National Geographic is one of those brands most of us grew up with, whether we know it thanks to the long-lasting magazine or the educational TV channel.
Due to the changes brought by the current lifestyle, which has somehow turned into a mostly digital lifestyle, the brand took a step forward and has spread its digital presence in order to keep up with the tendencies and its audience’s habits.
Certainly adapting the communication plan to the constantly evolving trends on social media while aligning it with the organization’s values is not an easily done job.
So now we’re going to dive deeper into the tactics National Geographic uses when creating its social media strategy.
National Geographic's Social Media Strategy
1. What you should know about the brand
National Geographic is a world-leading brand in geography, exploration, and travel. It was born in 1888, alongside the first edition of the regular magazine with the same name, that it’s still being published until today.
Over the years, the brand has expanded its line of operations, to the existence of a TV channel and even the establishment of an NGO, called The National Geographic Society.
Following up on the brand’s values, the non-profit organization is committed to exploring and protecting nature’s beauties.
A quick look over the numbers tells us the brand has an average monthly traffic of 13.90 million users, while 61,38% it’s generated by search on Google, from which 99,49% is organic.
As for social media, Facebook seems to be the number one channel that drives traffic to the brand’s website, having an average 42,45% of the total traffic generated through social media.
2. What is National Geographic’s social media content strategy
Relying massively on the power of storytelling, a must-do in today’s digital world in order to keep the online communities hooked, National Geographic has a strong social media strategy, a key component for turning it into one of the world’s most inspiring brands.
What is most striking about NatGeo’s social media strategy is how well the brand understands each social platform’s features and possible gains, therefore being able to come up with different creative approaches to match each platform’s audience and its habits.
National Geographic has built its presence on all the major social media platforms, from Facebook or Instagram to TikTok or even Snapchat.
National Geographic on Facebook and Twitter
NatGeo’s social media strategy for these two social platforms is somehow similar.
On both Facebook and Twitter, National Geographic uses a mix of articles, images, and short videos meant to raise awareness on various social problems or educate about scientific or historical facts.
National Geographic’s core mission is to inform, educate and change behaviors for the good of society, and for covering a huge area of topics that have different audiences, the brand has chosen to create multiple accounts, each having a different theme.
Regardless of the platform or the account you may choose to look at, you’ll see NatGeo is a brand that is very active on social media. On its main Facebook account, for example, the brand posts an average of 7 posts per day, while its main Twitter account has an average of 12 posts per day.
National Geographic on Instagram
On Instagram, National Geographic has taken another communication direction, making the most out of Instagram’s visual storytelling power.
On Instagram, compared to Facebook and Twitter, the brand posts fewer visuals per day, reaching an average of five, data that was possible to discover by using Socialinsider’s analytics features.
As Vanina, social media campaigns manager at National Geographic global told us in an episode of Insider Insights podcast: “every account is different, so each account has a very unique audience - something that will go on NatGeo Wild will not go on NatGeo Travel.”
“We approach each social channel differently, customizing content to meet the unique expectations and desires of each site’s users.”
By far one of the things National Geographic does best when it comes to its social media accounts is blending strategical thinking with creativity.
The team behind NatGeo’s social presence dedicates a lot of time to strategic thinking. Truth be told, behind the touching and inspiring creatives seen on the brand’s social media, there’s a lot of work even before the editing of the materials starts.
From defining the goal of a social media campaign (whether we’re talking about general goals like raising awareness or more measurable ones, like gaining views or impressions) to the target audience definition, National Geographic’s social media strategy is thought about in great detail.
Another tactic that Vanina told us the brand usually uses is interactive activations on their social media accounts - from hashtag challenges to Q&A sessions, depending on what works best on every social platform.
Although over the last year, because of the COVID19 pandemic production has been held, for not being able to shoot in the field, therefore decreasing the number of their social media campaigns, NatGeo has found creative ways to stay in touch with their communities and keep them engaged on social media.
If we were to sum up we could consider the following 5 tactics the key actions that are behind National Geographic’s social media strategy:
- National Geographic focuses on creating emotional connections with its audiences
- Interactive content on social: one of the main pillars of the brand’s strategy
- Getting inspiration: the brand has a whole team for creative production
- Top 3 KPI’s National Geographic measures in social media: views, engagement, impressions
- The secret behind the brand’s most successful campaigns: establishing a measurable goal
3. Discover National Geographic’s social media campaigns
In their mission to preserve the world’s beauties, National Geographic often partners with some of the world’s biggest brands in an attempt to raise awareness on different problems the Earth is struggling with.
And they are taking these partnerships and campaigns way beyond social media.
Heroes of the ocean
It surely has a reckoning sound, doesn’t it?
NatGeo has always known how to package the messages of their social campaigns, in order to touch their communities. And given they are fighting for the world’s greater good, we can agree there’s an absolute need for strong messages.
“Heroes of the ocean” is a campaign for which National Geographic partnered with Rolex, realizing a documentary about ocean conservation.
Featuring the world known oceanographer Sylvia Earl and her team of marine scientists in a long journey of researching the human’s everyday life behavior’s impact on the marine habitat, the initiative speaks in an emotional way about the importance of preserving our oceans.
The 20 seconds long teaser posted on National Geographic’s Twitter has gained 18,8K views alone.
The campaign was mentioned on both brands' social media, although Rolex was the primary promoter.
This is the third episode from the Perpetual Planet series that National Geographic started when it first partnered up with Rolex, in 2019.
Given the constant discrimination and challenges Latin people face in the USA, National Geographic has come up with a social media campaign meant to educate the people about the Latin culture’s great contribution to the world, whether it was through art, science, or politics.
