A 2012 Spacetweet Odyssey: Stephanie Schierholz shares how NASA is conquering the final frontier of social media

Last month, Spredfast sponsored the Shorty Awards in NYC, hosted every year to recognize the best in social media. Votes can be tweeted in, but the Real Time Academy has final say. The awards show was elegant while not taking itself too seriously; it is "The Oscars for Twitter" after all. Samantha Bee and Jason Jones of The Daily Show hosted, and the crowd could be seen tweeting away.

Spredfast sponsored the Best Social Media Manager award, won by Stephanie Schierholz of NASA. NASA was a big winner that night, also taking home the #Government award and being the subject of the Best Real-Time Picture award. I interviewed Stephanie recently about what may be the coolest job in social media: Social Media Manager for NASA.

Best real-time photo winner- a shot of the space shuttle Endeavor taken while aboard a commercial jet

 The social media nerd in me wanted to hear about NASA"™s social media strategy and operationalizing needed to run a large-scale social program with over 250 different social media accounts (their channels are listed here). They run the channels on a hub and spoke model with a social media lead at each NASA center. The social media manager coordinates their content with interested offices like Office of the General Counsel, Office of the CIO, the Web team, Records, Archives, etc.

Since NASA is a government sector, I expected a lengthy approval process  for outbound content. I was pleased to learn they have a great solution. NASA has spokespeople who are allowed to talk directly to reporters and share content on social channels. They are well trained and know the content without requiring further approval. Astronauts also receive media training so they can post to Twitter without approval, even from the International Space Station. There is, however, a NASA communication policy that everyone must follow.

Stephanie explained that engagement and reach are important KPIs NASA uses to measure success. She explained the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 mandates NASA share its activity as widely as possible, and that is a strong part of NASA"™s culture. Funny to think we are still seeing effects of that act in the 21st century. She went on to say that not only is this part of their culture, but that social media makes it increasingly possible to reach space fans everywhere and encourage them to interact and share contact.

She answered a few other questions that I think social media and space lovers everywhere will enjoy.

 What is your content strategy at NASA? How do you decide which content to use, what the frequency was, which channels you'd post to, etc?

NASA has a great problem: too much good content! Many companies struggle with creating and identifying compelling content, but, with its access to the universe, this isn't a problem for NASA. Thus, we can place much more focus on what is the best content, the timeliest, relevant, and most stunning, and how best can you share it. Good writing and headline writing is more important than ever. You want to write a short update that entices someone to click on the link or open the picture or watch the video. NASA very rarely uniformly shares content across channels - we try to make the sharing of the content compatible with the platform. This means we'll live-tweet an event like a rocket launch but post more infrequently about it on Facebook and Google+.

 We all know about the fascination with space, astronauts, and the moon during the 60s. Some of us lived through it, and others have seen pictures of families crowded around a TV set watching the launch. NASA has over 2 million followers on Twitter today. Astronauts are checking into Foursquare from outer space. Do you think people are more or less interested in the space program, and how does that translate to today's culture and social media?

The great thing about social media is it allows people to connect with space exploration in a very real way that wasn't possible before. We see the excited reactions, when we answer a question on Twitter or Facebook. People are thrilled to ask NASA a question and get a response. Interestingly, that's always been a possibility. You can write NASA a letter, leave a voicemail, or send an email and also get a response. But responses on social media are somehow more real to people, perhaps because of the immediacy. What we have seen and experienced in our interactions with people online and offline (e.g. NASA Socials http://www.nasa.gov/social) is people will say, "I always liked NASA [or wanted to be an astronaut], but then I got busy with life and got distracted, and I'm so happy to reconnect." We've seen people's love of space exploration rekindled and reignited by the opportunity to engage with NASA in very real ways online.

Do you have an idea about the demographic break down of your FB and Twitter followers?

Yes, we have had access to some of that data, and it's nice to see that NASA is loved and followed worldwide. It's important for us to keep that in mind. Even though US taxpayers fund NASA, it is beloved worldwide. The International Space Station is a fantastic example of a successful international partnership (including with a former Cold War enemy, nonetheless). It also means we can post around the clock and see high levels of engagement. And any time we have a high-profile event like a launch or docking to the space station, it doesn't matter what time it takes place because part of the world is awake and other fans will stay awake, even if it's not day in their time zone. On Twitter, we're followed equally by both men and women; on Facebook we see higher engagement from men. 

What is your favorite thing about being Social Media Manager for NASA?

The best thing about being social media manager at NASA is the access to the broad variety of very cool things NASA does -- whether Earth science, astrophysics, Heliophysics, expeditions to other planets, aeronautics design and research, people living in space on the International Space Station or building the next-generation tools and equipment for the future -- then getting the privilege of saying to a whole bunch of people following NASA, "look at this cool thing" and interacting with them as they discover the wonder too.

  Answers and insights from this post are from the work Stephanie accomplished while at NASA. She has since accepted a different opportunity outside of NASA.

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