National Geographic’s Secrets to Becoming the #1 Brand for Social Impact



This event took place at Social Media Week in Los Angeles. Sign up for SMW Insider to access the full video of this event and 50+ other #SMWLA sessions.

As one of the leading brands on social, National Geographic has mastered the art of visual storytelling. Claudia Malley, National Geographic’s Chief Marketing and Brand Officer (CMBO), shared that an emphasis on science, exploration and photography allowed National Geographic to tell stories that have yet to be told.

“Collaboration is critical.” National Geographic “gives the keys to the kingdom” to their photographers, and trust them to come together to uncover personal narratives from all around the world. While documenting the world, however, it is also important to “stay rooted in reality.”

With 730 million consumers, National Geographic dominates the social media landscapes, and Malley shared tips on how they do so, allowing the audience to learn how their brand can also create a strong social presence.

“There is nothing like the power of the visual to get people to stop and engage.” However, the formula to high engagement requires more than just a good image; it also requires relevance and timeliness. In addition, brands must lead with the visual as a method of connecting with as many of people as possible.

“Invest in the storytelling and the storytellers,” Malley advised. “We live in a content-saturated world” so brands must understand how to differentiate themselves from others. Thus, brands must understand when, where, and why consumers want content and understand this information quickly. The world and the market does not wait for anyone to catch up, so brands must learn to “be flexible and adaptive.”

Malley stated that they key of National Geographic’s success is “leaning into purpose.” While pursuing its philanthropic goal, the brand invests effort into personalizing messages for consumers. To show examples of personalized storytelling, Malley invited Anand Varma to join the stage.

Anand Varma, a photographer for National Geographic, joined the stage to talk about how he creates a story. He utilized a series of photos to tell a story to the audience about how scientists are attempting to restore the population of honeybees, as well as the obstacles they face while doing so. To take photos that no one has ever taken before, Varma wanted to learn all he could about bees, going so far as to keep bees in his backyard.

As a photographer, Varma “uses images to inspire people’s curiosity about the world.” To do this, he first documented the entire experience and focused on telling the story after. He credits his ability to tell a narrative in an unprecedented manner to National Geographic, for the brand made the effort to invest time and resources necessary for visual storytelling.

It is this same investment that has allowed National Geographic to be the most-followed brand on Instagram.

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