With less than two years until the death of third party cookies, digital transformation is a reality now more than ever. In recent years, the industry has grown accustomed to a data-driven approach to just about everything. So much so that it seems creativity and cleverness have taken a backseat – but that is changing.
Without the use of third party data for ad targeting, scale becomes an obvious issue for all. Data-driven strategies will be just as important in the future but, like everything else, they are evolving.
Media companies are now forced to find new ways to grow their audience and diversify their revenue streams. To be successful, creativity must be top of mind again and complement data-driven tactics.
How was advertising executed before the internet existed? We set out to find examples of those who were creatively leading the way without the use of third party data. Companies whose current strategies involve both art and science. One company that truly stands out? NASA.
Of course any digital strategy NASA implements will be far different than that of a publisher’s. Given their brand recognition, they certainly don’t need the help of third party data. That being said, they can still teach us all a thing or two about the power of social media and audience engagement.
Through their NASA Social program, they invite digital creators to apply for media access to cover major events like rocket launches and press conferences. Wanting to know more, I applied and was lucky enough to be selected for the SpaceX CRS-19 launch in December.
On top of an incredible two-day experience at Kennedy Space Center, their social media lead, Madison Tuttle, was kind enough to answer some questions about their digital strategy. Read on for our Q&A and insights into NASA’s unique approach without the use of third party data.
Not your average role
Lineup: Can you tell us a bit about your role, Madison, and what it entails?
Madison Tuttle, NASA: I am the social media lead for Kennedy Space Center, so I manage our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Day-to-day I’m either sharing content produced in our office or from another center, or going out and capturing/creating content from launches, tests, program milestones, etc. I work on our communication operations team, which organizes media and social media operations. We assist with broadcasts and tours as well. We all work closely on a daily basis to make sure we’re effectively covering activities taking place at KSC.
Lineup: What are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects?
MT: The most rewarding part is being out with NASA Social participants. Seeing the childlike wonder and awe from the first-timers is a great reminder of why we do the work we do and how inspiring spaceflight is. I think the most challenging part is deciding when and what to cover on social media. KSC is a busy multi-user spaceport and sometimes we have major activities overlap with each other. Luckily my team is willing to jump in and help cover as many operations as we can.
Lineup: It seems you have a really great program going on with NASA Social. What is the high level overview of the current strategy outside of that?
MT: NASA actually does not do paid advertising at all. We rely mostly on our digital footprint (web, social media, podcasts, broadcasts, etc.) and outreach initiatives to get the word out. All media coverage we get is organic. We do not sponsor or boost posts on social media—all of our reach is earned.
Bonus: Why nearly every news publisher should have a podcast strategy.
Lineup: Regarding social media or marketing results in general, what is one thing that has surprised you in 2019 or was completely unexpected?
MT: I learned a lot in 2019 as I took on this role. I think the biggest surprise to me was the effectiveness of the story function on many platforms, but on Instagram especially. Our video retention rate on that platform consistently exceeds the rates on all other platforms.
Bonus: Instagram stories research, stats and tips for publishers and brands.
Lineup: What advice would you give media companies who want to take their strategy a step further and become more innovative?
MT: I would suggest they read a lot on current trends. Since social media is constantly evolving, it’s important to keep up to date with new features, platforms, etc. It’s valuable to see what the most successful brands are doing and think about why their strategy is so effective. I think the key to innovation is knowing your brand and having strategic decision making driven by analytics. Once you understand your place in the field, you have room to try new tactics to elevate your engagement.
Lineup: How do you measure success for programs like NASA Social and in general? Is measurement/attribution one of the most important areas of focus for you and your team?
MT: Especially this year and going into 2020, my office and NASA as a whole are pushing for in-depth metrics/analytics reports for all major events. It is important to know if we are effectively communicating to the public. There are many unique ways we evaluate our efforts. There isn’t a concrete definition for success, but our hope is that the NASA message can be transmitted to unique audiences through the NASA Social participants.
Bonus: Event ROI measurement tips for media companies.
Lineup: What do you think will be the “next big thing” in digital in the upcoming year?
MT: I’m not sure it will happen in 2020, but I’m excited to see what role virtual and augmented reality start to play in the digital landscape. As VR and AR start becoming more easily accessible/available I think brands will try and be more interactive and immersive with their content. We recently did a VR 360-degree tour video series of some locations important to the Commercial Crew Program and have experimented using the technology with launch footage as well.
Bonus: Ways publishers can get started with AR for content creation and advertising.
It’s clear that not everyone will have an audience the size of NASA’s. However, there are ways for media companies of all sizes to scale without the use of third party data.
- Get to know your audience through analytics, set KPIs and measure growth.
- Leverage the story function of social platforms for a lift in performance.
- Don’t forget to measure event ROI.
- Stay current with digital trends and innovation, and don’t be afraid to test new tactics.
- Let your historical data guide future decisions but be sure to incorporate other creative strategies for audience growth.