How NASA uses social media well

When I was at NASA LAUNCH this past weekend, I learned about NASA’s public outreach and education activities, which I think are a good model for organizations who are wondering how to connect with their stakeholders. It’s a nice thing to know that I can grab their photos on their Flickr feed and when I ask about copyright, they tell me, “this is NASA,” and that means, “be our guest.” And actually, they have a very clear policy on their web site that lets the public know what it can and can’t do. I’m a fan of this approach.

I have to mention first that my (and many others) social media guide at NASA is Beth Beck ( @bethbeck ). I was connected with her right away for the requisite hashtag and social media approach for the weekend (and she did have one, as every event should). She exudes enthusiasm and this is well reflected in her own social media presence as well as all the work she has coordinated for NASA.; great twitter + leadership mashup

Speaking of great work, there were two custom-built social media tools built by JESS3 ( @jess3 ) that we were exposed to during LAUNCH weekend, which include NASA Buzzroom and NASA MindMapr . My understanding that these tools will be open-sourced by NASA; they are worth a look for organizations who are wondering how to bring their leaders into the social media space. Buzzroom makes it easy to bring “people of interest,” in NASA’s case, their Astronauts, into the Twittersphere, and MIndMapr is useful for events by allowing people to take notes 140-character style, with attribution and the ability to be on-record and off-record for various participants.

And our Astronauts, they are social-media savvy and encouraged to participate. Astronaut Ron Garan is active on Twitter ( @astro_ron ) and created Fragile Oasis: The Space Blog Focused on Planet Earth ( @fragileoasis ). From the home page:

We appreciate that we have been given a special privilege. We realize how fortunate we are to be included in that very small group of people who have the opportunity to fly in space. Because of this, We also realize that we have a responsibility to share that experience, as best we can, with everyone who has not been given this opportunity.

I encourage you to read Ron’s post, “The 3rd Rock Vision” which is as great a message of using the privilege of opportunity to recruit leadership by all as I have ever seen in the social media sphere. For me, this is the compelling story of our space program, in its ability to help us understand we have more in common than not. Ron also tweeted yesterday that he’s taking a Space Tweep Society patch with him to the Space Station for his upcoming 6 month (!) mission. That’s engagement with your stakeholders.

I went to look up information about how NASA prioritizes public education and outreach. My understanding is that about 1% of the NASA budget goes toward education and public outreach, and a similar proportion of every mission’s budget is allocated this way. I found this quote:

(education and public outreach) is treated as though it were a mission subsystem.

Before last weekend, I was not aware of the tremendous change underway at NASA, with the sunsetting of the Space Shuttle program and changes to the space economy in Florida. This is not what I felt from our hosts, though. What I learned (again) is that an organization that uses social media well is one that works hard to communicate well, not the other way around. From my experience, then, mission accomplished, and thanks for all of the ideas.

As usual, I see many opportunities for our health care system to learn and use this technology. Let me know your thoughts in the comments on how you will apply these ideas in what you do.


Ted, Thanks for giving up your time on a weekend to spend long hours with us at LAUNCH:Health. Your input was invaluable to the LAUNCH Innovators. So nice to meet another social media addict. It was our pleasure to infect you with a little NASA stardust while you were here. Sprinkle it to the wind! We'd love to see stars in everyone's eyes. That's what NASA is all about!



I love it, it's a great message for any organization or industry!

Your fan,


Ted Eytan, MD