social media efforts have sparked a real love affair between the general public and the cosmos.
As this Quartz article points out:
This personal voice gets at the heart of how social media function: They make people care. NASA’s probes have (or rather, appear to have) wants and desires and goals, and that makes us invested in their successes. Before social media, NASA fulfilled its Space Act mandate by getting people interested in the science and discovery of its missions. But being interested in New Horizons’ journey to Pluto is not the same as genuinely caring about the flying piece of space junk. And when we care, we share.
By keeping the general public in the know through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels, NASA has made its audience genuinely care about its missions. Whether it’s a post about growing veggies in space or Mars Rover selfies, the NASA social media team take their audience on a space journey each day.
— NASA (@NASA) August 19, 2015
NASA pushes out an incredible amount of content across its nearly 500 social accounts, and each message is tailored specifically for the platform it appears on.
Take the Mars Curiosity Twitter account: with over 2 million followers, the NASA rover tweets in first person and possesses a tone of voice that works perfectly for Twitter. NASA isn’t throwing complex terminology at their audience; its tone is very human and conversational.
Through these rather personal messages, NASA gets people to care for the Rover and, in turn, the audience builds a relationship with Curiosity.
NASA’s ability to mold a particular type of content so it fits in a certain medium is flawless. Their Instagram feed is filled to the brim with breathtaking images from other worlds and our own. The geniuses behind the NASA social behemoth simplify their discoveries so that space-enthusiasts, like yours truly, can really get a handle on what’s going on.
The latest addition to the NASA social family is their official Tumblr page, which is, again, a feast for the eyes.
Here, NASA’s approach is relatively similar to that of their Instagram account. You’ll find the page plays host to a number of stunning extra-terrestrial images, followed by a clear explanation to accompany the photo. Like Instagram, Tumblr is a platform that operates on alluring imagery that users can share with friends, but here, NASA has more freedom to employ other visual mediums. The microblogging platform allows NASA to tell a story with an array of different media like GIFs, videos, infographics, etc.
For example, in this particular blog post, NASA uses GIFs in a listicle to highlight the “normal things astronauts do… done in a not so normal way.”
NASA’s social media success is in large part a result of empowering its astronauts to tell their stories through their personal social accounts – the organization has truly mastered the art of encouraging employee advocacy.
One of the most famous examples is astronaut Scott Kelly, who documents his #YearInSpace aboard the International Space Station for his 370k+ Twitter followers. Kelly has quickly built a loyal following online with his breathtaking photographs, clever prose, and smart use of hashtags.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) August 21, 2015
But it’s not just NASA employees that advocate on the organization’s behalf; John Yembrick, NASA’s Social Media Manager, told Sprinklr that social has been instrumental in creating “ambassadors that help share NASA’s story of discovery and exploration.”
In fact, when the government shut down in 2013 and NASA’s social channels went dark, fans continued to share updates! While some missions were still collecting data and performing key maneuvers, loyal space lovers everywhere took it upon themselves to keep NASA storytelling alive on social. During this period of silence, tweeters took matters into their own hands and we saw the growth of the #ThingsNASAmighttweet hashtag, a crowd-sourced feed of NASA news and mission updates. #ThingsNASAmighttweet reaped 15,229 posts, 42.3 million impressions, and “unquantifiable love.”
Without NASA’s commitment to sharing its work with the world through social, most of us would have no idea that a spacecraft just traveled 3 billion miles in nearly 10 years, what an exoplanet is, or that robots can take selfies in space. But NASA has a gift for making us feel like the wonders of the universe are just a quick swipe away, right in the palm of our hands.
About the Author: Originally from a green and pleasant land called New Jersey, Genna AlTai is the content manager for Sprinklr London. A ginormous music fan, she has previously written for publications like CMJ and Baeblemusic. When she’s not copywriting, you’ll find her hunting for adequate pizza in London.