National Geographic’s 5 Rules For Purposeful Content

The idea that social media is the channel for brands to best engage with their customers is not new. But as platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat start to become old hat for social media marketing teams, consumers are evolving, both in the way they use their accounts and in what they expect from companies’ presence in their online playground.

National Geographic is the top media brand on social. With 59.5m followers on Instagram, the only brands sitting ahead of them in popularity are Instagram itself and Nike.


Nadine Heggie, Vice President of Global Partnerships, shared the organisation’s strategy for success at Social Media Week London, prompting us to speculate how brands can go further in their online efforts.

Heggie spoke about National Geographic’s belief that storytelling can change the world, and treated us to their 5 rules for staying true to that goal:

  1. Lead with visuals: NatGeo’s account is run by their 100 selected photographers, who share their best shots, rather than by a social media manager.
  2. Invest in storytelling and storytellers: NatGeo organise grant schemes to find talented young photographers to nurture.
  3. Where, when and how the consumers want it: As a launch partner of Snapchat Discover, NatGeo ensure they move with their audience.
  4. Be flexible and adaptive: By experimenting with Facebook Live, NatGeo can share more diverse stories and react faster with content.
  5. Lean into purpose: With 27% of their profit going back into science, discovery and education, NatGeo live their strong core values.

The approach which National Geographic takes, and the risks which they are willing to stomach, makes for beautiful content, a truly engaged audience and a 128 year old brand which is still going strong.

But for brands who want to partner with National Geographic, a common problem presents itself. For media companies whose commodity is content, it’s not just the beautiful photos that people are engaging with; consumers like integrity, story, and ‘realness’. If brands pay to place their logo in the bottom right hand corner of this content in order to reach these huge audiences, surely the very people they are trying to reach will have less love for said content?

Brands need to better understand why audiences flock to particular media owners, and instead of jumping on the bandwagon with lazy sponsored content, must also take a leaf out of NatGeo’s rule book. With the introduction of the ‘ad’ symbol on several popular channels, consumers are going to need more than a logo to believe the sponsoring brand really cares about the same things they do.

Social media is not new any more, so there’s no excuse for brands not to have a deeper understanding of their partners and consumers’ values when creating for the social world. It’s what National Geographic did, after all.

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