Storytelling may be the future of Content Online marketing strategy in 2018

David Linder

David Linder

MSc in Marketing from the University of Salford. Facebook Certified Planning Professional Facebook Certified Buying Professional
8 min read

How National Geographic engage 350 million combined global followers via storytelling content marketing on social media

Personally, I follow National Geographic across all social platforms – preferring the visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook – and for quite some time been a paid subscriber with their printed magazine. Just what exactly makes me, and their other 81.7 million followers on Instagram stop scrolling, build relationships this content and ultimately convert with their paid content? (They’re the quantity 1 television brand and #2 2 printed media on facebook). It is the ingenious way they captivate attention through the energy of visuals and great storytelling. That is why storytelling may be the future of social media.

With the large number of content on social and the countless brands that elect to pay to market content, it really is becoming an extremely crowded and noisy environment to attain social users. Although 37% of marketers say visual marketing may be the most important type of content because of their businesses, second to blogging, over will be the days were you place a graphic before your audience and expect them to learn what it really is and just why it’s there – and National Geographic tell their audience why they ought to stop, read and engage.

National Geographic are masters at engaging their combined 350 million followers on social which is how:

“The energy of wow”: using awe-inspiring images

National Geographic is well known for producing top quality, colourful and unique visual content – this is actually the first rung on the ladder in getting users to avoid scrolling. The ‘wow’ component of the image makes an individual stop and wonder where/who it really is – wanting more info and permitting them to escape from their current location and situation.

NatGeo instagram

This is excatly why NatGeo have their largest following on Instagram, 81.7 million. This can be surprising as Pinterest is a good platform to generate visual boards, but NatGeo doesn’t give a large description (or story) to accompany the visuals on Pinterest like they do on Instagram – supporting that the art of storytelling is really a rising trend that engages users and keeps them returning for more. Visuals are excellent, but simply insufficient.

The image has approximately 8 seconds to activate the viewer further – the common attention span before you risk losing the users attention plus they are lost for you, scrolling past your articles and finding cat videos, memes and the most recent internet viral trends – so make those 8 seconds count.

Nadine Heggie, VP of Brand Partnership, shared her applying for grants NatGeo’s key to success:

“Staying true to your brand, being timely with content, utilizing the power of wow and wonder, and embracing new technologies to inform stories”.

Being bold, original and providing images from a range of photographers keeps this content fresh and interesting. Keeping to your purpose can be important, NatGeo returns 27% of these profit to the not-for-profit National Geographic Society that funds research and projects.

An engaging first sentence or hook

There are first line sentences that may really grip your audience: interesting, unusual, shocking, or emotional. Viral content is consumed since it meets these human emotional needs. NatGeo brings each one of these elements to their social content strategy.


If the visual and the opening caption portrays wow and wonder, users will engage with this content. Take for example this example:

national geographic Antarctica

It is interesting and creates wonder since it differs – many users might never experience something similar to this and for a few, that is as near it because they will get. For this reason it really is interesting – they would like to learn. Social users are compelled to click ‘more’ to immerse themselves in the entire story as a kind of escape.

Here are various other examples, have a look at the beautiful visuals which are associated with three lines of a caption that grab your attention and cause you to wanting more.


You end up asking what’s this? And, after NatGeo offer you a snippet of what it really is, you need to learn.

national geographic treefrog

 Shocking (wow and wonder)

Much just like the ‘interesting’ caption, this visual and hook says to the reader that is something of wonder: ‘some of the largest granite walls in the wo…’. I find myself curious about more about who the individual may be the picture is, what’s he doing and much more concerning the granite walls NatGeo have begun to inform me about.

national geographic alaska


Emotional content can either be historically emotional, personally emotional or topically emotion (current affairs).

national geographic volcanoes national park

It can be important to remember that the comments which are generated by post-engaged users also supports sentiment and persuasion. For example, the utilization of the fist pump emoji signals respect – therefore, persuading an individual to read the entire story to discover why the image and this content deserve your respect.

national geographic hurricane aftermath

The above exemplory case of another emotional visual and opening hook may be the aftermath of a recently available natural disaster. Even though image is credited to possess been taken following a previous hurricane, the storyteller continues on to remind the audience that’s has been shared due to a recent crisis – hurricane Irma. Because this is a topical issue that affected lots of people in the Central and UNITED STATES region, users could resonate emotionally with loss, pain, and despair. The ones that weren’t personally suffering from the disaster, will feel a feeling of unexplainable guilt because of the seriousness of this issue should they were to scroll past without giving it the opportunity or show respect.

