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Secrets of astronaut Chris Hadfield's social media success

Elizabeth Howell, News Writer
Jan 13, 2013, 8:00 UTC

Sen—Canada's best-kept space secret is now unleashed on the world. Chris Hadfield, who left Earth December 19 on Expedition 34 with a respectable 20,000 Twitter followers, now has about 10 times that many after less than a month in space.

What makes Hadfield so popular with worldwide audiences? Below are some of the strategies he uses.

Staying cheerful

Chris Hadfield - fire alarm

Fire on a space station is deadly serious. The space is small, meaning the flames can spread quickly. If the fire gets out of control, which could happen quickly, there is no choice but to make an emergency evacuation. Hadfield, like the other astronauts, is well-primed on the fire containment and evacuation procedures. He recognizes the danger. But he belies it with this casual tweet, which brings his audience up to speed without the sense of urgency.

Considering how many Twitter blokes become snarly at the prospect of a longer commute, Hadfield's restraint in this situation was admirable.

Content appropriate to the audience

Chris Hadfield - William Shatner

Hadfield's gift is pithily summarizing a situation for just about anyone - including a Star Trek celebrity of yore. Any fan of the ever-popular series would recognize the joke that Hadfield sent, mimicing words that are similar to what Shatner's fictional crew told him.

But the astronaut doesn't only make time for celebrities. He responds to questions from ordinary folks, often directing them to the Canadian Space Agency for further information. The agency often relays Hadfield's tweets on its own Twitter feed, too.

Poetry-like descriptions of Earth

Chris Hadfield - clouds

Sailing in orbit, Hadfield is privileged with a view that few of us will see (at least, until the space tourism business gets going). In a press conference with journalists on January 10, he said these pictures showing a beautiful Earth are among the most important things he and his crewmates do.

"The perspective that we are subject to, that we are privileged enough to see directly to our eyes, is one that, I think, would benefit everyone," he said.

He suggested the view of Earth as a contiguous planet could help overcome the regional and cultural difficulties that some countries face. 

"With increased understanding comes a more global perspective," Hadfield added.

Superb time-management skills

Chris Hadfield - Schedule

Reading this missive, you'd never imagine Hadfield had time to tweet pictures and information more than 20 times on January 9, but he did. Hadfield has Twitter set up in his bunk; the Canadian Space Agency suspects he makes a pit stop there almost every time he flies past that corner during the day.

Twitter posts take only a moment to send, but Hadfield's careful eloquence probably takes a bit of forethought. Factor in the time it took to set up the Internet and (most likely) troubleshoot it - on top of exercise, and training, and maintenance, and science experiments - and you can see how well Hadfield schedules his days.

Overarching humility

Chris Hadfield - Thank You

Hadfield wrote this amidst his interaction with Shatner and other Star Trek celebrities that shot him to Twitter stardom. Even during the January 10 conversation with journalists, Hadfield laughed off suggestions that he was some sort of "Astronaut 2.0", saying it was the entire work of the crew shining through on his Twitter account.

Any good manager knows success comes through acknowledging the work of his or her colleagues - and playing down his or her own contribution. With words such as these, Hadfield is obviously preparing for his turn to be the International Space Station captain of Expedition 35. His command begins in March - and you can follow his command on Twitter: @cmdr_hadfield