Last week at SXSW Interactive, the team behind the NASA Mars Rover’s social media activity was awarded the conference’s Interactive Award for “Best Social Media Campaign.” With over 1.3 million Twitter followers, the Little Rover That Could has indeed become a social media superstar thanks to the talented social media enthusiasts working behind the scenes.
Let’s look at a few takeaways from this winning campaign.
Humanize Your Brand with Social Media
The Rover’s Twitter account pushes out entertaining and informative tweets about its mission to Mars while staying completely “in character.” By keeping things humorous and mostly conversational, the NASA team has managed to successfully humanize a machine on a distant planet while collecting a huge online audience in the process. The non-stop nature of Twitter's stream allows ample opportunity for your brand (or robot) to become humanized and relatable, tweet by tweet.
That all you got Sun? The solar storm was less energetic than predicted so no sleeping in tosol. Operations have resumed.— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) March 8, 2013
How do I take selfies on Mars? By taking multiple pics w/ a camera at the end of my arm. Here's how it's done: http://t.co/fTNRfqee— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) February 8, 2013
Keep Things a Little Goofy
During a session at SXSW, entrepreneur Eddie Huang spoke about the virtue of keeping things off-kilter, goofy, and unpredictable. “The Internet, social media sites; people flock to the goofy stuff, that’s the stuff that gets attention.” While not a planned part of the campaign, NASA learned this virtue with breakout star Bobak Ferdowsi, aka The Mohawk Guy. The engineer became an overnight online celebrity after social media users began mentioning his unique look and creating memes with his image. Huang also noted that a company may have an online superstar waiting in the wings, and that employees should be encouraged to use social media in the hopes of ferreting them out. Between Ferdowsi and the casual, humorous tweets from Curiosity, NASA embraces keeping it a little goofy and has benefited in the process.
Connect Your Online and Offline Activity
The NASA team knew the action couldn’t just take place on Twitter. Social media activities can gain more traction when tied to the offline world whenever possible. Social media platforms offer an easy gateway connecting both realms. From their website:
“NASA Tweetup and NASA Social events added a "you are there" element to the campaign. Social media followers were randomly selected to go behind the scenes for launch and landing. They met with scientists and engineers, took pictures, asked questions and shared the experience via their own social media accounts, making them citizen journalists and ambassadors for the mission.”
Encouraging fans and followers to share your brand’s activities via their social accounts is a great way to take advantage of user-generated content for your campaigns.
Quick Response in the Social Media Age
The NASA team realizes that social media is about conversations, not simply pushing out information. The Mars Rover Twitter handle delivers frequent updates on the mission but also serves its followers by answering questions quickly.
@tomi91 No solar panels. My power source is an MMRTG. It uses thermal couples to convert heat from plutonium to electricity— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) March 19, 2013
It’s Always About the Story
The “7 Minutes of Terror” video, launched last summer as the Rover was about to land on the Red Planet, currently sits at over two million YouTube views. The NASA team, rather than produce a video detailing technical specifics likely to confuse most people (well, me anyway), used a menacing music score and eye catching graphics to produce an entertaining narrative tale of the landing. The video set up Mars as something of an antagonist to Curiosity’s plucky protagonist. Discussing how your brand’s product works behind the scenes may not always be all that entertaining. There's an interesting narrative to be found, however, in just about any brand's story. YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook; all of these platforms let you showcase that narrative in different ways. To once again quote Eddie Huang’s session: “always think in three acts.”