In this series of profiles, we're putting the spotlight on some of the wonderful speakers who will be featured at The Social Shake-Up this June.
John Yembrick is NASA's social media manager and an agency spokesperson. As social media manager, John uses emerging communications technologies to help advance NASA's outreach activities and reach new audiences. He leads NASA's social media team across the agency's field centers, projects and programs. Additionally, he manages NASA's 490+ social media accounts, including the primary flagship NASA Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+ accounts and NASA Socials across the agency. We're thrilled to have John deliver the opening keynote at the Shake-Up in a few weeks. He took the time to answer a few questions for us this week.
Before you were NASA's social media manager and agency spokesperson, you led communications for the space shuttle and ISS at NASA headquarters. Did the lessons you learned in that position translate over to your current job, or is it a largely different skill set?
Before social media, my entire career was primarily focused on working with news media. I'd write news releases, plan news conferences, give interviews, etc. The main difference is the audience. The news media are still an important consumer of our content, but we're now communicating with the public as a whole, many of whom create their own content to help share NASA's story.
Also, NASA didn't have a social media manager position originally. Most of the postings to the various channels were done by the public affairs officers representing the various mission directorates at NASA Headquarters. So, I was using social media in my previous role working communications for Space Operations. I was one of the early advocates for social media within the agency. There's tremendous value in telling your story directly to the public, many of whom would never otherwise have known what NASA was doing. I realized this one day when live tweeting a spacewalk during a space shuttle mission. Random people from the public, who you normally don't interact with, were commenting, asking questions and sharing what I was posting on Twitter. People love NASA and space exploration, and that fact was demonstrated out in the open on social media. It was refreshing to see.
Working for a federal agency must mean you're dealing with governmental resource constraints. How do you handle resource allotment within your social program?
NASA does not have a specific budget for social media. At headquarters, there are two people who manage social media for the agency, myself and my colleague Jason Townsend. Aside from our salaries, there aren't specific Office of Communications funds allocated for social media. That said, we work with a team of people throughout the agency that help write web features and news products, create videos, etc. that provide amazing content for us to use. Since the dawn of social media, we've worked to make agency communications professionals think differently about how they do their jobs. We're a much more digitally focused organization than we were even a couple of years ago.
As a federal agency, we can't pay for ads or promoted content. That doesn't bother us. Good content is good content. Yes, in an ideal world everyone who wants to see NASA in their feed would, and some of the algorithms make that difficult, but if our content is powerful enough, people will share it with their friends and followers. It will be seen.
NASA has well over 10 million fans on Facebook and nearly as many followers on Twitter. Those can't all be physicists and rocket scientists! What are the challenges posed by trying to attract "civilians" to your social program? How do you keep them engaged?
In my view, space exploration can connect with everyone on the planet. For example, we are doing biomedical research aboard the space station that may help fight diseases. We are discovering distant planets orbiting stars outside our solar system, some of which may be Earth-like and in the habitable zone. We have telescopes that are looking back in time at far away galaxies, helping us understand our place in the universe. We're studying space weather and the Earth's climate, investigating how it's changing. And NASA's on a course to send humans deeper into space than ever before to an asteroid, Mars and beyond. These stories are powerful and compelling for all of humanity, and our technology and research can impact people's lives directly. The challenge isn't our content, it's showing people how space exploration connects with them personally and getting that information in front of them. Although we have a strong social media following, we've only touched the surface. There are a lot more people we need to reach.
Finally, tell us a little bit about what you plan to speak about during your keynote this June.
Back in the 1960s and during the Apollo missions to the moon, the public observed space exploration. People sat around their TV sets and absorbed the news broadcasters were sharing. They had exclusivity on what story was told and how. They're the ones who interacted with astronauts and scientists. Today, the public doesn't have to just observe, they can participate. At NASA, we're transforming the way we communicate with the public, and I'm going to talk about how and what we've done to make NASA relevant in today's world.
Our thanks to John for taking the time to answer these questions. Don't miss out on seeing him and a host of other experts from leading brands, up close and personal, this June - register for The Social Shake-Up today.