The brand’s social media campaign - #HispanicLatinxHeritageMonth, was scheduled for the actual time frame that the US is supposed to celebrate the National Hispanic Heritage Month, in an attempt to bring a tribute to the great Latin personalities that have left their mark in the world’s history and culture.
NatGeo’s social media strategy was to promote the campaign’s messages through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
National Geographic’s social media is known for its impactful visuals. Stories that are timely, memorable, and important are usually expressed through short-style videos.
The principal two social media platforms used for NatGeo’s campaign were Facebook and Twitter, where the brands used a mix of videos and articles.
As Vanina told us, video views are an important metric for National Geographic’s social media reporting process. And on Twitter alone, the three videos posted that were part of this campaign gained over 72.6 K views.
Photo Camp Live
National Geographic’s social identity success wouldn’t be what it is today without its dedicated and talented photographers.
While new generations pick up from where the latest ones left, bringing a new, fresh and authentic vibe, NatGeo is committed to helping them grow as they tell through their camera’s lenses the brand’s story to the world.
National Geographic’s photo camp was an initiative that started back in 2003 when the brand started partnering up with organizations worldwide “to give youth a voice” and implied workshops for the young talents from underprivileged communities.
With the lockdowns of 2020, NatGeo has moved this initiative online, having a regular nine-week live webinars session in which some of their most known and successful photographers spoke about their photographing techniques, giving the young aspiring photographer some tips for their skills’ improvement.
For the promotion of this campaign, Instagram and Twitter were the principal social media platforms chosen by NatGeo.
4. Learn about National Geographic’s ambassadors
When it comes to marketing through brand ambassadors, NatGeo does things a bit differently than most brands.
First and foremost, National Geographic’s main ambassadors and storytellers are the photographers the brand uses to depict all its breathtaking social visuals. And this does not stop only with sending them on the field and using the pictures shot afterward, with a credit mention.
Actually, just like Vanina said, NatGeo gives its photographers access to its Instagram accounts, letting them decide what visuals will go live.
Unlike most brands, National Geographic doesn’t work very often with world-known celebrities for their social media campaigns. They seem to believe more in the power of micro-influencers, which have a very strong relationship with their social communities.
For example, back in 2018, the brand collaborated with Chase Creative, a social storytelling agency for the campaign #stopmetplastic - meant to drive awareness about the effects of plastic pollution, which involved working with a couple of micro-influencers like Caroll Lynn or Inge Moerenhout.
NatGeo is also known to create its social media strategy based on partnerships that the brand seals with worldwide brands, like the one with Rolex.
In the past, National Geographic has partnered up with many of the world’s leading brands like Honda, Microsoft, or Subaru.
Creating valuable cooperation while fighting for the planet’s causes is one of the things National Geographic certainly does flawlessly.
5. Benchmark National Geographic’s against its competitors
Indeed, at first sight, National Geographic’s numbers look amazing. But data means nothing if it ain’t put in the right context.
In such a competitive digital environment, benchmarking your results against your competitors is the safest way to improve and grow.
So, it’s worth wondering, if NatGeo has such a strong social media strategy, how are the brand’s competitors trying to catch up?
Although NatGeo’s Twitter account is the one most of the posting is done on, Instagram is the social media network where the brand has the biggest following.
With Instagram in the game, its capability of attracting the social media user’s interest thanks to its appealing, visual orientation, not only succeeded the brand in gaining most of its fans but also great results.
Enhancing the brand’s already meaningful visuals, Instagram is the platform that has brought NatGeo’s famous social media success, being the most engaging social media platform.
Since we already know impressions and engagement are social media metrics that NatGeo is careful to constantly monitor, let’s have a peek at the numbers.
By using Socialinsider, I’ve been able to see that National Geographic’s Instagram alone brings an average of 1,2 million impressions per post, 235K likes per post, and 1405 comments per post on average.
Benchmarking National Geographic against its main competitors on social media - Animal Planet, History Channel, and Discovery Channel, it seems has long surpassed the brands in terms of social media performance, on all social networks.
On both Twitter and Instagram, NatGeo’s fan base clearly detaches itself from its social media competitors, having much bigger numbers.
One of the reasons behind National Geographic’s social media success is without doubt consistency, having the biggest amount of posts sent live that must be directly correlated with its high engagement rate by profile.
Still, by analyzing the average engagement rate per post and overall, the average engagement rate per profile, Animal Planet seems to slightly outperform NatGeo’s social media efforts.
Here’s how the social media data looks for both brands in Instagram’s case:
- National Geographic: average engagement per post: 0,10% and average engagement rate per profile: 14,65%
- Animal Planet: average engagement per post: 1,13% and average engagement rate per profile: 31,81%
This means National Geographic may benefit a lot from doing a competitive analysis when the brand is creating its social media campaigns plan for their social media strategy.
By taking a look at Animal Planet’s content and direction of communication, NatGeo can discover future opportunities that will enhance even more its social media presence and brand sympathy.
Back in 2017, National Geographic was called by AdWeek the #1 Brand in social media. More specifically, on Instagram. And based on the inquiry this case study has brought to light, it’s quite understandable why.
Now that we’ve seen the tactics NatGeo uses for its social media strategy, and how successful the brand is, it’s up to you to start implementing them for your business.
Of course, every social media strategy must be created according to a brand’s theme and personality, but surely now that you know tactics like having regular interactive content or delegating a team for creative production seem to bring great results, you might start testing to see if and what works for you.
As long as you stay true to your brand’s beliefs and your communities, trying to create meaningful relationships and add some real value for them through your actions, be sure you’ll be rewarded with high engagement rates and dedicated brand ambassadors.