The most-viewed channel on YouTube this week is NASA Television, as a shuttle launch together with events marking the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing turn out to be very good for business. For NASA, though, the Internet has been both a blessing and a pain. Online critics are ever-present. But NASA's work lately to move out among the tweeting and blogging masses has certainly found success. Among its recent online ventures: remodeling its Web site, tweeting from space, and even hosting a tweetup last night here in Washington with shuttle astronauts.
We sought to learn more about all this, and tracked down Bob Jacobs, who has worked for NASA for a little more than nine years. He began his career as news chief and is now deputy assistant administrator for Public Affairs. "It's about closing the distance between you and your audience and getting direct feedback about your organization's work," Jacobs told Municipalist. Follow him on Twitter: @bnjacobs.
How long have you been on Twitter, and is that an official part of your job? If so, how so? What has your experience been with Twitter? NASA's involvement with Twitter really began in mid 2008 with the Mars Phoenix mission and @MarsPhoenix, which attracted much more attention than many of us who had been working to with social media expected. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory took a somewhat unique approach by having the lander tweet in the first person. JPL's Veronica McGregor, who developed this approach, deserves a lot of the credit for demonstrating that Twitter could be a powerful communications tool. Today, NASA has one of the largest and most effective use of Twitter in the federal government, with nearly 50 different Twitter sites sharing a variety of information, including @NASA and the agency's first astronaut to send tweets from space, astronaut Mike Massimino, @Astro_Mike.
Can you briefly describe NASA's use of Twitter, what got NASA started, etc.? And what has been NASA's experience with Twitter, positive and negative? I can't speak on behalf of every NASA Twitter user but we use @NASA as a way to share agency news and information in ways that extend beyond traditional approaches, such as news releases. We use a dual approach to the service. First, it gives us an opportunity to point interested people to images, video, and additional information about different topics. Second, it helps us create a conversation by answering questions and engaging in a dialogue with people who are interested in what we do -- and that interest is considerable.
What are NASA's plans going forward for Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc.? The answer is really buried in the premise of your question. I don't focus on any specific service. Social sites come and go. The real value in YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites is that they force us to think about doing our jobs differently. The old communications model of simply issuing news releases and holding news conferences is dying.
With the initial iteration of the Web, organizations learned that a traditional media filter was no longer required. We could speak directly to our stakeholders. But the technology was "transmit only." With the evolution and implementation of Web 2.0, we had the opportunity to engage in two-way communication. However, we also learned that there was a significant audience that didn't want to come to us -- they expected us to come to them, and that's the real value of these sites. We want to be where they want us to be, and we want to be able to engage them in a conversation that allows us to listen and learn as well as educate and inform.
What has NASA learned by venturing into the social media space? By seeing the power of viral networking and communications. Sharing an interesting story and a link to additional information can spread very quickly. I spend a lot of time watching what happens to our information and I am constantly amazed at the speed with which news spreads.
Also, we can get a story out faster using sites like Twitter. Having only 140 characters forces you to be both creative and direct. If you want the information to resonate you have to think about what you write. Agencies who simply "feed" their news releases into these sites miss the value of being in the social universe. It's about closing the distance between you and your audience and getting direct feedback about your organization's work. I've never felt it was my job to "sell" anything. I believe my job is to "clean off the windows" and give people a better view of their space program. Social media can be a valuable tool in achieving that goal.
[Off topic, but interesting anyway: Good piece here on how a mission to Mars would actually work.]