If I were looking for news about NASA, I would probably turn to trade magazines, or science publications. Yet the space agency has managed to secure wide-ranging media coverage from unexpected outlets such as Mashable.com. Thanks to a creative Twitter campaign, NASA has carved out an impressive niche in the social media realm.

Communicators from the DC area gathered on January 10, at Porter Novelli for an intimate discussion and presentation from NASA Social Media Manager Stephanie Schierholz on the department’s innovative use of Tweetups. Schierholz explained how she managed to craft a social media campaign to gain 1.7 million followers, host 17 live Tweetups in one year – and achieve all of this without a formal budget.

The goal of the campaign was to spread the word about NASA’s work to as many people as possible. It was clear that social media presented an opportunity to reach new audiences, and engage with communities that were not previously active. In addition, NASA had something to offer in return: insider access to the most cutting edge technology in the world. They decided to experiment with Tweetups, inviting a select number of followers to NASA facilities to attend lectures, tours, and in one case, view an actual spaceship launch.


Using the hashtag #NasaTweetUps, the team announced the first event to the Twitterverse. They lined up some keynote speakers, and carefully tackled the registration process–especially complicated due to the governmental regulations with which NASA has to comply. They learned a lot from the first few rounds of registration, eventually posting an FAQ page to cut down on the amount of anxious emails. Aside from a few system crashes due to the flood of enthusiastic applications, the Tweetups moved forward successfully.


The brilliance of this campaign was in connecting fans of the agency with the very people who do the cool work they care about. These groups may not have come into contact otherwise, and their combined enthusiasm made the events a memorable experience for the speakers and followers alike.

In addition, the followers became a great asset in telling NASA’s story. Before each Tweetup the communications team at NASA issued a formal press release. Then, through Twitter, Schierholz encouraged followers to individually make contact with their local press and explain that they had been selected to attend this exclusive event. This individual outreach was far more authentic, and generated more coverage than the NASA team could have done alone.

The community took on a life of its own, launching the separate wiki site Nasatweet.com for “Tweeps & Space Geeks” in which they share stories and photos, and keep track of rumored Tweetups-to-come. Schierholz emphasized that social communities “will always have better ideas than you do” and encouraged PR teams to foster the creativity that followers can bring to the experience.

For PR professionals concerned about relinquishing control to unknown masses in social media, Schierholz offered an inspiring piece of advice. Focus on making the event truly “awesome” so that people will want to Tweet about the great time they had. Make the event so remarkable that it lends itself to being shared, and you will have the best chance of generating positive buzz about your work, and continued interest in your mission.

Have you organized a Tweetup? What are your top tips?

Stephanie’s Tweetup Tips:
  • Create an email distribution list in case there is breaking news to communicate to attendees
  • Have IT staffers on hand during the event to troubleshoot as needed
  • Manage attendee expectations—if a certain area has no Internet access, make them aware in advance!