Influencer Marketing for Restricted Areas, NASA’s Latest Spin-off

Your core business is strong, your team is doing good work and you’re already doing your best to tell the world. How can you help the world get your message out next? Invite the world, or a few inhabitants, to you. Inviting a handful of social media users with an active interest in your industry to visit enables you to show off your work and your team’s expertise to a broad audience with a diverse voice unachievable solely through corporate channels.

If that sounds more complicated than inventing freeze-dried food, we’re all fortunate that NASA has already invested and experimented in influencer marketing around their own efforts and facilities. I was invited to attend their 2016 State of NASA Social Media Day held last year, and in this post I’d like to share a bit about that experience, focusing on the planning of the event and the application process. In part two, I’ll go into more detail about the event’s execution and my visit alongside 20 other active social media users to several restricted areas inside the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Part One: Invitations and Expectations

What counts as a social media influencer?

Every industry is different, and has differently sized influencer pools. There may be dozens of bloggers and YouTubers with large enough audiences to make a living by creating content focused on the movie or gaming industries — but other industries like space, healthcare and manufacturing tend to skew more toward amateur enthusiasts with smaller social media audiences.

Rather than re-invent the rover tread, let’s break down NASA’s expectations for State of NASA applicants:

“Actively use multiple social networking platforms and tools to disseminate information to a unique audience.”

While most influencers have one social media service they’ll focus on, like YouTube or their blogs, most will cross-promote their work on other services as well. You’ll want to be sure to ask for all of these accounts in your application.

“Regularly produce new content that features multimedia elements.”

Photos and videos of visits to your site will definitely improve the experience for those learning about your work secondhand, so select folks talented with these skills.

“Have the potential to reach a large number of people using digital platforms.”

NASA’s guidelines for applicants wisely don’t specify numbers in terms of audience reach, or even specific services. I was pleasantly surprised at how wide the spread on audience size was at the Huntsville event. Keep in mind that someone who has been working consistently to build an audience of a few hundred followers may continue to grow into the tens or hundreds of thousands in the years to come. Look at the influencer’s other qualifications and determine if this is an individual you’d like to create an acquaintance with.

“Reach a unique audience, separate and distinctive from traditional news media and/or NASA audiences.”

This requirement is crucial in distinguishing your event from a traditional media event. It’s the easiest bar for any amateur to clear, and will keep your staff from having to evaluate and throw out applications from every local journalist with a twitter account. When those inquire why they aren’t invited to this, be sure to point them to upcoming events you have for traditional media and the contacts you have available for interviews.

“Must have an established history of posting content on social media platforms.”

This is a fairly straightforward bar for any serious influencer to clear. Your staff can easily check post counts associated with the accounts influencers link in their application.

“Have previous postings that are highly visible, respected and widely recognized.”

Your influencer application should include requests for a small number of exemplary posts, tweets or videos related to your industry. Of the three criterion, I believe the most important is that the work is worthy of respect.

With those six guidelines as a launchpad, your staff should be able to determine their own guidelines for applicants tailored to your industry and reach.

Industry enthusiasts love geographical options

NASA has held several Social Media Day visits at each of their individual facilities, but a defining aspect of their State of NASA Social Media day was inviting 15-25 social media influencers to 10 separate facilities across the United States. Consider hosting events at multiple sites to increase applicants for your events. Amateurs with an enthusiastic interest in your industry (and followers that share that interest) can definitely help get the word out about your work, but travel and lodging expenses may preclude them from applying to visit distant facilities.

Amateurs with Professional Expectations

NASA did a great job of recognizing that folks who love space enough to blog, tweet or snap about it with the discipline to build a regular audience are likely professionals in some field or another. Of those I spoke to who attended the Huntsville event, most worked full-time in other professional environments, and some were even small-business owners.  As you plan your event announcement and application process, you’ll want to be as explicit as possible about who should or shouldn’t apply, how the event will be structured, and any expectations you have. By respecting the time of your potential applicants, you’ll create a smoother experience for everyone involved.

Evaluate why the facilities you’re hosting the events at aren’t open to tour groups already, and determine which of those factors influence your application process. In NASA’s case, their secure facilities could only only allow access to U.S. citizens at least 18 years of age that they could clear in advance. These points were non-negotiable, so they made them absolutely clear up front. If your facilities have any sort of hazards that might, for example, preclude applicants with pacemakers or other medical considerations from visiting safely, you’ll want that laid out well in advance.

Additionally, be explicit about anything that your visitors must or must not bring with them. NASA provided clear requirements about what forms of identification we’d need to present on our arrival, and warned us that certain types of equipment would not be permitted during some segments of the visit. If you have multiple facilities, be sure to contact each of them about individual requirements they may have.

To be continued in Part Two: NASA Shows and Tells

A NASA researcher explains an SLS secondary payload for social media influencers.

Thanks for reading so far, I’ll be continuing this series soon with a post about what NASA did right when selecting speakers and sights for our visit, and how you can do the same!