5 Ways NASA Accomplishes Its Digital Marketing Mission
All of us at one point or the other have looked at the sky and wondered what lies beyond. The stars, the planets, and the galaxies have captured our imaginations by their sheer mystery and beauty.
At the forefront of space exploration, NASA has been instrumental in leading research about space exploration and scientific discovery, and has done a tremendous job at keeping space enthusiasts informed about new developments in the area.
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NASA has successfully kept its audience engaged with over 500 accounts on various channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr, to name a few.
Between Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, NASA has over 53 million followers (and growing).
In the last month and a half, the organization as seen a growth of over 1 million followers on Instagram alone–a growth rate of 8.5%.
NASA activated their Instagram account just three years ago, and it already has a following of over 17 million, almost as many as their Facebook page, which has over 17.8 million. The reason behind this astounding growth is NASA’s brilliant digital strategy, their solid understanding of each platform’s strengths, and their strategic use of the same to their advantage. As Jason Townsend, one of the social media leads at NASA, said about digital media:
“We’re constantly evaluating and trying out new tools, and trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t work, how can we use this to better tell NASA’s story.”
NASA’s overall mission on digital is to build awareness about space exploration and to inspire the audience about space, science, and technology. As John Yembrick, Head of NASA’s social media efforts said recently:
“If we can post something that may inspire a young girl to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and math, then we’ve done our job”
Let’s explore how NASA accomplishes these missions.
Science + Storytelling
NASA makes a conscious effort to create descriptive and compelling captions for their Instagram posts, weaving scientific information with visual storytelling to clearly communicate interesting information to their followers, explaining what are they looking at and why it looks that way.
Dead Star's Ghostly Glow: Astronomers discovered a real "tell-tale heart" in space, 6,500 light-years from Earth. The "heart" is the crushed core of a long-dead star, called a neutron star, which exploded as a supernova and is now still beating with rhythmic precision. Evidence of its heartbeat are rapid-fire, lighthouse-like pulses of energy from the fast-spinning neutron star. The stellar relic is embedded in the center of the Crab Nebula, the expanding, tattered remains of the doomed star. Credits: NASA and ESA, Acknowledgment: M. Weisskopf/Marshall Space Flight Center #nasa #space #halloween #astronomy #star #nebula #supernova #ghost #star #nasabeyond #science #happyhallowen
A photo posted by NASA (@nasa) on
Facilitate Further Learning and Exploration
Instagram does not allow clickable links in the captions, but NASA puts them in some of the posts anyway, guiding their followers to explore more (for example: the post below includes a link to their YouTube channel). They know that those who are interested will copy/paste the link in their browsers to learn more. Such steps tie in very strongly to the fact that the agency has a mission to educate people about space exploration in every way possible; they are not just interested in just building traffic to the site.
Go floating! Join us for a fly-through of the International Space Station! This footage was shot using a fisheye lens for extreme focus and depth of field. Full Ultra High Definition (4K) video: https://youtu.be/DhmdyQdu96M Credit: NASA #nasa #space #iss #spacestation #4k #astronauts #ultrahd
A video posted by NASA (@nasa) on
They also make sure to include the most relevant hashtags (both related to the agency and general hashtags) in their images on the platform to help guide the audience to more posts/information based on their interests.
Globular clusters offer some of the most spectacular sights in the night sky. These ornate spheres contain hundreds of thousands of stars, and reside in the outskirts of galaxies. The Milky Way contains over 150 such clusters – and the one shown in this Hubble Space Telescope image is one of the more unusual ones. It is younger than expected. Although most globular clusters are much older than the majority of stars in their host galaxy, NGC 362 bucks the trend, with an age lying between 10 and 11 billion years old. For reference, the age of the Milky Way is estimated to be above 13 billion years. Image credit: ESA/Hubble& NASA #nasa #space #hubble #hst #galaxy #astronomy #nasabeyond #science #stars
A photo posted by NASA (@nasa) on
Facebook as Content Delivery System
NASA’s efforts to educate the world about space don’t stop at Instagram. On Facebook, the agency utilizes the platform’s flexibility with number of characters to post descriptive content accompanied by compelling images. This help their followers understand what the post is about, and NASA provides links to their website for more facts and figures.They also link their posts to other channels like Tumblr, where their followers can find further information and explore more. Cross-promoting other social channels is a great way to guide their audience to other places where they can find relevant and interesting details about space and aeronautics.
Twitter as an Engagement Engine
On Twitter, words are limited, so NASA experiments with more gripping and succinct write-ups, making sure to add links for more information or hashtags to facilitate discovery.
— NASA (@NASA) November 14, 2016
The agency is always experimenting with new tools to be able to reach out to a wider audience and spread the information. Twitter has been one of the platforms with the highest audience adoption rate. Hence, the agency utilizes this opportunity to the fullest with a number of accounts on the platform, from space stations to astronauts, and even one for Robonaut, the robot on the International Space Station who tweets regularly.
— Robonaut (@AstroRobonaut) October 31, 2016
And their Tweets aren’t just limited to space exploration. They also post about how NASA’s work is helping transform people’s life for the better back home, here on Earth, inspiring the audience about how science and technology can help change lives.
— NASA (@NASA) November 16, 2016
These are thoughtful and strategic steps to reach out to a wider audience, provide information tailored to their interests, and drive engagement.
Choosing the Right Content Type
NASA understands the power of storytelling, especially when it comes to esoteric concepts like interaction of gravity and dark matter, or a star shedding its mass episodically. They successfully maintain the balance between the image/videos and the caption description that it appeals to both novices and pros.
The phenomenon of pareidolia is when people see familiar shapes in images. This galaxy cluster has invoked the nickname of the "Toothbrush Cluster" because of its resemblance to the dental tool. In fact, the stem of the brush is due to radio waves (green) while the diffuse emission where the toothpaste would go is produced by X-rays observed by Chandra (purple). Visible light data from the Subaru telescope show galaxies and stars (white) and a map from gravitational lensing (blue) shows the concentration of the mass, which is mostly (about 80%) dark matter. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. van Weeren et al; Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRT; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru #nasa #chandra #nasabeyond #space #xray #galaxy #astronomy #science
A photo posted by NASA (@nasa) on
Since photos generate double the engagement versus videos for NASA (at least on Instagram) 77% of their posts on the platform were photos, accompanied with stellar captions.
All of their posts across Facebook and Twitter include images/videos to help the audience visualize the content and understand it better.
It is this absorbing combination of content, media, and caption across their social platforms that keeps the agency’s audience interested in learning more, and it is the key to why people follow the agency on social.
The content NASA posts transcends demographics and platforms, and is a constant reminder of our miraculous existence in this universe. It is also a great resource to help inform how great content from organizations can reach out to the audience and help break the barriers while remaining focused on core goals and mission.
If you have any questions about NASA’s digital strategy, reach out to us on Twitter. To optimize content for your own brand, please download the content optimization cheat sheet below.
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I'm a Social Media Analyst at Simply Measured. I love food, music, movies, and long walks. Let's talk about social media data!