National Geographic: King of the Instagram Jungle

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[Originally published on the Dash Hudson blog.]

Turns out, nothing beats the animal kingdom when it comes to Instagram hype.

The three most followed accounts on Instagram are Instagram (how apropos), Selena Gomez, and Cristiano Ronaldo. The powerhouse list continues with a slew of big name celebrities including a Kardashian, a Jenner, and some popular performers. But once the list of top stars gives way to top businesses, something unusual happens.

The hottest brand on Instagram is certainly not what you would expect. It’s not one of the KarJenner brands (although they are doing just fine, thankyouverymuch), it’s not queue-around-the-block-for-a-hype-drop Supreme, nor is it an almighty consumer giant like Nike.

Coming in at number one with a whopping 90.1 million followers (currently) is National Geographic, publisher of flora, fauna, animalia, and cultural phenomenons for many moons. This is a very unlikely leader, if only for its age. It’s not an “Instagram brand” in any modern sense of the word. It’s also a publication, meaning no super buzzy product. It’s just doing what it’s been doing since its inception over a hundred years ago, but using modern social channels to reach more people.

National Geographic’s Instagram popularity can be attributed to one universal thing that unites humanity: nature and the animal kingdom. Its creative assets, whether they appear in the publisher’s physical print copies or on Instagram, are mostly of our environment and wildlife, allowing us to see the planet through its unique lens.

The work National Geographic does undeniably resonates with people, and proves that you don’t have to be a new brand or an industry disruptor to kill it on Instagram. With a thoughtful social strategy, the publisher’s narrative shines thanks to a fundamental understanding of its strengths, voice, and core values.

These modern channels are best leveraged when businesses fully grasp their strengths. Instead of resisting the rise of social media, National Geographic did something that no one else its age did — the company fully embraced it. And with that mindset, devised an innovative, effective, on-brand digital storytelling strategy that rendered it relevant to an entire new generation.

By adopting these new methods of connectivity, National Geographic held its authority while broadening its reporting with social media’s real-time quality. The publisher also spawned many a derivative account, like @natgeotravel(24.7 million followers), @natgeoadventure (3.1 million followers), @natgeowild (3.7 million followers), @natgeochannel (2.7 million followers), @natgeoyourshot (1.1 million followers), and @natgeoexpeditions (275k followers). That is quite the franchise.

We decided to check out what it looks to like to be the most popular brand on Instagram and dug into its stats. Here are the results.

Below are @natgeo’s top eight most engaged posts of 2018. The number one slot goes to January’s historic lunar eclipse, but the rest illustrate what followers love about this account: its unique lens into the animal kingdom.

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National Geographic’s Instagram account receives a stratospheric amount of organic reach every day thanks to being tagged in loads of user-generated content. In the past four weeks alone, @natgeo was tagged or mentioned in over 17k posts, enabling the account to reach over 340 million users.

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We also evaluated each account’s growth rate, and @natgeo is expectedly growing the slowest due to its size. The other accounts are seeing great traction with follower acquisitions, proving the brand’s popularity is not fleeting. In contrast, the smallest account out of the five, @natgeoadventures, is seeing the highest growth rate.

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Interestingly, all of the National Geographic banners are über consistent with posting content on the reg. The mother account posts on average 56 times a week (!), while the least frequent poster of the bunch, @natgeowild, still publishes on average 14 times a week, which is still a lot more than most businesses.

In comparing @natgeo’s reach to its sister accounts, it has a pretty staggering lead, which is expected given its size in comparison. An average monthly reach of over 1 billion is crazy! But the other guys are holding their own too, reaching millions of people every week thanks to that steady stream of published content we just discussed in the previous point.

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The National Geographic Instagram strategy is so strong that it’s catapulted a senior brand into the very top spot of the most contemporary channel there is. Its uniting narrative pertaining to our planet and its ecosystem is one of humanity and mindfulness. It speaks to all demographics, all ages, and all political affiliations. And in our present day’s mucky world climate, the National Geographic Instagram account might just be what we all need right now.

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