On Sept. 26, 2022, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) made history as the world’s first mission to successfully deflect an asteroid. The spacecraft, which was built and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), deliberately collided with its target asteroid – which posed no threat to Earth – to successfully change its speed and path, demonstrating a technique that can potentially be used in the future if a hazardous asteroid on a collision course with Earth were ever discovered.
NASA and APL partnered to host a NASA Social event on the same day as the spacecraft’s historic impact. Followers of both organizations who have a passion for sharing their love of space science and engaging the world via social media were encouraged to apply. Participants were required to meet specific engagement criteria and regularly post on social media (regardless of follower count). Preference was given to participants who have not attended a NASA Social event in the past.
20 social media users were then selected to attend this one-day event at APL’s Maryland campus. In addition to attending the live impact broadcast, attendees were given access similar to media and participated in exclusive activities throughout the day, including a tour of the Lab’s facilities, interaction with experts, a special screening of the IMAX film “Asteroid Hunters,” and an opportunity to learn about other NASA missions. Throughout the day, participants were encouraged to use all forms of social media to share their experience and what they learned.
20 NASA Social participants arrived at Johns Hopkins APL on Sept. 26, 2022, ready to learn more and create and share content about the spacecraft that was expected to make history later that evening. As participants began taking photos at the event’s exclusive selfie stations and posting their first pieces of content, the NASA Social event finally began after months of planning and execution from both organizations.
The event’s strategy began in August, when both NASA and APL communications teams activated their audiences by sharing an announcement of the event and a link to the application on each organization’s social media channels. During the five-day application window, organizers heard from more than 1,400 hopeful participants, many of whom shared personal stories to demonstrate why being selected to participate in the event would be important to them.
Both communications teams worked together to read through each application and select a wide variety of participants. Although frequent social media use was a requirement for selection, it was not the only criteria considered, nor was the only focus on follower count or posts – organizers looked to find a diverse group that used social media in a wide variety of ways.
The invited group of participants included not only influencers who have dedicated followings, but also a teacher who wanted to share content with students; a digital artist interested in creating portraits of the event; retirees who wanted to share their perspective to help others in their age range understand the importance of this event; and content creators who focused on finding new, exciting angles to share of the event.
The NASA and APL communications and technical teams also worked together to ensure that participants had a full day of exclusive activities once they attended the event, including receiving exclusive DART swag. Participants were also allowed to create exclusive content, which included meet-and-greets with scientists, access to the onsite media coverage room, and behind-the-scenes coverage of the live impact broadcast.
Once the day of the social arrived, coverage began to roll in and was summarized on the @NASASocial Twitter account.
Activating the NASA and Johns Hopkins APL audiences proved to be an extremely successful endeavor for the DART mission. When news broke about the Social, attendees were so excited about the event that the NASA and APL teams received approximately 1,400 applications in five days.
Around the impact event itself, there were over 600 posts on Twitter, reaching a new audience of tens of thousands of potentially new followers through personal engagement with the participants. Unique content around the event included posts such as behind-the-scenes content of the impact event, blog posts summarizing the NASA Social experience, a podcast recap of the NASA Social experience, and gallery art based on experiences from the event.
This was also first NASA Social held in-person after the pandemic. After the event, comments from participants included: