How NASA Treats Social Media Like a Space Mission

September 8, 2016

Written by NewsWhip
NASA header feature image

NASA’s social media is out of this world. We look at how NASA creates engaging content to take us further and closer to space than ever before.

If social media was the universe, NASA would have been to every planet by now, and set up a base on each one.
Whenever we look at brands, NASA almost always snags a spot in our best examples, and with good reason too. The engagement numbers are consistently extraordinary. So how has NASA made itself a formidable publisher in its own right?

Social Media, the Final Frontier.

NASA has embraced social media on every front. There are numerous accounts across Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google+, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and more.
pie chart of NASA accounts
These accounts aren’t just for NASA as a whole. There are nearly 500 social media accounts for NASA facilities, organizations and programs, missions and areas of interest, and the astronauts themselves.
NASA facebook pages
Above are the top NASA Facebook accounts from June through August, 2016. While the main NASA page drove over 10 million engagements, the top three runner-ups also hit the one million engagement mark. The data comes from NewsWhip Spike

All About the Visuals

Of the top hundred posts from NASA’s top 15 engaging Facebook pages, 75% were photos and 25% were videos.
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This video of Juno in Jupiter’s orbit drove 36,000 shares, 2,700 comments, and 141,000 likes and reactions.
NASA has embraced each of Facebook’s new changes, such as Facebook Live. Much like huddling around the black-and-white television to watch man’s first steps on the moon, viewers can watch in real time as as NASA’s Juno Mission to Jupiter goes into orbit as in the video below.
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The video, viewed over 1.6 million times, also drove 80,000 reactions and likes, 16,000 shares, and 20,000 comments.
As this year’s MTV VMA Awards reached three times the audience on Snapchat as it did on television, publishers and brands alike have to consider that their video content may have a larger reach on native social than traditional channels. 
Facebook Live recently implemented a new feature, so for those watching after the stream is over, they can see the stream of comments that unfolded in real time.
As we recently saw, Facebook Live streams have an immediate effect on engagement, creating an enormous base of interactions for the video to continue growing off of, even after streaming ends. 
NASA’s five most commented posts from June through August were all Facebook Live videos. They included launching supplies into space, crews running drills, and more.
Facebook isn’t the only place where NASA has gone live. On YouTube, they offer live streams from the the International Space Station. (Something that prompts extremists to suspect aliens when it goes offline).

This is Ground Control to Major Tom

Much as we’ve seen from sports and entertainment, providing content with access to actual people drives big engagement.
Social media has made it easier than ever for NASA to bring us into the lives of our brave space explorers and the teams behind them. Out of NASA’s 182 Twitter accounts, 41 of those belong to 40 individual astronauts and one to a meteor scientist.

Reddit is a great way to let your audience interact on a deep and personal level.
This year, Scott Kelly hosted the first ever NASA Reddit Ask Me Anything from space, driving over 4,300 comments and questions about living in outer space for a year. Reddit’s also has hosted NASA engineers, asteroid experts, scientists, program managers, and more.
This real time access to astronauts isn’t excluded from the live experience either. NASA is using its Snapchat channel and Instagram Stories to bring followers up close and personal with astronauts.
NASA astronaut Instagram story
This photo is from NASA’s Instagram and Snapchat stories from September 6th, 2016 of NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams and two Russian cosmonauts returning from the International Space Station after 172 days in space. This medium let NASA frame the story and give access to the astronauts themselves. 

Quality Content Out of This World

We’ve talked a lot about how content is king, and the success of your content rests in the value that it’s delivering to your audience. Content can inform, entertain, or motivate your followers. Well, NASA hits each one of those values.

This Instagram photo from NASA both awes and educates followers. With over 463,000 likes and 2,900 comments, the caption on the stunning photo told followers about the annual Perseid meteor showers.
NASA has a sense of humor too, as we noted when the movie Gravity was nominated for an Academy Award. During that time, NASA tweeted all day about the movie and facts about gravity.

It’s not just the content, but the platform too, that matters. 
Over on Tumblr, NASA engages with the Millennial and Generation Z crowd with list articles that speak like an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy. Headlines like “Splish, Splash, Orion Takes a Bath” and “4 people are living in an isolated habitat for 30 days. Why? Science!” explain space phenomena and what NASA is up to.
Tumblr NASA
This Tumblr post about getting to Mars is succinct, visual, and informative. It accrued over 1,900 Tumblr interactions.
Quality content is about knowing what your audience wants, on which platform, and delivering it. Finding those content shooting stars and watching how your audience engages with them.

It’s Blast Off Time for Your Content

So what makes NASA such a great publisher of native content? Let’s rehash.

  • Not afraid to try new platforms
  • Experiment with new formats
  • Immerse your followers
  • Transparency, doesn’t seem like hiding things
  • Make content that counts

One of the biggest differences between social media and other types of media, is that audiences expect to be able to interact with the content they’re consuming, not just be lectured on. They want to see things that are interesting, and be able to comment, share, and react with their own thoughts.
NASA does that. Their enthusiasm and curiosity is infectious. While they educate, they also want their audience to be able to join in on what makes outer space so captivating to them.

Look up! Make plans now to stay up late or set the alarm tonight, the night of Aug. 11-12, to see a cosmic display of “shooting stars” light up the night sky. Known for its fast and bright meteors, the annual Perseid meteor shower is anticipated to be one of the best potential meteor viewing opportunities this year. The best way to see the Perseids is to go outside between midnight and dawn on the morning of Aug. 12. Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up. Increased activity may also be seen on Aug. 12-13. An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image. Stargazers expect a similar outburst during next week’s Perseid meteor shower, which will be visible tonight! Credits: NASA/JPL #nasa #perseid #perseidmeteors #meteors #space #sky #skywatch #stargazing #nasabeyond #earth #science

A photo posted by NASA (@nasa) on

This Instagram photo gives followers details on how to watch shooting stars. The detailed information and beautiful photo drove 396,000 likes and 5,300 comments.
It’s not all serious ‘space business’, either. NASA is savvy to what their followers care about, including pop culture.

This tweet about collaborating with One Direction drove over 11,000 retweets and 20,000 likes. Their social media success comes from their genuineness, their pulse on what excites their audience, and courage to explore and innovate on emerging technologies.
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