Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

Regaining control from runaway social media

For those of you not following The Colbert Report on a regular basis, the past few weeks have seen a series of events that should provide a helpful lesson should any of find yourself faced with a situation involving runaway social media.  As he has in the past, Stephen Colbert once again put his large number of (online) followers to work for him, this time requesting that they head over to the website NASA had set up to allow people to vote on the name for a new module of the international space station.  NASA, in their infinite wisdom, had included a write-in box, and Stephen Colbert requested that his audience write in "Colbert" as their choice for the name for the module.

Lo and behold, when voting closed, "Colbert" - even as a write-in vote - walked away with the most votes.  This, of course, put NASA in a bit of a predicament.

While I didn't get to watch the show last night to see how Colbert handled it, I think NASA's decision very deftly handled what could have been a tricky situation.  (And as anyone who's watched the show - and especially their "Better know a district" segment - knows, Colbert is very good at making tricky situations into a downright quagmire.)

NASA in the end decided to go with another write-in name - Tranquility - for the module.  Good Morning Silicon Valley describes how they (hopefully) settled the Colbert issue:

NASA's choice meant passing over the easy winner in the popular vote, "Colbert," driven to the top by the efforts of comedian Stephen and his loyal legions. But the agency found a way to acknowledge the groundswell in suitable fashion. Not only was the announcement of the module’s name made on Comedy Central’s "Colbert Report," but, said Gerstenmaier, "NASA is naming its new space station treadmill the 'Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill,' or COLBERT. We have invited Stephen to Florida for the launch of COLBERT and to Houston to try out a version of the treadmill that astronauts train on."

I've got to hand it to NASA for turning a potential social media nightmare into a publicity boosting campaign.