Last time we began discussing the marketing bonanza NASA has on its hands with the release of The Martian and their discovery of flowing water on Mars. It’s a convenient opportunity for us to take a look at NASA’s social media program, and how they’re utilizing it to push the agency’s agenda. In the first article, we examined how their program is organized and operated, and now we’ll discuss the factors that guide their social strategy.

To define what NASA aims to achieve with its social media strategy, we first must understand the agency’s broader goals. NASA has been forthright about its intention to send a manned mission to Mars, which they have tentatively scheduled for sometime in the early 2030s. That’s only 15 years away! Setting ambitious goals has always been one of the agency’s hallmarks, but there are many within NASA’s ranks that believe we would be much closer to making the Mars mission a reality if the government properly funded its space program.

During the Space Race of the 1960s, the agency enjoyed strong support from the government and the American public and famously made good on John F. Kennedy’s vow to reach the moon by the close of the decade. However, interest waned after America beat the Soviets to the moon, and NASA began to receive smaller budget allocations, a trend that continues today. NASA understands that a key factor in winning more funding is developing strong public interest in their flagship missions. Inspiring the American public is, therefore, one of the central pillars of their social media strategy, and they have gone to great lengths to leverage social platforms to engage with the public, running campaigns like Earth Day 2014’s #globalselfie event.

Inspiring passion is about more than just funding, though. It’s also the key to attracting the next generation of talent the agency will need to sustain itself and preserve its position as the most advanced space program in the world. To that end, the agency has regularly used platforms like Google+ to run Q&A sessions with students of all ages. A recent example is a panel that met on October 1st to discuss the technology on display in The Martian and why missions to Mars are necessary. Events like these serve to foster interest in NASA’s missions among young people and initiate a dialogue between the agency and students who have a genuine interest in someday working for the agency.

Beyond developing public interest and inspiring future generations of scientists, the remaining piece of NASA’s social media strategy is communication. This is the primary impetus for maintaining NASA’s plethora of social media accounts, as it allows each mission to provide ongoing updates regarding their individual progress, discoveries, triumphs, and failures, without cluttering the agency’s flagship accounts.

NASA considers it a responsibility to share information with the public, and, in fact, doing so is a policy outlined in its original charter. They also have some of the best content available to any government organization, as people are much more likely to share an amazing shot of a distant nebula than a post from the IRS outlining how to properly document charitable donations. In these ways, NASA is particularly well suited for the sharing culture that has developed over the last decade.

This is the conclusion of our look at NASA’s social media program. The agency’s creative use of its platforms and commitment to the channel as a vital means of communicating and engaging with the public serves as an example of how organizations can truly benefit from a strong social media strategy.