COMMENTARY — Web 2.0

3 secrets to social-media success

NASA's Spacebook shows that the same rules for introducing new technology still apply

With Government 2.0 and social media all the rage these days, sometimes we forget that successful implementation relies on the same business principles as any other information technology project.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned as project manager for NASA's internal social network, Spacebook.

1. Know your business. NASA's mission is to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research. Those efforts are powered by people — scientists and engineers working together to pioneer the future. Getting people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to talk with one another and share information is one of the best ways to promote innovation and discovery. That is where social media comes in. When everyone can participate and we have the tools for teams to do their work, we're more likely to find the solutions we need to be successful.

What's your core business? How can social media contribute to it?

2. Know your customers. NASA has a diverse workforce that's geographically dispersed. We have four generations of employees with different expectations. It's critical to address "What's in it for me?" for every segment of your audience — from the ones who get it to the ones who've been doing their jobs just fine for years, thank you.

I learned that the hard way. Early on, I went to make a presentation to a Generation Y team, a group that I hoped would provide me with some early adopters. No one showed up. I had assumed that because they already understood social media, I didn't need to do any special outreach to them. I learned that they wanted to know why they should care and how Spacebook would help with their work as much as everyone else did.

Other lessons in customer adoption: Keep it simple. Don't overwhelm your users with so many options that they don't know what to do. Don't expect that they'll post anything or even fill out their profile online. Prepopulate as much information as possible, and make sure the tool is useful for people, whether they contribute a lot or a little.

How will you drive user adoption? How will you answer "What's in it for me?" for your customers as a whole and for individual groups?

3. Know your environment. This is where a "design first, technology second" approach is essential. Just because a feature is available doesn't mean it's appropriate for your environment. And you want to integrate features, not replicate them. For example, we chose not to have a wall or private message feature in Spacebook. All notifications and messaging go through NASA's e-mail system. Customers don't need yet another inbox to manage.

In the same way, our technology decisions were based on standards and software we already supported. One reason we chose a Java-based platform was because we had Java developers. If we'd chosen something else, development would have taken much longer, and sustaining support would have been more expensive.

What can your infrastructure support? What services already exist that you can take advantage of?

About the Author

Emma Kolstad Antunes is the Web Manager for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Office of the Chief Information Officer. An early adopter, she has been the Center's Web Manager since 1995, and also serves as the lead for NASA”s Web Managers group. In this role, she is responsible for technology expertise, web policy and governance, and community leadership Emma has pushed for the web to be seen not simply as a communications medium, but as a powerful tool for business transformation. Her passion is information management and collaboration. To this end, Emma is currently the project manager in charge of building a social network for Goddard, codenamed “Spacebook.” Spacebook is an enhanced Intranet designed around user profiles, forums, groups, and social tagging. Each employee will have his or her own home page, where they can publish their own status, share files, connect with others and be able to follow others’ activity, and join communities of interest. The goal of the project is to use social media to help NASA be more competitive and innovative, encourage collaboration and information sharing, and take better advantage of the information & resources we already have. Emma holds a Bachelor's Degree from Boston University.

Reader comments

Sun, Jan 3, 2010 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

These are essential questions that need to be addressed, but I would add that setting goals and metrics to realize outcomes is the end-state of having these issues addressed. It is a Know your Outcomes category, such that leaders understand what it is they are expecting to achieve. Collaboration, increased knowledge transfer, and ultimately better decision should be included in any strategic plan to implement these tools. Nonetheless, it is these issues addressed in the article that create the foundation for successful implementation.

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