August 8, 2012
A funny thing happened earlier this week. NASA blew NBC off the social media map, without even trying.
When the Mars Rover Curiosity made an absolutely flawless landing on the surface of the red planet, Twitter, Facebook and many other social media networks went berserk with the news, blowing the concurrent media frenzy of the London Olympiad out of the spotlight – much to the chagrin of NBC, I’m sure.
There were three distinct phases to the blowout, and we can learn from all of them when talking about how to manage social media messaging:
1 – Time delays should only be caused by actual distance.
Curiosity’s landing was broadcast in near real-time by various parts of NASA, with photos taken by the Rover being transmitted out to the world almost as soon as they were taken (there is a 14-minute delay for the transmissions to reach Earth from Mars). This is a big difference when you compare NBC’s six hour delay for events happening on the same planet. There is no such thing as Prime Time online, and NASA knows how to leverage that always-on mentality to the fullest.
2 – NASA lets the information be free.
While it’s understandable that NBC wants to keep a tight rein on information and news coming out of London, NASA has no commercial reason to restrict information. Therefore, there was simply more available news and imagery from Curiosity than from the Olympics flowing at any given time. More info means more blog posts, tweets, posts and broadcasts. If NBC and the International Olympic Committee had allowed a small portion of the information to be freely available, it would get a better spread and more play.
3 – NASA has a surprising sense of humor, and appreciates it in others too.
Funny stuff gets more play, simple fact of Internet Life these days. NASA was quick to crack jokes, and to encourage others to do the same. Because people felt more free about posting jokes and jibes about NASA, the landing was followed by a slew of sharp comments and posts about things like the NASA Flight Controller with the mohawk haircut, or the fact that they could have very well missed one of the most stunning images (the one at the top of this article) if the timing of the landing was off by just a tiny bit. The result? Everyone started talking about NASA and Curiosity. Satirical twitter accounts sprang up instantly, and got great play. When a video of the event got pulled from Youtube due to an apparent copyright issue, NASA shrugged it off as just one of those SNAFUs that happen. The whole internet erupted in support of NASA, mostly because NASA didn’t make a big deal out of it. By not taking themselves too seriously or chastising others who refused to do so, NASA ended up becoming the darlings of social media.
So, lessons learned.
1 – Move fast. Delaying data only means that someone else who you may not want to talk about it will get the story published first.
2 – Always get your message out there, even if that means losing control of some parts of it. You’ll quickly lose control of all of it in ways you do NOT want if you try to put a stranglehold on things.
3 – You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Poke fun of yourself, or laugh it off when others do. Laugh with the crowd, or they’ll just laugh at you instead.