National Geographic was named the #1 social media brand in the U.S. by Shareablee and has the most followed non-celebrity Instagram account in the world. With more than 37 million Facebook followers and 1 billion likes on Instagram, the 127-year brand has mastered the social media space. So when I learned that Rajiv Mody, National Geographic’s Vice President of Social Media, was presenting about the organization’s approach to social during a Communications Network D.C. event, I jumped at the chance to attend.
National Geographic is an outstanding example of a brand that has learned to adapt in the digital age, and even though it is very business-to-consumer (B2C)-focused, it still brings lessons to the business-to-business (B2B) community. Rather than clinging to its past, the company has branched out to reach audiences where they are today, using the mediums and the messages that will resonate best. For instance, Pew Research Center found that 63 percent of Facebook and Twitter users get news from those sites, up from roughly 50 percent just two years ago. As a result, National Geographic has joined the ranks of leading publishers like Washington Post using Facebook Instant Articles to deliver fast, interactive content on the social platform. Not only does this provide a more intuitive, streamlined experience for users, but it also gives publishers in-depth access to metrics and analytics on content performance.
The brand has successfully crafted strategies for each of its channels to ensure it is delivering unique, compelling content that fits the user profile. For example, to match the fast-moving pace of Twitter, National Geographic posts timely, high-impact stories that aim to teach followers something new. On Facebook, fans can expect to see interesting content and drives them to engage either through Instant Articles, or through the brand’s website. Snapchat invites a younger demographic to participate by providing interactive content like quizzes, along with photos and videos. And Pinterest helps the brand tap into individual’s passion points, whether those be photography, wildlife, exploration, etc.
The key to engaging with your audience, no matter the medium, is to deliver timely, relatable, relevant content, urged Mody. At National Geographic, this means focusing on three core pillars: curiosity, access, and fun. With photographers around the world and countless stories to tell, the brand seeks to provide content that sparks curiosity, provides access to something otherwise unseen or unknown, or is just plain fun.
Another factor that has driven the company’s social media success is an attitude of “letting go.” Social media is a risk, and it can often be difficult to get necessary buy-in from executives, convince others of the ROI, and engage key stakeholders like employees. This can be especially true for large, established brands that require more layers of approval and have more to lose. Reaching success on social media requires companies to accept the small risk of negative comments, though, for a greater reward: the chance to reach new audiences and build relationships with current ones.
For National Geographic, this means giving photographers around the world access to its Instagram account so they can post directly, rather than going through a lengthy approval cycle. While it can be difficult to take a step away and relinquish control, this move has helped make the brand one of the most successful on Instagram.
Social media platforms will continue to evolve and change over time, but one thing is clear: the brands that adapt to connect with audiences where they are, and in a way that engages them there, will be successful. This will require a bit of risk-taking and shifting tactics, and may mean letting go of what is comfortable and known. But in the end, isn’t this true of all risks worth taking?