NASA Social Group Photo

Shadowing NASA’s eclipse social-media strategy

The totality strip of Monday’s eclipse will shade a 70 mile-wide path across North America, and NASA Social, the agency’s umbrella program for social media outreach, has cranked into high gear. In our second exploration of NASA’s influencer marketing strategy, let’s examine what agency officials told me and other social media influencers invited to their recent eclipse-focused NASA Social Event at the Newseum in Washington — and a bit about how they organized their message by relevancy, topic and perceived interest:

1: You have to see the corona.

What they shared:

During a total eclipse is the only time that the sun’s corona is visible to the human eye, which several representatives of NASA claim to be the most beautiful astronomical phenomena observable from earth.

How they shared it:

Encouraging as many people as possible to personally witness the total eclipse was one of NASA’s primary goals of the event.

Doctor Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ), associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, shared a personal story about how his grandmother felt a sense of universal connectedness when witnessing a total eclipse decades ago, and several other scientists recollected and advocated for the life-changing value of personally witnessing something that cameras can’t do justice.

I can’t speak to how well those personal accounts we received by those watching the livestream of the event, but I did witness the shocked expressions of the social media influencers in attendance when a reporter for the Atlantic asked those speakers via phone, “Why will this get people interested in science?”

In addition, representatives from the NOAA, DOT, and the National Parks service spoke with us in small groups and fielded questions within their specialties from us during the livestream about the logistics of ensuring as many people could witness the event as possible.

NASA also provided each of us with a folder full of supporting information, as well as a couple of stickers!

A NASA eclipse folder and pages of information
We were assured the photograph of the corona on the provided poster was no substitute for the real thing.

2: Eclipses let us gather once-in-a-lifetime data

What they shared:

When the moon blocks the sun, its proportions and placement allows NASA instruments to observe nearer the surface the sun far more closely than any of its instruments can using man-made obstruction mechanisms.

In addition to a variety of traditional ground-based telescopes, NASA has partnered with more than 50 universities in the path of totality to deploy camera-equipped, high-altitude weather balloons to gather continuous footage of the corona well beyond the two minutes or so of totality available in any one location. This will provide scientists data to analyze for years to come.

How they shared it:

An image of the sun in a coronagraph
The white circle indicates the sun’s edges. That’s a lot of data we miss most days!
Source: NASA

NASA heliophysicist C. Alex Young (@TheSunToday) spoke with us in a small group session before the livestream, and explained how agency scientists normally use an instrument called a coronagraph to observe the sun. Unfortunately, the part of the coronagraph the blocks the sun from overpowering the device’s camera and sensors also blocks light from the inner corona. While most of us knew enough about space to get the idea at first, when he presented to the larger streaming audience later he shared a visual like the image at right that shows how far the blocking part extends beyond the surface of the sun.

Lesson: If you’re planning an influencer outreach event, be sure to talk to each of your speakers about their topics, and ensure they have the tools they need to demonstrate any visual concepts they’ll be expressing!

3: Stay off the road

What they shared:

Eclipses are one of the most dangerous times to be on, or even near, a road. A representative from the Federal Highway Administration shared with us the three most common driver responses to an eclipse:

  • Pulling onto the shoulder of the highway and stepping out of their vehicles to look straight up
  • Decelerating or stopping in the middle of the highway and either sticking their heads out of their car windows or stepping out of their vehicles to look straight up
  • Driving at normal speed down the highway with their heads craned out car windows in such a way that they endanger the first two classes of drivers

How they shared it:

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration is not the first organization you’d expect to be presenting at a NASA event, but the agency’s strong commitment to the preservation of human lives was evident from the amount of time they allotted to the DOT.

Lesson: When planning your own event for social media influencers, keep in mind that not all important information is exciting. The DOT’s representative was concise on straightforward points, but was warm and kept everyone’s attention while pantomiming each action that unprepared drivers may take as he iterated those concerns.


Social media influencers want to be … influenced. To make that happen, be prepared when you invite them onto your turf (or that of a nearby museum) to talk about a major upcoming event. Being informative and engaging (not to mention giving away goodies) will make them receptive to what you’re trying to say, and align them with your goal of getting fascinating, factual and helpful information out to the general public. Whether you needed to learn about the eclipse, or how to engage with social media influencers, I hope what I’ve learned from NASA has been useful to you!

For more about the eclipse, make sure to visit