Recently Twitter has been making headlines in crazy ways. It’s aiding people in Iran to get their stories out after the election.

Pretty amazing, if you stop to think about it. NASA Ames has just released a social media policy, as has the Mission Operations Directorate at JSC.

Twitter is changing how we communicate faster and faster every day.
Who would have thought that a simple question – What are you doing –
could have erupted into a communications phenomena?

After dealing with some Twitter growing pains of my own, I soon
discovered that there are lots of people out there going through
similar things. Word travels fast in the world of Twitter, and when I
was trying to figure out how to properly balance work and social
networking, I was kind of amazed at how fast it did.

During the #saveabsolutspacegrl campaign, I had people I’d never met
before in other parts of the country and the world message me. Just out
of curiosity, I asked people who enjoyed my Tweets to let me know why.
I had a kid in a wheelchair tell me that he had always wanted to talk
to someone who worked in the space program and now with Twitter, he
could. I also had a father tell me that he showed my page to his
daughter – and now she knew that girls can be rocket scientists.

Wow. I’d honestly never expected anything like that. These are just
two examples, I probably have 50 or so more of my favorite ones saved
on my computer.

I also had people come out of the woodwork with crazy stories –
someone forced to take their blog down. Someone who cancelled their
Twitter account due to work pressures, and someone harassed and made
fun of by their manager in front of coworkers because they had a
Twitter account. Someone even resigned their job at NASA Ames rather
than back down.

I wish I could go into more detail about the other situations, but I
promised those involved that I would keep their anonymity. Maybe one
day their stories will be told publically.

Things like the oneNASA
site are a step in the right direction to get this kind of dialogue
started. Whether people like to admit it or not, the way we communicate
is changing. Just like with the telephone, text messaging, and email,
social network sites are reinvinting how we converse. Sure, when email
was new, people were intimidated by that “new-fangled” technology – but
can you imagine a day today without sending or reading just one email?

And have you ever tried a hurricane evacuation without text messaging? Good luck.

I got my first email account in 1992 with the Prodigy internet
service, and the only other people I knew who had email were other
people subscribed to the same service. My email address was a string of
7 random letters and numbers – I was so excited when I could customize
it with something more personal!

I get people’s concerns – Twitter is somewhat uncontrollable. What
if a reporter sees something negative about the company? Point taken –
that’s legitimate. But how is Twitter different from the telephone or
email or having a conversation with a friend at a restaurant and a
reporter is at the table next to you?

I understand that people will try to get information from you, but
why is that limited to Twitter? Can’t that happen in real life? Doesn’t
the same cautious approach apply to Twitter as much as it does to
anything? I ask this question in all seriousness: why is Twitter
different? Is it only because it’s new and not easily understood at
first glance like all new forms of communication, or is it because
there is something genuinely different about it?

I also understand that it’s best to approach these things
cautiously, but should Twitter be approached any differently than
email? My question is – should there be different rules for Twitter?
Once again, is it the newness, or is it really different?

In the years between shuttle retirement and the first flight of the
next vehicle, communication will be vital to keeping the public
interested in the space business. In a world where our attention spans
are shrinking more and more, constant reminders will need to be given
to them as examples of why it’s a good thing that their tax dollars are
being spent on space.

Twitter has numerous space advocates reminding them – on their own
time, not getting paid to do it, with their own equipment – why space
is GOOD. As an experiment on more than a few occasions I’ve used one of
the Twitter search pages and searched people discussing NASA. Trust me
– the ratio of good to bad is huge and it’s because of people like
those in the Space Tweep Society.

Nothing is perfect, and mistakes will be made. But from someone who
probably knows better than most, Twitter is doing far more good than
harm. During the #saveabsolutspacegrl debaucle I also had more than a
few people tell me that they had no interest in space at all before
they started following my Tweets – and that’s just me!

Does Twitter have the ability to be abused? Absolutely, just like
anything – credit cards, food, and blue eyeshadow, but it also has the
ability to do an AMAZING job of getting the message out there in ways
even I can’t even imagine.

So, while social media policies are being developed at companies
everywhere, just remember – probably just as much damage can be done by
email. There are bad apples everywhere, but the number of people trying
to do harm is by far in the minority. Are you going to try and stifle
the good apples because of it? Which one is worse?

As we’ve seen with the situation in Iran, to try and stop something
of this magnitude is a waste of time and energy. Why not embrace it,
and posture yourself for the future? If your company or brand has a
large number of people interested in what you do, by having people
advocate for you you’re getting free advertisement – the best kind.