Social media is one of the fastest evolving new media in society. Tools and methods seem to success each other at ever increasing rates, making it difficult to stay on top of the latest, even for the social media savvy readers of this blog. In the space community this evolution has largely been driven by NASA. After organizing the first space-related tweetup at JPL in January of 2009, NASA continued to embrace and include the social media community in its public outreach and communication strategy.

Just before the first tweetup in 2009 NASA became active on several social media platforms. It is by far the industry leading space organization on Twitter and Facebook and has set the standard on many other platforms as well. NASA TV is probably the best known online TV channel in the world.

Since the first experimental #NASATweetup events in 2009 the concept proved very successful for NASA. And despite some initial internal doubts it quickly evolved into a key new communication channel to the general public. Opening doors of facilities and events to its Twitter followers created an increasingly large worldwide community of NASA ambassadors. In April 2012 the audience was enlarged to include followers on other platforms, and the event name changed into #NASASocial.

Less than three years after the first #NASATweetup and six months after switching to the #NASASocial model, NASA is now introducing the ‘Social Media Credentials’ model. This third ‘evolution’ brings the social media community in line with traditional media. There are a few changes though. Selection of social media users is no longer random. In order to be eligible, an applicant has to meet certain criteria. Active participation on multiple channels is now a clear prerequisite. In NASA’s own words:

“Social media credentials give users a chance to apply for the same access as journalists in an effort to align the access and experience of social media representatives with those of traditional media. People, who actively collect, report, analyze and disseminate news on social networking platforms are encouraged to apply for media credentials. Selection is not random. All social media accreditation applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Those chosen must prove through the registration process they meet specific engagement criteria.” (source)

The first time this new credentials principle was introduced was for the @SpaceX Dragon launch in October 2012. The NASA social media team explained the background of the new social media credentials as follows:

“Social media users selected to attend the SpaceX launch will be given the same access as journalists in an effort to align the access and experience of social media representatives with those of traditional media. “We look at this as a natural extension and an evolution of the NASA Social concept,” said Bob Jacobs [@BNJacobs], deputy associate administrator for the agency’s Office of Communications. “Just as radio, television, and other media expanded the definition of ‘the press,’ we’re going to open our doors to influential and interested people who engage in social media activities and invite them to work alongside traditional media.” (source)

This new concept is proof that for NASA – as for society in general – social media are becoming a mainstream communication channel, and no longer something subordinate to traditional media. This means that savvy social media users and bloggers are considered as important as traditional journalists. It will be interesting to see how NASA will manage and ensure the quality of the public outreach message through these ‘citizen reporters‘. Accreditation for these social media space ambassadors is great step in the right direction. A development that deserves our support and will keep NASA in the forefront of social media integration in public outreach. Hopefully others will follow suit…