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April 25, 2011

You Are What You Tweet

by brainoids

NASA’s ten field Centers (well, nine and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, technically a Federally Funded Research and Development Center) do the “heavy lifting” of NASA’s missions.   Each Center has a portfolio of skills, capabilities and missions entrusted to their care.   Each Center also has its own “flavor”, focusing on those things it does best.   (Actually, this is as much culture as it is flavor).   I was curious to see how strongly each Center’s “branding” might show up in our “official” tweets.

The map below doesn’t contain any major surprises, but there are some interesting details.   The very well known Centers (JPL, Johnson and Kennedy) make comparatively less use of their name and acronym when tweeting.   In contrast, my own home center of Marshall, as well as Dryden in the California desert, seem to blare out “please don’t forget us” by insistently using and re-using our names.

Also evident is how some of the outreach / public interest activities at some centers (the Great Moonbuggy Race here at Marshall, as well as our meteor spotting network, and the TEDxNASA event at Langley) can come to dominate the tweetstreams.   This isn’t a bad thing – these are great educational and outreach events in their own right, and reflect good pairing of social media with publicly engaging topics – but Marshall’s core capabilities and mission, including the primary ways it delivers value to the American public, have little to do with student competitions and meteor showers.   It underscores the challenges of maintaining clear and coherent “corporate branding” transmitted through an increasingly diverse array of media vehicles, even more so when by a public sector organization.

A higher quality PDF version is available here:  YouAreWhatYouTweet .

Note that this isn’t the only tweeting by NASA; many NASA missions tweet on their own.   The tweets shown here are only those by NASA’s “stewards”, or field Centers.

As technical notes, in creating this graphic I used the visualization tool at Neoformix to search and extract tweet histories, filtered out the common words “space” and “NASA”, and limited scope to mission-related nouns (i.e., verbs, adjectives and generic words like “video” or “images” were removed).  For the most part, I consolidated word stubs / roots where appropriate in scaling the words to match frequency.

Also, I’ve used absolute word counts (not relative) and applied a uniform cutoff across all Centers.   This has the effect of making our friends at Glenn look a little anemic, an unfortunate side effect of being a little bit newer to the Twitter game.   When I update to version 2, they will likely have more content “above the cutoff level”.

As a bonus for my NASA compadres at other field Centers:

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