What NASA Can Teach You About Social-Media Marketing

A look at three strategies that business owners can put to work for their own social campaigns.

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By Rick Mulready

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When you think of NASA, you probably think of spaceships, telescopes and lunar expeditions. What you might not know is that the organization is also a powerhouse when it comes to social-media marketing. An achievement they've reached without the benefit of a social-media budget.

The agency has nearly 500 social-media accounts across multiple social networks that are managed by employees at 10 different field centers. That's a lot of tweets and Facebook updates. In April, NASA's Twitter account -- which has some 4.4 million followers -- was awarded its second consecutive "Shorty award" for the best government use of social media.

I recently spoke with John Yembrick, NASA's head of social media about how the agency manages its award-winning social-media efforts. After all, government agencies tend to be known more for their bureaucracy and red tape than for openness and social prowess.

Here's a look at three of the strategies Yembrick shared with me that business owners can put to work for their own social-media marketing campaigns.

Related: 3 Smart and Creative Ways to Use Foursquare for Marketing

1. Have a popular flagship product? Give it a voice.
NASA uses social media to tell a story -- the story of why space exploration is important to the fabric of people's lives and NASA's place in it.

Are you using social media to tell the story of your business? If you're not, you're missing a huge opportunity to connect with your consumers.

One way to tell a story is by giving your most popular flagship product its own voice. NASA has taken this approach with its Mars Curiosity Rover, giving it a voice through dedicated Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare accounts. The Rover speaks in the first person in a fun and witty tone and has collected millions of fans and followers.

2. Increase engagement with followers over Google+.
Although NASA is on several social channels, it focuses a lot of its effort on Google+. Why? Google+ users tend to be more tech savvy and forward thinking, which aligns well with NASA's target audience, according to Yembrick. NASA leans on Google+ as an effective channel to communicate and engage with its audience. They also use Google Hangouts to hold live question and answer sessions and informational meet-ups for their followers.

Hangouts can be useful for just about any business because they're a free and simple way to connect with your audience through video. They're also shown live on YouTube and get archived so anyone can access them whenever they want.
Here are a few ideas for using Google Hangouts to engage and connect with your customers:

  • Hold live Q&A sessions, just like NASA does. This offers people a behind-the-scenes look at your business.
  • Demonstrate products. Have a new product coming out? Host a Hangout to introduce it and demonstrate what it's all about.
  • Provide customer support. Hangouts can be a unique way to help customers with any issues they're having with your product or service.

Related: Why Video for Instagram Isn't a Vine Killer

3. Create your own reality show.
People love the chance to get an exclusive look into other people's lives -- and businesses. So why not create your own reality show, of sorts, and invite customers for a behind-the-scenes look at your startup? Promote the events via your social-media channels and you can create value for your followers, not to mention the bonus of giving people another cool reason to follow you.

NASA does this well with its NASA Social program. Followers of NASA's social-media channels have the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes at the agency's facilities and events and speak with astronauts, scientists and engineers. NASA promotes the events exclusively through its social-media accounts and people can apply to win one of the coveted spots. NASA then randomly chooses the winners.

This strategy can be effective for businesses for a few reasons:

  • It offers engagement with customers and followers. It can get them excited about your business and products whether they win or not.
  • It gives your social-media followers an exclusive opportunity they otherwise wouldn't get.
  • Live events like this allow you to bring together like-minded people to connect which can reflect well on your brand.
  • Produce a great event and your attendees are more likely to become raving fans and talk about you within their own social channels.

Say you're a cupcake shop and are building your following on Facebook. You could run a monthly Facebook-only promotion where you offer behind-the-scenes tours of your shop. Winners get a tour of the kitchen area where you make the cupcakes and then, they get to do a private cupcake tasting.

If you're looking for creative ways to use social media to market your business, look no further than NASA. It's proof that you can enjoy massive success -- even on a shoestring budget.

Related: How You Can Create the 'Perfect' Social Media Post (Infographic)

Rick Mulready

Blogger, Consultant, Speaker and Host

Rick Mulready is a Los Angeles-based social media blogger, consultant and speaker who hosts the Inside Social Media podcast.

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