Ambassador from Outer Space

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Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield: The Ultimate Space Cowboy


There are some serious lessons to be learned from outer space this week. The largest: the power of 1 relevant, engaging Ambassador. Chris Hadfield made science, space, and being Canadian cool.

Hadfield connected with fans through mediums that literally spanned space. He embraced social media to connect with fans, share amazing photos, respond to questions with personalized videos, and share his music. He made the Canadian space program famous. Additionally, he highlighted why Canadian’s need to continue to invest in space programming. Hadfield is the ultimate ambassador.

Let’s test my theory: Can you name the other 2 astronauts who were aboard the International Space Station with him? Don’t use Google!

Hadfield Demonstrates the Power of Ambassadors

Though Hadfield is not the first astronaut to use social media, he is the first to do it well. He used the key social media principles of being timely, relevant, authentic, and content conscious.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has credited Hatfield’s “tireless and unique efforts” to educate Canada and the world about space. He continued saying, “His highly effective use of social media has brought the miracle of space travel home to Canadians and to the entire world.”

Hadfield’s time in space was not spent only tweeting; it was a very successful expedition with over 100 science experiences being completed by the 3 man team. Additionally, Hadfield made Canadian history participating in an emergency spacewalk to repair an ammonia leak.

What Can You Learn from Chris Hadfield?

Engaging Content: Space provides some absolutely amazing sights, lessons and experiences that helped Hadfield create relevant and engaging content. Part of what made his presence so successful was mini videos answering questions from his plethora of fans. He engaged with them. Lesson: Ensuring that your content is interesting to your target market encourages them to engage with you via social media.

Timely: Hadfield was on twitter everyday throughout his 5 months up in space and engaged regularly with his audience. During his time on the International Space Station he completed more than 100 science experiments, shared stunning photos of space & Earth, created videos about daily routines on the station, and chatted with school children and dignitaries via video links. He live tweeted (both him and his son) throughout his preparation for decent yesterday. Lesson: Ask questions, engage and respond to your audience in a timely fashion. Keep up with industry trends and share cutting edge content.

He Had Knowledgeable Advisors: His son, Evan Hadfield, was a key component of his social media presence. CBC quotes that when his family began speaking 3 years ago about “how to give Canadian’s a behind-the-scenes look at his next spaceflight, they came up with some ideas that would forge an unprecedented everyman link between life on Earth and his stint on the International Space Station.” Hadfield’s son, Evan (27 years old) served as his father’s unpaid social media manager. Lesson: Don’t pretend to have all of the answers. Ask. Gain knowledgeable advisors and empower them to help you build a plan.

He Had a Purpose: Hadfield ultimately wanted to educate Canadians and the world on the Canadian space program. He and his son built their plan based on this purpose. Evan explained their purpose in this quote by CBC: “You want people to be interested in the space program. And in a democracy like Canada, if you want a program to continue, the best way … is to get people interested in it.”

Evan continued stating, “The goal has been to open eyes, not to give people answers, but to give them a chance to see and think for themselves with the information his father has been providing.” Read more about Evan & Hadfield’s plan here. Lesson: Know why you are getting into social media before you tackle it.

He Had a Plan: He planned his content in advance & then worked his place from space. The music for his final tribute video Space Oddity was recorded prior to leaving Canada and joined with video images recorded in space. This music video is likely the most expensive music videos ever recorded.

Hadfield took advantage of moments that few get. He shared it and invited the world to join. We even saw David Bowie participating by responding to Hadfield’s tribute by tweeting “Hallo Spaceboy.” Lesson: Create a plan for social media to supplement your current efforts and then work your plan.

People Connect with People, Not Brands: Hadfield is personable, fun and interesting. He took his roles as an ambassador for the Canadian space program seriously and went above and beyond in his day to day responsibilities. He broke space barriers and international country lines. His following reached huge international audiences as demonstrated by over 22 million views of his videos (to date). Lesson: Choose the right ambassador that can connect to multiple audiences. Encourage them to be themselves.

Connecting Online & Offline: Evan has been quoted that his father’s ambassador role and social media activities will not slow down with his return to earth yesterday. Evan stated, “It’s going to be so much greater when he comes home and people can interact with him face to face.”

Hadfield’s purpose to drive engagement with the Canadian space agency continues as “exploration is not something you do one time and then stop,” he continued that Canada needs to “continue being a good space nation.”

Hadfield needs to keep his followers and engagement continuing through engaging content. Lesson: Tie online and offline efforts together for 1 consistent story and pull to your audience. Ensure all activities drive to your larger purpose and prioritize your work based on your goals. Continue driving your efforts beyond key milestones.

Hadfield’s Influence:

The implications of Hadfield’s social media efforts are not yet evident but some potential outcomes are:

An increase of young adults going into the sciences

Increased interest and awareness of the Canadian Space Program, which has taken a hit due to recent cut backs

Scientific research that depends on grants, growing awareness through social media

Lessons Learned?

What lessons are you taking away from Hadfield’s role as an ambassador?

What do you need to change about your social media presence & empowering ambassadors of your company?

Hadfield’s Social Media Presence Online:

  • Twitter: @cmdr_hadfield
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Google+
  • Sources: All Evan’s quotes via CBC

    Chelsea Newton
    Chelsea is known as a dynamic and engaging talent consultant and professional speaker. As a Certified Executive Coach, she is extremely passionate about helping people realize both their goals and full potential. Chelsea has worked in 12 countries around the world helping Fortune 500 companies recruit, train, develop, and motivate top talent using cutting edge communication techniques and social media. She is currently developing top talent in the oil sands and speaking across Canada as the founder of Talent Formula.

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    • Amazing how we are all aware of the space station but it takes someone like Commander Hadfield to really open our eyes to it. It really shows the power of social media to engage us in events played out everyday that we otherwise might never hear of.

    • Great Writing Chelsea, this is perfect timing! My only question is if he did anything that wasn’t perfect? Anything that he could have improved on and how he could do it?

      • HI Matt – thanks so much for the comment & sharing on twitter! The power of Hadfield is he understood that people connect with people versus brands. By being THE commander/personality of the Canadian space program, he built a following. The only comment on this is that how can the PR he built for the Canadian space program extend past just himself? Also, I’m anxious to see how he continues to deliver engaging content/connect with fans now that he is back on earth & doesn’t have the cool space video appeal/Q&A content.

    • Liana

      WOW !!! what an amazing read , thank you so much for sharing

      • Thanks so much for your comment Liana & for sharing the article with your network on twitter!

    • Pingback: Brainstorm Bulletin, Tues May 21, 2013 | Brainstorm()

    • Darrell Bowden

      Wouldn’t we all have greater brand recognition if we had a dedicated Social Media position? I mean Hadfield’s work and communications were wonderful – but his 27 year old son monitored the cyber world and posted the most of the tweets.

      • Thanks for the comment!

        I agree with you, Darrel, on the power of having trusted & knowledgeable advisors. Hadfield could not have build the following if he didn’t have the support of his son. Where I commend Hadfield is setting up a support system to make him successful. – Chelsea

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