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How National Geographic Drives Giant Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram Engagement

NatGeo_blogSocial media analytics company Shareablee ranked National Geographic as the most effective publisher in the social space for the month of July, with 46.4 million engagements on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Today, National Geographic has an audience that’s 40 million-strong between Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit owes its social success to a cohesive cross-network strategy designed to lead people directly to its website. Any media company or nonprofit can learn from what this legacy brand — the National Geographic Society has been inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888 — is doing to make its brand and mission relevant in the contemporary social sphere.

I looked at a two-week time period, August 25 – September 8, in an effort to find out what National Geographic does in an average posting cycle, and how its strategies differ depending on the network. Here’s what I found.

On Twitter

@NatGeo has 7.24 million followers on Twitter. Their Twitter profile describes National Geographic like this: “Since 1888, we’ve traveled the Earth, sharing its amazing stories with new generations.” Despite being a revered, reliable source, the brand is anything but musty and old-fashioned. 

icon-stats-figuresLess than 5% of National Geographic’s 206 Tweets were photos.

While National Geographic led with photos on Facebook and Instagram (more on that later), most of their Tweets — 194 out of 206, to be exact — were links back to content on

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 12.47.15 PMClearly, National Geographic’s current Twitter strategy is focused pointing people back to their site as much as possible. They don’t want to give away their gorgeous, high-quality visual content — they prefer to have folks explore their content at

But when National Geographic does post photos on Twitter, they see serious engagement.

This chart, pulled from the Simply Measured Twitter Account Report for @NatGeo between August 25-September 8, shows @NatGeo’s Tweets by Content Type.

Seven out of 10 of National Geographic’s top posts on Twitter during this time period were photos — and National Geographic only tweeted 10 photos during that timeframe. This means that, when National Geographic does offer up the photographic journalism they’re known for directly to social, they hit the mark just right.

Rich content doesn’t necessarily equal high engagement.

National Geographic’s weekly Friday Facts posts do well. They see surprisingly strong engagement for including no photo content, no video content — not even a link back to the National Geographic site. Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 12.59.13 PMThe learning here is twofold. Because National Geographic is a known, respected news source, they have the public’s trust. This makes a factoid post like the one above uber successful, while a greener brand with a less solid reputation might not see the same response.

The second lesson here is that a brand Tweet doesn’t need a lot of glitz and glam to be successful. It just needs to offer some new and surprising value to followers.

On Facebook

National Geographic has 30.9 million fans on Facebook. During my two-week sample time period, they posted roughly half (57%) the amount that they posted on Twitter — but retained over four times the audience. Similar to its activity on Twitter, National Geographic used Facebook almost entirely for links. They drove the most engagement from photos, but only posted four pictures out of the 117 posts during this time period.

icon-stats-figures100% of link posts feature images or video integration.


This gave National Geographic the high engagement levels of a photo or video post, while also driving traffic to their website. Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.33.11 PMIt’s a 1-2 punch, and a powerful posting strategy for any media company looking to drive site traffic while simultaneously seeing in-network engagement.

On Twitter, National Geographic’s strategy is posting few images and videos, while on Facebook most links have image or videos. This tells us that National Geographic sees Twitter as less of a visual network and more of a place to attract folks with informational tidbits and news items, while it sees Facebook as a more “magazine-like” network with which to give users a feel and preview for what their website offers. 

On Instagram 

@natgeo has 7.1 million followers on Instagram. Instagram was home to National Geographic’s most engaging post on any network during this time period, passing their second-most engaging post by 40,000 Likes in just one day: Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.45.55 PMThat’s because this is the perfect Instagram post. It is visually stunning and incredibly well-photographed (a.k.a. staying true to the National Geographic brand).

It displays a dramatic interaction between a human being and her natural environment (a.k.a. staying true to the National Geographic brand). It tags the photographer, the reporter, the photo subject, and itself for optimal discovery purposes. And most noteably, it describes what is happening in an unusual scene, making the post a mini magazine story

There’s a lot to be learned from National Geographic’s Instagram strategy, number one being: To thine own self be true (but don’t be afraid to update thyself for the ‘Gram, either).

NatGeo started experimenting with Hyperlapse early.

@natgeo posted five Hyperlapse-tagged posts. These saw a healthy average of 110,139 engagements. This post saw the most engagement: Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 3.15.42 PMBottom line: everyone loves buffalo. Just kidding.

What I’d like to highlight here is that National Geographic isn’t afraid to experiment with new apps and ways of looking at the natural beauty which sits at the heart of their brand, while also placing value on ecological learning, no matter the social medium.

What Can You Learn From National Geographic’s Social Strategies?

Where do you think National Geographic’s strategies are the strongest, regardless of follower count or engagement numbers?

Want to learn about adding strategic cross-channel measurement to your social media marketing strategy? Download our new whitepaper The Five Essentials of Cross-Channel Social Media Measurement today.

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Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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