With more than 45 million fans on Facebook and 86 million followers on Instagram, National Geographic is one of the top non-celebrity brands in the social sphere. If you’re following Nat Geo on any of their channels, you already understand why. Their photos and videos are stunning and their storytelling is top notch.

Behind the scenes, National Geographic’s social strategy is based on four core guiding principles, as we learned from Annabelle Canwell (National Geographic’s SVP of travel partnerships) at the recent ITB Berlin travel conference in Germany. Let’s take a look at the lessons these principles hold for any brand trying to build a strong presence on social.

1. Stay true to your brand

Know what your brand stands for, and embody that in your social presence. “It’s what people expect and respect,” Canwell said.

In line with its commitment to social responsibility (a quarter of the company’s proceeds benefit the non-profit National Geographic Society), National Geographic launched The People vs. Climate Change campaign and #myclimateaction hashtag to encourage followers to share the actions they were taking to help protect the earth.

Because of this campaign, more than 10,000 user-generated photos were submitted to National Geographic’s Your Shot social community. Your Shot is a platform National Geographic uses to “turn engaged followers into an active community and encourage followers to become part of our brand,” Canwell said.

The platform, through which National Geographic posts challenges for amateur photographers, has 800,000 members across 195 countries. “It’s the perfect example of collaboration,” Canwell said. National Geographic shares its favorite submitted photos on its @natgeoyourshot Instagram account and curates them into stories for both print and online.

Lesson for your brand: Understand your brand promise, and stay true to it in everything you post on social. Look for ways to collaborate with your followers and get them engaged.

2. Go immediate

“We post over 70 live stories every month and regularly reach one million views with a live broadcast,” Canwell said.

In its Safari Live videos, National Geographic scientists and photographers interact with fans and followers from assignments in the jungle. In this live video, viewers got up close to a leopard in South Africa and were able to ask questions in real time while watching him eat his prey.


It’s compelling stuff: At only three and a half minutes long, this live stream brought in more than 500 comments.

Lesson for your brand: National Geographic’s live videos are not one-way broadcasts, but rather conversations with viewers. What real-time moments could you use to create a “happening now” dialogue with your followers and fans?

3. Harness the power of “wow”

In a crowded social space, your photos and videos need to be simply stunning.

What does stunning look like? How about this 360 video of a shark attack, which reached 98 million people and had 30 million views—and 53 thousand shares—on Facebook alone.

Face-to-Face with a Hammerhead

Dive into this 360° video and go face to face with a curious great hammerhead shark.

Posted by National Geographic on Friday, July 14, 2017

Lesson for your brand: You may not have anything as dramatic to share as the inside of a hammerhead shark’s mouth, but all companies can keep this principle in mind—your content must wow your viewers, every time.

4. Embrace new technology

“It’s critical to embrace new technologies,” Canwell said. “Live gets really exciting when we can bring our community on expedition with us.”

Photographer Cory Richards and alpinist Adrian Ballinger took a mini Wi-Fi satellite with them on their attempt to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. The technology, combined with Facebook Live video, allowed them to answer questions from National Geographic fans live from 21,000 feet up the mountain.

National Geographic photographer Cory Richards and alpinist Adrian Ballinger are here LIVE from 21,000 feet on the North Side of Mt. Everest! Attempting to summit without supplemental oxygen. Will try to answer questions for as long as we can, post them in the comments below. #EverestNoFilter

Posted by National Geographic on Sunday, May 8, 2016

The video got more than 528,000 views and gave National Geographic fans key insight into how an expedition works while connecting them directly with the people involved, all in real time.

Lesson for your brand: Technology is changing fast. Social tools are, too. Keep on top of the latest developments and think about ways to apply new tools in creative and effective ways to build a stronger connection with your audience.

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