How National Geographic uses visual storytelling to stand out in social media


National Geographic is known for its impressive visual content. How did it use it though to create a highly successful social presence?

There are not many brands to explain the power of visual storytelling as National Geographic does, a media brand with a history of 128 years in science and photography that used all its resources to create a compelling social presence.

Nadine Heggie, Vice President of Global Partnerships for National Geographic Partners Europe & Africa, offered an insight on Social Media Week on how the brand dominates social media with the use of storytelling and the power of the community.


National Geographic is already reaching 730 million people each month, but according to Nadine Heggie, it was social media that fuelled the growth of the business, with a social footprint of 270.9 million followers, 1.6 billion actions and an engagement that is 8x higher than any other media brand.

What led to this success? Here are the five key points that any brand could study when seeking for social success.

1. Leading with the visuals

Instagram is the ideal platform for National Geographic to narrate a visual story and it reached 60 million followers by handing the account to its contributing photographers, curating images from their assignments, or even their daily lives.

This led to stunning and authentic visual content that the audience appreciated, which encouraged the brand to experiment even more.


The next step was to drive conversation through visual storytelling, enhancing the participation to establish NatGeo’s feed as an account more users would like to follow.

In fact, National Geographic is among the most popular accounts on Instagram, being surrounded by celebrities, which means that people are still interested in unique storytelling, provided that the brand can meet their expectations.

2. Invest in storytelling and storytellers

Storytelling cannot occur without a collaboration with photographers, film makers, journalists, or even scientists and explorers in the case of National Geographic.

The goal is to bring the experience closer to the consumers closer and powerful images can make it easier.


‘Wild Life’ with Bertie Gregory is another attempt of National Geographic to promote talent and narrate new and authentic stories, through a series of Youtube videos that bring the audience closer to nature.

The content is optimised for all social networks and this both provides new content, but also makes users explore places they wouldn’t imagine.

3. Where, when and how consumers want it


Success in social media cannot happen if you don’t understand your audience. National Geographic is determined to go where the users are, and its latest discovery is Snapchat.

It partnered with Discover channel to experiment with a more playful voice and a new type of content, reaching a younger audience that is still interested in the brand’s unique storytelling.

4. Be flexible and adaptive


Flexibility may help your brand discover new platforms, or types of content that can offer new experiences to the consumer.

Facebook live is another effective method for National Geographic to bring its audience closer to authentic storytelling, with a significantly higher engagement comparing to other types of content.

For example, a recent example was a live video from two explorers from mount Everest, where users felt closer than ever to their experience, with the real-time engagement (likes, comments, shares) being impressive.


5. Lean into purpose

Storytelling should still have a bigger purpose, aligning with the brand’s goals, especially when it’s about raising awareness on important issues.

National Geographic is frequently collaborating with ambassadors and photographers to highlight crucial issues that need to be addressed and one of the examples was the successful campaign for World Ocean Day.

The idea was to use all social networks to promote the day, using the power of social media to change the world.


“World Ocean Day” reached 77.7 million fans with storytelling and relevant content, while Snapchat’s content was seen by 7.8k viewers, using the platform’s ephemerality for a good cause.

Why a brand should use storytelling


You don’t have to be National Geographic to tell a good story. Any business can stand out with its own story, provided that it’s showcasing its authenticity.

Social media users appreciate branded content that is genuine and unique and storytelling can increase the chances of turning a visitor into a loyal customer. What makes storytelling powerful is the ability to help a brand go beyond its promotional content and rather use a story as a way to describe more about its values, its goals, or its company culture.

People feel closer to a brand that can build an emotional connection with them and storytelling is a great way to achieve it.

Storytelling in branded content can:

  • bring a human element to a brand
  • build trust
  • create a relationship
  • make content interesting
  • help repurpose older content
  • provide new creative opportunities
  • help a brand stand out

It’s important to remember that there are no set of rules on how you should tell your own story through your brand. All you need is the inspiration to showcase what makes you stand out.

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