Virgin Galactic Is Going to Be Social Media on Rocket Fuel

Edelman exec dishes on a never-before-seen buzz vortex

Headshot of Christopher Heine

It might be many months before Virgin Galactic carries paying customers—rich people and celebrities, mainly, with $250,000 to fork over—into outer space.

But given that Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson and his team yesterday chose Edelman Digital to help the brand manage social media as part of its larger public-relations-based chores, it's fair to ponder about the ridiculous buzz the venture will generate. Can you imagine what Twitter, Facebook and other social channels are going to be like if Branson's venture gets going for real? The Internet would completely blow up. (And to be fair, when or if competitors such as Elon Musk's SpaceX and Peter Diamandis' Planetary Resources get their projects literally off the ground, the attention will be similarly palpable.)

Ron Guirguis, managing director of corporate affairs at Edelman, spoke with Adweek today to preview what social media around space hospitality might entail.

Please describe the social work your team will perform for this orbital brand.

We will help them define what the social voice is going to be for Virgin Galactic. From there, we'll work with how to engage not only the general public, but the 700 future astronauts that are ready. And lastly, we'll be helping them with [online] community management.

To your point about future astronauts: The interest that celebrities like Leo DiCaprio are going to generate is going to be virtually out of this world—as well as literally in the sense that they could potentially communicate from space via digital media.

Absolutely. But we are not counting on that. Or, it's not why we are doing it. But there is no doubt that people with large followings online are going to mean that many more people are going to be exposed to it. The more, the better.

Since the social media attention these flights get should be crazy, will best practices and standard benchmarks—in terms of even the buzziest brands—even apply?

The tools, strategies and lessons we have learned—PR, social media, content marketing, integrated branding—will all apply. It will all be brought to bear for Virgin Galactic. Social engagement is ultimately social engagement. We want to engage people with the brand. It's kind of a PR answer, but it is the truth.

Will there be standard Facebook pages and Twitter handles for the initiative?

The plans are still rough, but yes. There's going to be so much great content when you start thinking about what's going to be happening in the next few years with Virgin Galactic. It's such a great [general] story, but also a great business story. They are pioneering and creating a brand-new industry. And that's pretty exciting stuff. They are documenting all of it. The content treasure trove is great for social.

Looking ahead, what content are you most excited about?

Well, there's not only the video content, which will be compelling. There is also the fascinating conversations they have captured with their own scientists, Burt Rutan from SpaceShipOne and Richard Branson. There are dynamic pieces that people will want to engage with. Once people start to unpack this story, they'll understand that it's about more than the space tourism component. It's about the wonder, possibility and impact of commercial space flight … When you do what we do for a living, this is the kind of opportunity that comes around once in a lifetime.

The Wright Bros. experienced problems when they started. NASA has had well-documented issues, too. Is crisis management—if something were to go wrong—part of Edelman's job in all of this?

We are managing all aspects of communication for the brand. You can imagine that when the president of Virgin Galactic is former NASA chief of staff [George T. Whitesides], these guys are well-versed for planning for every possible contingency. They are prepared for everything. Obviously, we are planning for these things to be successful. And we will be there by their side if there are delays or other issues.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.