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The Two Faces of Social Media at NASA

It’s Social Media Week here in Washington, D.C. and there are some really great events going on about how social media is being used in the government, nonprofits, and different organizations. I attended a presentation today about Advancing Citizen Engagement. There were some really innovative techniques from agencies as diverse as Federal Student Aid, USGS, Office of Director of National Intelligence, Dept. of Defense, National Institutes of Health, National Archives and Records Administration, but what stood out to me the most was NASA’s culture of differentiating social media use.

NASA has been consistently ranked as one of the best places to work in the federal government and their work always mesmerizes people. Their social media tools showcase a side of NASA that makes it stand out from the crowd.

NASA currently has over 480 different social media accounts, from personal astronauts’ Twitter accounts to official NASA Facebook and Twitter pages. How they differentiate between these two types is that the “official” pages give out information and are a conglomerate of agency wide information, whereas the “unofficial” pages give the agency some personality.

One time I saw a meteor shoot across the sky and checked Twitter to see if anyone had as well. It turns out people from all over the state of Texas did, so I posed a question to one of NASA’s astronauts (@astro_aggie) whom I had met previously at an event on my school’s campus. His reply shows the personality that NASA, and other organizations, should be striving for when undertaking social media implementation.

NASA also utilizes some Twitter accounts as 1st person “accounts” of projects. Doing so allows for some personality to come through while engaging citizens. For an example look at the difference in their response of the Mars Curiosity Rover’s (@MarsCuriosity) touchdown on Mars from their official @NASA account.

While one of these responses may be a little contrary to the normal belief of how an agency communicates, look at the difference in response rates from the audience!

Their @NASAsocial account provides behind the scenes access to NASA facilities and events and even goes as far as to invite over 4,200 followers to an in-person visit with NASA at locations across the country. They were also the first federal agency on Google+, have implemented Foursquare check-ins on Mars, and implemented a “Curiosity Explorer” badge for people who explore their local NASA-related locations.
While NASA may have a competitive advantage in that their work is very intriguing to the average person, their mentality for interacting with the public is something to be admired. Having two ways to reach out to people, through official accounts and individual diverse accounts, allows for a kind of citizen engagement that only NASA seems to have mastered at this point.

How can your agency or organization model NASA’s method of large citizen engagement through both “formal” and “informal” means?

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