The story

So we’ve seen that great visuals and a fascinating, emotional, shocking or interesting first hook sentence is crucial on Instagram to obtain users to avoid scrolling, however now NatGeo have to keep carefully the user there and reading their full content, but how?

They aren’t shy about providing you an extended and detailed story concerning the contents of the photograph.

national geographic storynatgeo story

I haven’t included the images making use of their caption for grounds – the written text paints the picture for you personally!

The captions are always filled with detail and rich with every description of the main topic of the image, their reason behind being there / why they’re important and descriptions of these surroundings. Putting each one of these features together (visuals, hook, and story) creates awe and the ‘wow’ factor National Geographic aims to attain.

Similar compared to that of NatGeo’s strategy, Humans of New York a social and today printed book of media and stories – owned and ran by Brandon Stanton – uses exactly the same techniques to become successful. Within 7 years, the Facebook page has were able to gain almost 20 million followers on the social platform he started everything from. The usage of large descriptive stories supplements his portraiture photography – similar to NatGeo.

The power of telling your audience a tale is really a technique that has to not be overlooked, since when done correctly with strategic planning – knowing who your audience is, where they’re and what story they would like to know – provides great engagement together with your content and brand.

Lack of corporate branding and promotions

Each photograph is credited to individual photographers rather than being truly a branded asset. This makes this content a lot more personal and less corporate, experiencing the psychology of personal interaction between brand and consumer. Being over promotional is really a common mistake for content marketing – this could be really off-putting to your audience, which explains why National Geographic’s images are credited to the photographer instead.

National Geographic serves as a a ‘human’ company due to the connection they create between themselves and their audience, making them popular on social media platforms.

Soundless video content in your articles marketing strategy

They don’t limit themselves to just static images – in addition they boast a range of videos. However, Facebook and Instagram video platforms now auto-play on users’ feeds, meaning a lot more videos are increasingly being viewed without sound.

This helps it be much harder get yourself a message across – just how do NatGeo overcome this boundary?

Well firstly, have a video it doesn’t NEED sound to inform your story or engage your audience. One trend to assist this plan is interactive 360 video. Get your audience interacting and using your articles and discovering for themselves if you cannot portray that message without sound.

This interactive 360 video is engaging without sound but still provides information with sporadic subtitles. If the viewer wants sounds they can change it on and hear soothing ocean noises. The backdrop noise increases the tone of the story and supports the emotional link with this content but doesn’t affect the story itself being told.

It is believed that the usage of subtitles is going for a step back and from progressive video content like VR and AR but with some integration, both could work effectively together, without ruining the captivating visuals like this of NatGeo.

If however, you do not have the content to generate an engaging 360 video and would like to remain with a typical video, subtitles certainly are a must to be able to tell your story and take your viewer on a journey.

From social media to paid subscription

It took me some time to convert to a paying member and that is since they do this type of congrats on social with free but still interesting content. So for some time, I didn’t think I was really missing out by simply following their social platforms.

But the more I saw on social the more I needed to learn. ‘For 128 years National Geographic has delivered incredible storytelling’ may be the hook on the membership squeeze page and that made me wonder whether I was passing up on more stories from all over the world.

On top of this, their website landing page is easy and the CTA is bold and sticks out on the white background and surrounding white space.

national geographic website landing page

Common content online marketing strategy mistakes

One of the normal content marketing mistakes is producing mediocre and insufficiently useful content – to achieve engaging social users you ought to be meeting or ideally combining a few of these tactics:

  • Entertaining/ moving/ thought provoking
  • Provides genuine utility
  • Educational
  • Absorbing/ immersive
  • Visually stunning
  • In-depth/ detailed
  • Provides a uniquely positive user experience
  • Includes optimised data visualisation/ infographics

NatGeo tick the vast majority of these boxes! That is why they are probably the most inspiring and relevant brands on social – their storytelling captures their audience’s attention and keeps them returning for more. Eventually converting followers into paying members.

For more prevalent content marketing mistakes, we’ve a free guide detailing what your location is going wrong and how exactly to correct it!

David Linder

David Linder

MSc in Marketing from the University of Salford. Facebook Certified Planning Professional Facebook Certified Buying Professional

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