Lunar and Planetary Institute

Reaching Audiences Through New Media: Lessons
We Are Learning From the International Year of Astronomy


What It Is   
A free, real-time messaging application / mircoblog that encourages users to respond to the question “What are you doing?” using 140 characters or less.

Who’s On It
According to PEW Research Center the median age of Twitterers (Twits?) is 31.  Approximately 20% of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 have used Twitter or something like it. The total number of Twitter users was estimated at 4 to 5 million in November 2008 (Forrester Research), and Twitter is estimated to be the fastest growing social media site, with a growth rate of 1382% between February 2008 and February 2009 (Nielsen).

How It Might Be Used
Twitter is a fast way to send short updates or news about activities and missions to the public.  It also can be used to convey project information to team members.  And it can be helpful for finding information or conducting random surveys, although you will need to be cognizant of the source (e.g., “Can anyone point me to a recipe for banana-oatmeal muffins?” or  “Do astronauts eat banana-oatmeal muffins on the ISS?” or “Hello friendly followers! Please take this poll about what you would want to eat in space

Getting Around
An overview of how to get going and get around on Twitter can be found here.

Alternatively, check out this Twitter Tutorial at TheSocialPath.Com.

Only individuals with Twitter accounts can follow your Twitter activity.

If you are setting up a personal account or team account, consider protecting your updates.  Under the “Settings” menu, “Account” tab, you can select “Protect My Updates.” This will allow you to approve who can follow you (e.g., mom, teammates) and will keep your updates out of search results.  A few advantages over a list serve are that these are short communications and they guarantee transparency.

If you are representing a project or mission or instrument, you want to have a very public space with as many followers as possible. In this case, do not protect your updates.

It is best to have the entire team on the same page about what will be shared with the public and when. A single person should be responsible for the project tweets to maintain a single voice and message.

In order to manage your content, follow very few others – better: do not follow others.  If you follow a large number of individuals, you will have a huge stream of comments and it will be difficult to identify questions.

Note that you do not have control of what others say; content on other pages may not be appropriate for general consumption. If you find someone offensive, you can block them (you will no longer follow them, they can no longer follow you).

Check Out

Example of Success
The Mars Phoenix Mission had 44,000+ followers!  Over the short 152 day mission, the lander “sent” almost 700 tweets, informing followers of the mission status and findings. The lander generated excitement through its updates, ultimately reporting the mission’s success, "Are you ready to celebrate?  Well, get ready: We have ICE!!!!! Yes, ICE, *WATER ICE* on Mars!  w00t!!!  Best day ever!!" (Wired Science). The media, in addition to the public, latched onto the mission. Time shared, “For users of Twitter, a Web microblogging service, the Phoenix Mars lander has been sending pithy news “tweets” to the cellphones and computers of interested “followers.” (Space and Cosmos). 

Knowing that the mission was on a tight timeline, and ultimately would be shut down by the cold dark Martian winter, Wired Science hosted an epitaph contest in which visitors proposed – and voted on – 140 character “final tweets” for Mars Phoenix. This is a great example of how social media allows others to run with your content – and of a novel way to engage audiences in participating in a project. Veni, vidi, fodi. (I came, I saw, I dug)” won by popular vote.

Mars Phoenix won a Shorty Twitter Award for its ground breaking activity on Twitter.

LPSC Forum 2009 Twitter Facebook Blogs Podcasts Flickr Second Life


Last updated
June 22, 2009