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Social Media Portal interview with John Yembrick from NASA

Tim Gibbon (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 31 December 2012

Social Media Portal interview with John Yembrick from NASA

Social Media Portal (SMP) profiled interview with John Yembrick NASA's social media manager and agency spokesperson

NASA logoSocial Media Portal (SMP) What is your name and what do you do there at NASA?

John Yembrick (JY):  My name is John Yembrick. Iím NASAís social media manager and an agency spokesperson. Iíve been working in government communications, media relations, marketing and public outreach for over 15 years. Since the beginning of NASAís venture into the social media world, Iíve been a huge advocate for incorporating emerging communications technologies into the agency's outreach activities, which led me to my current position as NASAís social media manager. While I oversee some of the agencyís accounts, such as @NASA on Twitter, Iím really focused on progressing NASA forward on existing platforms and future ones.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about NASA (for those that donít know, who knows, there may be a few!), what is it and what does the organisation do?

JY: NASA is a U.S. government agency responsible for the nationís space program, aeronautics and aerospace research. Thatís the technical answer, of course. But thereís a deeper meaning to NASA. Through cutting edge research, science and engineering, weíre about exploration and discovery to better understand our place in the universe.

SMP: What was the most challenging part of building on the brands presence in digital environments (including social media)?

JY: NASA is a very well known brand, but the challenge was showing that weíre relevant to a new audience and then getting them engaged.

SMP: Who are your target audience and why (particularly for social media)?

JY: I know this sounds lofty, but our audience is everyone. Weíre not selling a product. Weíre communicating NASAís work that is benefitting all of us. Now, a lot of people following us on social media are space geeks, the true believers. The challenge is connecting with a new audience. What we do is awesome. We just want people to know about.

SMP: How did you initially attract users to your social media channels, and how do you do it now?

JY: Honestly, we have a cool story. Not every federal agency is going to see the same level of success we had. Itís not that the NASA social media team is so brilliant, but the work of the agency is, and ultimately social media is about content. One thing I think we do particularly well is participating in the conversation. A lot of organizations simply post content, we discuss it. That helps drive people to our channels.

SMP: What are the low moments of what you have been doing so far?

JY: For me, itís still trying to convince some folks in NASA that this is important. There is an element thatís stuck on just issuing news releases to tell our story. While thatís important, Iím not so sure itís the most effective way to reach the public anymore. The world has changed, and people are quickly learning that. A few years ago a few folks at NASA got reprimanded for tweeting during work. Today, some of the same people who were against it are now posting content themselves. We still have a ways to go, though.

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

JY: Thatís easy. Social media has taught me that people really, really care about the work weíre doing. It was tough seeing that before we were reaching folks directly. As you may know, we periodically host in-person social media events called NASA Socials, previously known as NASA Tweetups, where we invite folks that follow us to get insight access into the work weíre doing. We often host them at NASA facilities, present subject matter experts and provide a behind the scenes tour. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and these people often become ambassadors for the agency. Itís the single best way to engage an audience, while they also go off and spread our news to all their friends and followers.

The NASA social media team has just won a bright and new shiny award; The Space Foundation Award Ė what won the team this prestigious award? Iím glad it was a team award, because thatís the answer to your question. There are so many people involved with NASAís social media efforts. Our success ultimately comes from NASA employeesí passion for their work and desire to talk about it on social media. All I have to do it get out of the way.

SMP: What do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities, and in particular for social media?

JY: From my perspective, the biggest challenge was, and to a large extent still is, managing a vast amount of content created by teams of people working across 10 NASA field centers and headquarters. For example, itís tough being strategic when there are over 200 known NASA Twitter accounts. Thatís also an opportunity for us. NASA does a lot of cool stuff, and the key is to not try and control all the noise, but to make it harmonize and sing. We have a long way to go, but weíre getting there.

SMP: What are the next moves for NASA in terms of social media?

JY: We have a powerful brand that is known for being cutting edge. As a NASA communicator, I just want to reach as many people as possible. Thatís my goal. So, we need to stay hungry. We need to embrace new communications technologies and new platforms. I love the work weíre doing, but itís only the beginning. We want the whole world to love us, or at least have a level of understanding about what we do.

Photograph of John Yembrick NASA's social media manager and agency spokespersonSMP: Whatís the next big step for social media and networks?

JY: My personal feeling is that there are still a lot of people not sold on using technology to network. Until privacy concerns are mitigated, I think there are road blocks ahead to convincing those folks that itís OK to be engaged on a public platform. I get it.

SMP: Whatís going to be the most interesting aspect regarding social media / technology throughout 2012?

JY: I think recently weíre beginning to question the sustainability of social media over time. Itís an interesting thing to think about, but in the end, itís impossible to predict where technology will lead us.

SMP: What were some of the most interesting things you saw happen in 2012?

JY: Iím not sure I want to make specific predictions. I will say that Iím amazed at all the new tools popping up every day... some catch, others donít. My only prediction is that we wonít be able to predict. I didnít see Pinterest coming, but suddenly itís a force, especially with a certain demographic. Itís fun to just sit back and watch the social media world evolve around us.

SMP: What are your top social media tips?

  • Engage with your followers. Otherwise, whatís the point? People on social media want to know thereís a human being behind the curtain.

  • Adapt to change. Donít get too caught up in any one platform. It may seem like the craze today, but tomorrow it may be something totally new and different.

  • Donít try and control content. The spirit of social media is the freedom to express ideas and interests. You may not like everything an employee is posting, for example, but thatís OK. Unless you feel like itís hurting your brand, a little open dialogue and debate is a good thing.

  • Think about new ways to use social media. Inviting followers into your world, like we did with NASA Tweetups and NASA Socials, had a bonus result of building life-long ambassadors for the agency. Even if youíre a bakery, bring people in to see how you make your cupcakes. Youíll be amazed at the interest.

  • Take social media seriously. For a lot of people, that the only place where they get their news.

SMP: Best way to contact you and NASA? 

JY replies with: Iím @yembrick on Twitter, but the agency accounts are @NASA on Twitter and:


Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

JY: Pizza for both answers. I had a lot of leftovers.

SMP: Whatís the last good thing that you did for someone?

JY: I recognized one of my best employees. I think itís important to encourage those who do great work.

SMP: How many hours do you work a week?

JY: Itís tough to quantify, but letís just say that Iím always working. I love what I do and constantly talk about the agency and its place in peopleís lives.

SMP: If you werenít running NASAís social media efforts what would you be doing?

JY: Something else at NASA. I feel fortunately to be part of such an excellent team of people. If I werenít at NASA, Iíd like to try farming. Seriously, I think it would be fun to do something totally different with my life.

SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?

JY: I went to the Netherlands last year to visit friends who now live there. I did very little site seeing. It was just fun catching up with people that I love.

SMP: Whatís the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

JY: I read NASA news reports. Itís enjoyable, but also necessary for doing my job well.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

JY: Iíd want to have the ability to teleport. Although airline travel is fast, it would be great to go to NY to watch a Mets game and then be home in San Francisco immediately after.

If you're interested in doing a Social Media Portal (SMP) interview, get in touch.

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