How National Geographic Engages Audiences With Awe and Wonder



Exploration, collaboration, passion, and more cornerstones of National Geographic’s engaging social strategy came into focus during their stunning session at Social Media Week London.


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In the opening sizzle reel for National Geographic Partners, director Ron Howard says, “Television has become very ambitious, and National Geographic as a network is embracing that.” The same can clearly be said across the company’s properties, based on Vice President of Global Strategy Nadine Heggie’s opening assertion: “I can honestly say that the past 18 months at National Geographic has been the most exhilarating and exciting of my career.”

In an expectedly visually stunning presentation, Heggie detailed the brand’s ambitious strategy for engaging with its sizeable audience on social media. And indeed, its reputation for “world-class visuals” that “solicit wow and wonder,” has led it to an enviable ranking: the #1 non-celebrity brand on social media, for the fourth year in a row. With a laser-sharp focus, aided by a community of talented creators, the brand continues to grow and dazzle in the online space.

Growth Through Exploration

National Geographic’s hero Instagram account isn’t controlled or curated by any one person; access to it lies firmly in the hands of the explorers and photographers who capture their content. By giving control to content creators, they can share content in a timely fashion and offer meaningful perspective on the images presented.

Heggie detailed how this ability to share timely content affirmed itself across platforms during Suicide Prevention Month. In conjunction with their documentary on face transplant recipient Katie Stubblefield, NatGeo shared content on Snapchat to tell Stubblefield (who survived a suicide attempt)’s story. Sharing when they did not only highlighted the work they’d been doing, but positioned it at a time when it could generate meaningful conversation and bring people together.

Growth Through Collaboration

Speaking of bringing people together, another cornerstone of National Geographic’s social strategy has been its commitment to generating dialogue. The company has online communities dedicated to innovation, exploration, travel, and photography. Its newest community, Women of Impact, boasts 48,000 members since its launch earlier this year- 88% of whom engage daily.

Heggie also shared the story of how meaningful collaborators came together to reduce plastic waste. Across channels, the company committed to “polluting” its feed with plastic that was in the wrong place. Along with ambassador Zooey Deschanel, the brand then asked followers to commit to using less plastic through a pledge. The result? A 90% increase in organic search, and a 20% increase in earned social impressions. Thoughtful partnerships with brands like Adidas (for World Oceans Day) have further extended its reach and reputation.

Growth Through Passion

Heggie shared an important story to National Geographic’s evolution: originally a publication for scholarly articles, the magazine took a chance and pivoted toward photography and cartography as a means to convey knowledge. Two board members resigned, insisting that the method would water down the impact of the publication. But a passion for making knowledge accessible and engaging made the risk one worth taking—and look where it has led them.

That passion continues to drive risk-taking and new forms of engagement at National Geographic Partners. Session attendees were treated to a snippet of an Instagram Live session between One Strange Rock host Will Smith, and an astronaut on the International Space Station. And even within the session, Heggie videochatted live with a stingray and shark expert currently exploring in Bosnia. His passion for his work was evident, and he conveyed a real desire to share that knowledge in an accessible and vivid way. NatGeo is committed to giving him, and other explorers like him, the opportunity to do so in a beautiful, meaningful way.

At every turn, Heggie shared the story of a National Geographic dedicated to using its resources to, as she says, “celebrate the explorer in all of us.” The session closed with a charge in that vein: as attendees departed, they were encouraged “don’t follow, explore.”

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