Cassini’s Grand Finale


September 15th marked the descent of the satellite Cassini who has been orbiting Saturn’s solar system for more than 13 years. NASA chose to share it’s final moments on social media including SnapChat, Twitter and Instagram. The build up for this event garnered tons of attention from astronomy enthusiasts and NASA followers. Many people seemed to attach an emotional connection with this satellite even though many had no idea of it’s existence until it was announced to be set to disintegrate in the atmosphere of Saturn.

Photo Credit: Amber Hutchins at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab.

For the purpose of this post, 50 of the most popular Tweets on Twitter are being used. How companies and individuals have reacted to the death of Cassini have been analyzed and how NASA helped facilitate the conversation surrounding Cassini’s last moments was turned into a learning opportunity will be shared. To watch the conversation, I searched the hashtag #Cassini and watched the conversation from September 13, 2017 to September 15, 2017. The use of multimedia was examined, who was actually posting, key words and if people personified Cassini.

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Six key words were examined on the Twitter landscape. Space, Images, Saturn, Goodbye, NASA, and GrandFinale. Space had the most frequent use, showing that many people could understand what Cassini related to and where she was. GrandFinale and Goodbye showed that people were aware of what was actually going on. There were 64 percent of people that personified Cassini by thanking her, saying farewell or creating comics showing her with eyes and emotions. One company even posted an article explaining why it was okay to “well up over a lump of metal.” There were no mentions of the word “pictures” and this shows that people took on the NASA term “images” to refer to all the wonderful things Cassini sent back to us.

People who used the “space” keyword normally connected it with the place where Cassini would be lost (like a cemetery), instead of meaning a generalized location. NASA did an excellent job in creating widespread awareness about Cassini and all she did for the scientific community.

ringsThe overall response was positive, with most users bidding the vessel farewell or thanking it for it’s contributions to society. A few people were upset and didn’t understand why they had to intentionally send the satellite into Saturn, but those questions were quickly answered by other users. There were no negative remarks or bad publicity about that. NASA did a good job setting the stage, but they seemed to lack the interactivity that would have boosted this tremendously.

People increasingly became more attached to the lump of metal destined to disintegrate into the atmosphere of Saturn. Here are a few ways NASA could have better facilitated the conversation.

  1. Establishing a designated hashtag –  People were hashtagging whatever they wanted. #GrandFinale seemed to take on it’s own life, but it wasn’t an intentional move on NASA’s part. Even though they named the event “Cassini’s Grand Finale,” they didn’t intentionally ask people to share the hashtag. It would make tracking and reading who was actually paying attention a lot easier. There were #GoodbyeCassini and just #Cassini as well, it made finding the best keyword to track difficult. A designated hashtag would’ve helped. The main NASA page almost exclusively tweeted the hashtag #CassiniSaturn, which paid no homage to her descent and was not on everyone’s minds as she prepared to take her plunge. The two Twitter pages really should have been on the same page. grand
  2. Write a story – As Cassini entered her last week, they could have done a narrative about the 20 years that she existed and showed some of the amazing images that she took. There were other people that made collages and videos (and user generated content is great), but they should have also took control of the story that was being told. People seemed to personify Cassini as if she were a real breathing person, and NASA could have played on this connection to increase traffic to their site. Cassini’s personal twitter had a ton of stories, but NASA didn’t retweet or share them. sat
  3. Interactivity – It seemed that NASA was in it’s own little world as this was happening. They posted videos and pictures to keep their public informed, but didn’t really have a way to be involved. They should have had a PR/Social Media person participating on Twitter re-tweeting and actively answer/asking question. With all the “fanart” this event made, it would have been a good move to have a contest of some sort to generate more publicity about it.userThis was a great event to monitor and it’s amazing what Cassini photographed and was able to produce for us in the 20 years she was in space.

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