NASA’s Social Media Manager: ‘We’re Breaking Down the Walls of What People Think Government Is’

"I can't think of anything that's changed communications for NASA in the last 30 years more than Twitter," said John Yembrick, social media manager at NASA. Yembrick discussed NASA's passion for social media at the AllTwitter Marketing Conference in San Francisco yesterday.

“I can’t think of anything that’s changed communications for NASA in the last 30 years more than Twitter,” said John Yembrick, social media manager at NASA.

Yembrick discussed NASA’s passion for social media at the AllTwitter Marketing Conference in San Francisco yesterday.

With no budget for social media except Yembrick’s and others’ salaries, the team relies on basic tools. They measure their success in a weekly social report on their Facebook, Google+, and Twitter accounts.

NASA has already noticed that its Twitter efforts have attracted more young girls, a key demographic in science.

The team also looks at which aspects of space exploration people want to know more about. “We analyze which stories people are interested in,” Yembrick said. “I try to guess it and I can’t because the public can be unpredictable.”

It was through Twitter (and YouTube), for example, that millions of people discovered “Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror,” a video that documented the final harrowing moments as the Curiosity rover landed on the surface of Mars.

 

“We are a federal agency and we’re breaking down the walls of what people think government is,” said Yembrick. “There’s a personality behind it; there’s a face behind it.”

The personality of the unmanned rover, in this case, was manned by three people on earth: Veronica McGregor, Courtney O’Connor, and Stephanie Smith.

But there was also Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who posted photos of his own trip to space on Twitter. “I was shocked at how awesome he was,” Yembrick said.

Is it a requirement for astronauts to Tweet? “We really want to see more of that, but astronauts have to be comfortable with the medium,” said Yembrick. “It’s not natural for a lot of folks.”

While yesterday’s conference focused on Twitter, Yembrick told us after the panel that Google+ was also a game-changer for the government agency because it allows NASA team members to interact directly with the public through Google+ Hangouts.

“The audience isn’t there yet on Google+,” he said, but the hangout sessions are visible on YouTube, which reaches more people. In addition, Google+ draws a tech-savvy, enthusiastic crowd. “They have best comments,” Yembrick added.