What is the power of a tweet? Can it change the world? This week we helped NASA launch an ambitious Open Innovation challenge wherein they are asking the world of algorithmists, coders, and hackers to create a superior algorithm that optimizes the positioning of the large solar panels on the International Space Station (ISS) with the purpose of harvesting the most amount of energy possible without degrading the longerons (long poles) that hold the panels to the station. The reasoning from NASA is simple: More power equates to more science they can perform aboard ISS. More experimentation can lead to breakthroughs, and possibly these breakthroughs can in fact change the world. The power and reach of social media when combined with a unique and accessible Open Innovation challenge is on full display here, and it is explosive. At TopCoder, we utilize social for an array of reasons and utilize different channels for varied & specific purposes. We thought it worthy to share this purposeful marriage of social & traditional marketing and Open Innovation as we know many others out there have audiences they would love to reach and communities they are seeking to build, bolster, and continuously engage.
The Purposeful Blend of Share-able Content
Heading into the announcement our team listed each of our social and traditional channels mapping out how we would utilize each and for what purpose. They included a formal press release, teasers to our Facebook page, a Twitter “stream” of content we pre-wrote & scheduled, the creation of a focused challenge micro-site, a web video explaining the challenge, our email and news alert push to our internal community, blogger outreach to specific publications, synchronization with NASA’s PR team, a featured post on our innovation blog, an edited Skype interview with a team member from NASA explaining the importance of the contests, and more. And though this may seem like a spray-and-pray approach, actually it was not. For instance on our Facebook page we teased the challenge a few days before it could be announced and paired it with a very light “contest” of its own to spark interest and encourage social sharing.
This blended approach of using different channels for unique purposes paid big dividends. In the days that followed the launch we’ve seen blog outlets pick up the traditional release, hacker communities (outside of the TopCoder Community) sharing passionate forum-like comments debating this challenge, and we’ve seen full-force both the power of Twitter and YouTube. On January 17th, the day the contest was fully pushed “live”, we received a boost in visibility when @NASA shared this below tweet:
As you might imagine, this began a nice cascade of RTs, mentions, and twitter conversations so we made sure to remain very active on Twitter, taking full advantage of real moments like this one below to embrace our geek-dom and to have some fun with this special social opportunity.
And it allowed us to re-purpose the twitter content back over to Facebook, G+, and elsewhere to keep the momentum going:
Video is the ‘Radio Star’
We mentioned the challenge introduction video just earlier in this post and its role in this story needs to be highlighted. If you don’t already believe in the power of video and the importance of YouTube, this will likely convert you. This simple, but fun, animated video we created to help explain the challenge has surpassed 53,000 80,000 views on YouTube in just 6 days. The video was of course embedded in the official release, various blog posts (including ours) and as mentioned, it was the anchor of the micro-site built specifically to support this Open Innovation challenge. Enjoy the short video below:
Because Metrics Matter
What are some of the metrics surrounding this effort so far? - We have surpassed the highest level of registration we have ever had for an algorithm challenge – by a healthy margin – Our YouTube subscription base has grown by 30% in 6 days as the video views continue to pile-up – Facebook and Twitter (already strong social communities for us) have seen healthy growth and generous spikes in daily engagement – The TopCoder Community has added new members at a rate 4x our typical community growth rate for the last 6 days running This influx of participants and social sharing will impact the ongoing Open Innovation challenge for NASA and future Open Innovation challenges as well. Though it remains fairly difficult to predict an extreme value outcome for any given Open Innovation challenge, this kind of participation, growth and social exposure, does greatly improve the chances of success. That equates to a lessening of risk. When risk is lowered, you can take more chances. When you swing more, you connect more. Can a tweet change the world? Quite possibly, yes.
A very special thanks is owed to both the team from NASA and Harvard working with TopCoder on this ambitious challenge.
image credit: dribble.com