Tweeting From Space

Stephen Voss

From Twitter to Foursquare check-ins to Mohawk Guy, it seems every-thing viral coming from federal government traces back to one agency: NASA. 

Jason Townsend, deputy social media manager for the agency and overseer of  its 460 social media accounts, says the trend is no coincidence. “It’s been part of our ethos since day one to share as much information as we can,” he says. “There’s no argument about should we be doing it. It’s just a matter of ‘how should we do it?’ ” 

NASA’s most recent foray into social media has been a resounding success, with its Curiosity Rover that recently touched down on the surface of Mars drawing more than 1.2 million followers on Twitter. Account updates narrate day-to-day activities of the rover from a first-person perspective. 

Townsend says the popularity of NASA’s Twitter feed—and all its social media enterprises—is rooted in “great content,” but the key to its viral growth is engagement. “We have to be an active part of that conversation,” he says. “It’s not a broadcast mechanism, it’s a two-way conversation.” 

His team tries to encourage comments and reply to as many Tweets as possible to show “there are humans behind this, not a nameless, faceless agency,” Townsend adds. Mohawk Guy, a.k.a. Bobak Ferdowsi—the quirky mission control staffer whose hairstyles went viral—is one of them.

Despite NASA’s online success, Townsend says social media is a “constant evolution” and the agency must always be forward-looking. “We are going to try to find the next big platform . . . we can effectively communicate on,” he says, adding the one key question is: “How can we effectively share what NASA has going on with as many people as we possibly can?”

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