Those two simple words are so powerful that just mentioning them almost inevitably brings something to mind. I bet you just had something pop into you brain after you read it. It may be Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, a podcast, someone you got back in touch with, a new circle of friends, or any number of other circumstances or tools that result from that ever-so-powerful beheamoth that is social media.
So it’s really too bad that so many people, companies, and organizations don’t get social media. Mind you, there are no “experts” in social media. It’s too new. No one even knows at what level or skill set one becomes an expert in social media because the field is still in a state of infancy. That said, there is a right way and a wrong way to handle social networking and social media. NASA is one of the organizations that really understands this.
During the early days of the Mars Phoenix, NASA started a Twitter account for the mission. It was an experiment from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The mission was a huge success, and so was the Tweeting. It became very clear to NASA that there were people interested in the day-to-day happenings of the mission, not just the big news items that mainstream media picked up. With 45,000 followers, @MarsPhoenix final transmission was:
01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000 <3
1:12 PM Nov 10th, 2008 from web
The binary message translates to one simple, yet very powerful, truth – triumph. And it was a triumph! Since this mission, NASA has been creating Twitter accounts for all sorts of missions and astronauts.
Some time ago I caught wind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity being presented by the incredible staff a NASA Headquarters. After the success of various Twitter accounts, several other social media tools, and even a couple of Tweet-Ups, NASA decided to go all-out with a Tweet-Up at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This Tweet-Up would be a two-day event open to only 100 Tweeps. There would be a special up-close-and-personal tour of the complex, a visit to Launch Complex 39A where Atlantis was perched beautifully on the mobile launch platform, and the chance to watch from the press site as Atlantis blasts off on her way to the International Space Station.
I applied, and a few days later I got a response from NASA Headquaters. I promptly posted this:
I was so happy I could pop! Now, I am a Florida native and I’ve lived on the Space Coast all of my life. I have seen many space shuttle launches, even some from very close. This, however, would be my first chance to watch from the press site. The only people who get to be closer to the launch of a mighty Space Shuttle are securely strapped in to the orbiter’s crew cabin, which sits about one third of the way down a fully-fueled external fuel tank.
Even more importantly, though, would be that I get to experience this event in the company of some of the most enthusiastic, energetic, and vocal people on the internet. These are people that “get it”: they get the space program, and they get social media. Even now, after the event has long-since passed, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the experience.
To say that the folks at NASA Headquaters did a good job planning this event would be an understatement of cosmic proportions. Seriously, they thought of everything, including WiFi access in the conference room and at the press site and – get this – AC power strips on the tables for the scores of electronic devices that the participants were bound to bring with them. NASA expected the participants to use every form of new media they had at-hand to bring the experience to their fans, friends, and followers.
At one point during the opening presentations in the conference room, there was so much buzz on Twitter that the hashtag #NASATweetup topped out at 3rd on Twitter’s trending topics. That’s nuts. Think about it: barely one hundred people at an event were able to generate enough excitement on social media networks that, for a short time, we took over the internet.
We got to meet some of the most influential people in NASA’s social media efforts including the people behind some of these pioneering Twitter accounts. We got to be within a few hundred feet of Atlantis as she was sitting on the pad. We got to rub shoulders with some of the people who work on the Space Shuttle every day. We got to wave the astronauts off as the drove by on their way to the pad. We got to watch – no, we got to feel Atlantis tear open the sky with such power that the atmosphere itself could not get out of the way fast enough.
And we got to share the whole experience with the world.
For NASA, it was an epic undertaking. So massive was the event that they had it in mind to never do anything like it again. That is, until they saw the effect it had on, well, everyone. Hundreds of lives were changed, far more than just those that were there to see it in person. When the folks at NASA saw the full impact that this tweetup had, they knew it would not be the last one. And it hasn’t been.
To NASA, thank you for being a pioneer in social media. Thank you for engaging people on a personal level by not limiting yourself to traditional media channels. Thank you for the opportunity to share such a spectacular event with so many like-minded people. And thank you for giving us the venue to share it with so many other people.
This is what social media is all about.