What NASA Can Teach B2B Event Marketers
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to craft an innovative event marketing strategy, but it turns out that we can learn a thing or two from them.
Recently, NASA opened the doors of 10 field centers around the country to a small but diverse set of its social media followers. Although I don’t have aerospace expertise, I was fortunate to be one of 12 people selected to attend the day-long “State of NASA” event at Ames Research Center in Mountain View.
Through tours and presentations with scientists, engineers, and managers, participants were given a rare behind-the-scenes look at the agency’s diverse work. It was an amazing experience for the 12 of us, but what does NASA get out of this?
In exchange for the experience, NASA got to leverage the accounts of people they deemed to be key influencers who could in turn:
- Boost engagement
- Extend reach
- Showcase unique content
The State of NASA event
Until its latest budget cycle, NASA faced disappointingly low federal funding, making it challenging to be creative and efficient in spending marketing and advertising resources. To build on its expansive social audience while increasing awareness about its initiatives, NASA developed NASA Social in 2009, the program under which “State of NASA” operates.
“The program began in order to take our online fans and followers offline; to give them a behind-the-scenes experience, which they could share with their friends and followers,” said Jessica Culler, NASA Ames’ news chief and social media lead. “It’s an outstanding way for us to reach people that may not be connected with NASA.”
Each participant had to apply for the “State of NASA” event. Only people NASA considered to be influencers were chosen. In order to be selected, applicants had to pass the following criteria:
- Actively use multiple social networking platforms and tools to disseminate information to a unique audience
- Regularly produce new content that features multimedia elements
- Have the potential to reach a large number of people using digital platforms
- Reach a unique audience, separate and distinctive from traditional news media and/or NASA audiences
- Have an established history of posting content on social media platforms
Each NASA location was free to decide what to present.
“Each center was encouraged to highlight a few things that made it special,” Culler said. “Ames is located in this incredible Silicon Valley and Bay Area community, and we wanted to make sure we were highlighting things that tied to our home area—autonomous systems, high-end computing, and earth science research. These things are just a portion of the portfolio of work that we do, but they’re aligned to the spirit of what’s grown up with us in our 76-year history here.”
By highlighting what makes the Ames Research Center special, audience members were given not only a uniquely shareable experience, but one that had the potential to have the greatest appeal for local audiences.
From passive viewers to active users
I was out-of-my-mind excited: I learned about robotics research, met astronaut Steve Smith—a veteran of four space flights—and also sat in on a live broadcast featuring NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
Throughout the day, we participated in several presentations and demonstrations:
- Q&A session with Smith
- Demo of earth science data shown on a 128-screen research hyperwall
- Tour of the SPHERES space station robotics lab
Our Ames host staff encouraged us to tweet and post about our activities. My group, which consisted of local media professionals, teachers, and bloggers, was happy to oblige.
Brian Biegel of @NASA_NAS shows #NASASocial hyperwall, data taken of earth’s oceans using Pleiades supercomputer pic.twitter.com/rCRkGwYzpi
— Andrea Leptinsky (@AndreaLeptinsky) February 9, 2016
Honored to meet Astronaut Steve Smith at @NASAAmes! Interesting to hear about NASA/Silicon Valley work. #NASAsocial pic.twitter.com/v0AgtAvWd8
— Andrea Leptinsky (@AndreaLeptinsky) February 9, 2016
Leaving a lasting impression
“State of NASA” was a huge win for NASA’s event marketing efforts. Each participant fulfilled their role as a content generator as we tweeted, posted, and Instagrammed the most interesting and colorful moments from the event. By encouraging us to share on our own channels, NASA’s organic reach spiked, which could lead to new followers and event attendees.
As Tendo Senior Editor Selena Welz notes in this Tendo View post, leveraging event-based content like NASA did is an effective tool for building major marketing momentum:
“Not only do non-attendees get a rich selection of authentic content to consume, but they also get a taste of what they’re missing by not attending the event,” Welz writes. “They might even be compelled to invest in a conference pass next time.”
After this event, not only am I more likely to stay engaged with NASA’s social accounts, but so are some of my followers. This is one trend that Culler has seen time and again.
“We always see a bump in people following our accounts after [an event], and we receive significantly more engagement when we have those intense bursts of our own real-time posts and posts from attending influencers about our content,” Culler said. “Some alumni from each of our events stay very engaged and are commenting on and mentioning our center accounts directly and more frequently, and using our handle or tagging us in content they generate.”
Extending the value
The event marketing strategy behind “State of NASA” is one we recommend to other companies looking for a real-world event marketing example. NASA was able to push its messaging and priorities to a new audience while generating publicity for hosting a unique social media event. The participants helping to broadcast NASA’s message and activities were eager to do so, and in turn, generated on-the-ground content that cast a spotlight on NASA’s innovative work.
Consider these tactics as you count down to your next event marketing opportunity.