There was considerable buzz on Friday after an astronaut checked in on Foursquare from outer space, but what NASA has been doing on the ground with social media may be just as intriguing. For instance, who would have guessed that the federal agency had 626,700 followers on Twitter, as well as a dedicated social marketing team?
“We are currently gaining 10,000 new followers on Twitter every week,” said Stephanie Schierholz, social media manager for NASA. “On our website, we have a page dedicated to social media.”
The Washington, DC-based agency is currently throttling up its messaging to get the word out about the last two shuttle program voyages, which will occur on Nov. 1 and Feb. 27. For the first shuttle launch, Schierholz and her team are holding so-called “Tweet-ups” on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. She said 150 Twitter followers have been randomly selected to get a press pass for next week’s launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery in Cape Canaveral, FL.
“And they get two days at the Kennedy Space Center,” Schierholz said. “They pay for their own expenses to get there. But we will give them a tour, and an astronaut will sit down and talk with them.”
For its social media efforts overall, generations X and Y are the primary targets, since they – “post-Apollo” Americans – likely do not remember the NASA program before the first shuttle launch in 1981, Schierholz explained.
“I’ve done a lot of anecdotal polling of my friends,” she said. “I am Gen X, but I have a lot of Gen Y friends. And I would say overall the awareness level and the sentiment towards NASA is certainly different than it was during the Apollo program. The two standout events for Gen X and Gen Y are the two shuttle disasters. So that is a different perspective than landing on the moon for the Apollo generation. But I think social media tools like Gowalla and Twitter are helping us reach out to this new audience.”
Space Program Tests Geo-Social for Awareness
As Schierholz partly suggested, geo-social platforms Gowalla and Foursquare are central to an initiative that was designed by Washington, DC-based creative agency Jess3.
For Gowalla, mobile users can check in at around 70 nationwide locations where moon rocks can be viewed. Those lunar samples were harvested during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 expeditions. Players will also be awarded points when they check in at agency-related locations, as well as numerous museums, science centers, planetariums, observatories, parks, nature centers, and zoos.
Three check-ins will reward users with a NASA pin. The first 100 people who earn the pin will also receive a commemorative NASA/Gowalla co-branded “Search For The Moon Rocks” map (see image above).
In terms of Foursquare, users who check in to a NASA-related venue will receive information about the location. For instance, a check-in at the agency’s headquarters will produce a message telling the user that a replica of NASA astrophysicist John Mather’s Nobel Prize is on display in the lobby.
Meanwhile, Schierholz said geo-social platforms would become increasingly part of NASA’s messaging mix. Since the agency cannot do paid advertising, the social media manager explained, it makes sense to partner with companies like Foursquare and Gowalla to generate pro bono buzz.
“We are always looking for new avenues to share what the agency is doing and what the space program is up to,” she said. “[Location-based games are] a new way for us to do that. It definitely presents a new, fun, creative way to reach out and give a little bit of information about NASA and get people interested.”