One of my fondest childhood memories was staying up right through the night to watch the ghostly flickering images of the Apollo 11 astronauts gallivanting around through their miraculously long hops in the low lunar gravity. In the subsequent decades, NASA seemed to lose focus (and funding) and the expectations of human exploration of the planets seemed to fade away. At a time when the only way that the once-mighty NASA has to get an astronaut into space is to write a check to the Russians for $63 million, the triumph of the Mars Curiosity landing has reverberated across the world’s social networks. NASA may have lost its leadership in space, but it certainly has established its primacy in the universe of social media
. The strategies it utilized can be applied to any online branding, with sufficient perspicacity and imagination.
More Peterbilt than Starship
NASA’s golden age was a time that riveted the attention of the world using computers barely powerful enough to drive a modern wristwatch and completely untested (and untestable) lunar landing and takeoff technologies, to fulfill John F. Kennedy’s dream “of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” The agency followed this up with a relatively pedantic space truck that was much more Peterbilt than Starship and designed for hauling cargo instead of exploring the solar system. To many space junkies such as myself, the nearly four decade-long shuttle program represented a betrayal of NASA’s fundamental raison d’etre. It was as if Einstein had decided to trash the whole relativity thing and get into the furniture moving business. The agency’s programs became ho hum not just to the public but to Capitol Hill which mostly kept it on minimal life support.
Nomenclatures Right out of Hollywood Marketing
NASA brought itself back into the public spotlight by shrewd social media strategies that at first glance would seem to fit a technology marketer rather than a governmental agency. They applied extensive social media savvy in seeding YouTube with a series of ever more revelatory videos, building the anticipation on the part of the viewer to a crescendo of attention and triggering the accompanying social media sharing and chatter. NASA even publicized nomenclatures that were straight out of a Hollywood movie marketer’s playbook, such as describing the landing as “Seven Minutes Of Terror.” However, the greatest coup was in bringing the faceless scientists behind the scenes into the social media spotlight and even allocating them their own Hollywood-ian nicknames such as Mohawk Guy, Hippie Guy and the entire team as the Hivemind.
"We're NASA and We Know It"
Tattooed Techy Is More Memorable than William Smith
This personalization of what would ordinarily be the dry, gray aspects of a project is the true genius behind the Curiosity social media splash. Social network followers are thirsting to get to know the people behind the scenes, the real stories of real individuals achieving wondrous things, and to have the entire project portrayed in a way that synchronizes with the expectations of a media-soaked generation. Why not give similar “faces” to key people in your company. Isn’t Tattooed Techy more memorable than William Smith? And what is your company doing: are you cranking out boring, conventional product or are you “boldly going where no (insert item here) manufacturer has gone before?” Getting the customer excited and looking forward to your next social media extravaganza may just be the number one way to build loyalty and engagement.
Eleven years after Kubrick and Clarke’s stunning 2001: A Space Odyssey, we are still very far away from the prospect of space clippers whisking the public off to orbiting hotels, but at least NASA has been able to establish primacy in the social media universe and keep the dream alive for the world’s space addicts with the stars in their eyes. Your social media efforts can also work to couch your brand’s image in similar terms to resonate with your online customers’ expectations. All it takes is to appropriate the social media playbook of Hollywood… er… NASA!