Learn How to Build Loyal Fans from NASA

In the fall of 2013, the United States government faced a budget quandary and the government shutdown. As an avid space fan and NASA Social participant, I had been on Twitter for several years following and advocating space-related news. But something amazing happened during the government shutdown.

For some background, the NASA Social initiative was started to engage people around the world through social media. As online engagement grew, NASA also started in-person “tweetups” to bring social media fans on-site at various NASA facilities to cover key events, just as regular media would. During the event, NASA Social attendees would use various social media platforms to spread the word. 

Using this strategy, NASA Social has created a huge global fanbase. And this fanbase would come to the rescue during the government shutdown. You see, while NASA employees were unable to tweet or share information, the global fanbase took over. The hashtag #WhatNASAMightTweet became the rally point. During the shutdown, social media fans from around the world took to Twitter, Facebook and other platforms to fill the void. No one got paid. No one got any favors. NASA fans were so engaged that they took the initiative on their own to fill the void - 24/7 for two weeks.

As one of those fans, I was astounded at how strangers rallied together to support their common cause. These were loyal fans. And as one attendee said, “NASA Social alumni is like family to me.” So how do we create loyal fans in our own organizations? Borrowing from NASA Social’s experience, I will highlight some keys elements to consider in creating fans of our organization.

What is the organization’s personality? Great brands create a unified voice to the market and can instill emotions. But is there personality internally? Does the communication style, tone and voice reflect the core values and create the right environment? Creating a personality allows employees to engage at a more comfortable level. NASA Social was able to create personalities around their missions by tweeting as the Mars rover or an exploratory spacecraft.

Sometimes, it takes time (and luck) to find the right personality. Look to your values and culture for hints on what voice plays well with your employee base. Is it really any different than your external marketing voice? Creating the right personality builds the fan base and elevates fan engagement for the content. This is not easy. It’s hard to balance serious, executive messages through a voice that can be more casual. This also means giving some guidelines to leader videos, so everything isn’t necessarily overly-produced, so their personality comes out more.

What captures all our attention is a good story. And like any good story, there’s a plot that intrigues us and characters that we care about (personality!). At NASA Social, they leverage storytelling every chance they get. There’s a team of social media managers that take on various missions or events and for the most part, have discretion over how they approach it. But in the end, they are all strategically aligned on spreading the news and engaging the audience.

For organizations, an ambassador network can work well to provide the stories that matter. And often times, the best stories come from deep in the trenches. Find advocates at all levels of your organization and recruit them to be storytellers. The audience will appreciate the intimate stories from various departments and levels and provide genuine “plotlines” to maximize engagement. Having different perspectives and voices for storytelling keeps it interesting and avoids the “business tone” that often turns off your audience.

No, not that kind of leadership. This is where I break from the norm and talk about leadership from your fan base. During the #WhatNASAMightTweet fill-in campaign, it wasn’t NASA leadership that won the day. It was the leadership amongst the most loyal fans that took the initiative and grew and sustained the effort. 

If you get the first two things right, you create natural leaders in the fan base to help the organization through both good times and bad times. Loyal fans help you fight the fight, so you don’t have to. Negativity can be reversed by loyal fans throughout the organization, without it sounding like “another management storyline.” So find leadership in the fan base so that growing the loyal fan base becomes a self-sustaining cycle.

We can all borrow from lessons from NASA Social’s success over the years on how organizations can create loyal internal fans. Leveraging personality, storytelling and fan leadership, you can create, grow and sustain a base of loyal fans that improve engagement all around. And as a space fanatic, I hope this inspires you to check out the various NASA social media accounts and look for opportunities to apply for one of the coveted spots for the next NASA Social event.

(You can find NASA Social events at: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/social/