National Geographic’s Social Media Success in 2014

National Geographic has one of the most effective social media strategies on the planet. Their stunning visual storytelling keeps fans engaged across platforms.

NatGeo has become the largest, fastest-growing, and most-interacted profile on Instagram. The photo/video sharing app offers elements of a high-end magazine – a perfect fit to house NatGeo’s amazing footage and images from their global community of visual storytellers. To put their success into perspective: they have 15 million followers and gain roughly 18,000 new followers per day. In 2014, they increased their following by 180% – that’s 6.5 million new followers. This monumental growth has been met with a highly engaged audience – they have over 750 million interactions since January 2014.


NatGeo’s social media success on Instagram is largely attributed to featuring content every day from their extensive network of photographers. These contributors are massive personal brands in their own right, and they also publish to a separate Instagram account entitled The Photo Society. Both profiles promote each other, which helps to generate quality content daily, increase user engagement, and mutually expand their audience. NatGeo continued to hike up their volume of content over 2014 to keep their followers coming back for more.


Lesson > Your Instagram content should show off your brand’s identity, give an insider’s look, and really be geared towards your core audience. If you are not enthusiastic about the photo or video you uploaded, most probably your fans won't be either.

We analyzed over 3,700 posts made between January 2014 and March 2015. Photos make up 96% of their posts and are likely touched-up or altered in another third party program beforehand since 97% are uploaded under a normal filter (#nofilter). But, NatGeo’s posts are more than just striking photography.

They make the most of the description text to provide a compelling story behind the content – certainly a core advantage of Instagram as a platform. Just 38% of NatGeo’s posts have fewer than 300 characters, and while only 5% of all brand posts on Instagram had more than 500 characters, almost 1/3 of NatGeo posts had 500+ characters. NatGeo’s most popular photo was this gem – a harp seal pup sheltering under a piece of ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This photo sparked more than 650,000 interac­tions – by far the most from the time period we looked at.

The post promoted National Geographic Live – a popular speaker series in Calgary showcasing firsthand presentations from great explorers, filmmakers, and photographers featured on the National Geographic Channel and in National Geographic Magazine.

Lesson > This post demonstrates how they are using a picture to promote their values – in this case about reductions in sea ice due to climate change, spark conversation, and create a clear call-to-action.

On Facebook

NatGeo leverages Facebook and for building community and driving fans to their website; whereas Instagram is used mainly for sharing pictures and the stories behind them. After-all, social engagement drives site visits. Here’s how they are achieving this.

On Facebook, 90% of their posts are links, and they receive 80% of all interactions. Photos on the other hand are posted only 6% of the time, but experience higher engagement per post, accounting for 18% of total interactions. In fact, 9 out of 10 of their top posts on Facebook were photos; however it seems that gaining high levels of engagement for photos is not their core focus (they do that on Instagram where the interactions are much higher), attracting users to their site is.

How publishers can use deep social analytics

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NatGeo posts frequently and often – an average of 6 posts per day which garnered over 58 million total interactions in 2014! Compare that to a mega brand like Coca-Cola which posts only 1 time per day on Facebook and received more than 1.3 million total interactions in 2014.

Brands should interact with their audience, and the more active they become with engaging quality content will also help to stimulate more interactions. Of course it pays off to have a quality audience – something Facebook is helping with.

On March 5, Facebook announced the removal of inactive accounts that were either memorialized for deceased users or had been voluntarily deactivated. The argument was this change would give businesses up-to-date audience data to understand who is actively engaging with their Page. During the “Likes” cleanup, NatGeo lost 1 million fans. Even better for them – this means they can only continue to experience higher levels of engagement with their more than 34 million active fans. Last year they added nearly 15 million fans – that’s 1.2 million new fans per month!

Their most popular post asked fans to caption this photo – it got over 350,000 interac­tions – and was submitted to their photo contest.


Lesson > User generated content is always a great way to get people engaged, and photo captions are a fun and simple way to get audiences involved. The digital form of word-of-mouth is sharing posts, and brands should monitor these types of interactions over time. In the new Socialbakers Analytics, we give you a comprehensive view of how your posts perform against your own targets and the competition.

Social Customer Care

Speaking of fan involvement, there is one aspect that NatGeo could definitely improve – social customer care. In an era where social is instrumental to brand success, 18% of brands globally still maintain closed walls – meaning over 3 billion user connections lack adequate customer service – NatGeo is among them. We believe brands should be Socially Devoted – our benchmark for responding to at least 65% of user questions on Facebook and Twitter.

They also lack on customer care on Twitter by leaving the responsibility of answering questions to the content creators. NatGeo was asked over 15,000 questions on Twitter in 2014, yet only 51 questions were responded to. Clearly the demand is there, and NatGeo could benefit immensely if they developed a sound social customer care strategy both on Facebook and Twitter.

On Twitter

NatGeo has nearly 8 million followers on Twitter, and over the course of 2014, they were able to gain 2.6 million new followers. Their strategy on Twitter is similar to Facebook – get news out fast and drive traffic to their site by linking articles. NatGeo tweets twice as often as they post to Facebook; however, they don’t interact with their audience or Retweet. Regardless, their stellar photos, trending topics, and attention to environmental and cultural issues garnered 1.4 million mentions in 2014.

Learn how to improve your social customer care with our latest study.

On YouTube

Media publishers have an inherent advantage with content, and NatGeo is no exception – they share high-quality video content from their TV channel with their audience. They’ve been ahead of the curve for implementing visual content as the core of their social media presence. Where static images and short videos dominate on Instagram with mobile, YouTube gives the space for lengthy storytelling with videos on full-screen desktop.

Extremely active on YouTube – they published 1,000 videos in 2014 – averaging 90 per month, and gained nearly 500,000 new subscribers. NatGeo’s channel is approaching the 4 million subscriber mark.

Lesson > Of course its NOT just about capturing new subscribers, what matters is how MUCH they engage with your content. On YouTube, video views and growth of interactions are a good measurement to help define success. In NatGeo’s case, their increase in subscribers was significant because they were highly engaged as can be seen by the increasing number video views.

Enjoy the most watched video from the NatGeo channel below – don’t watch if snakes aren’t exactly your thing.

The Takeaway

Publishers should look to National Geographic for inspiration when devising their social media marketing strategy.

NatGeo has successfully used each social network for a different purpose. It’s critical to build your approach and content creation on platforms that highlight core business goals and your brand identity. Take advantage of space to create a clear call-to-action; whether it’s watching a video or increasing website conversions.

NatGeo does an incredible job of educating the masses about the world by drawing awareness to the threatening issues facing all of us. Clearly, a lot of people around the world are taking notice.

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