I don’t know about you, but when I think of National Geographic, I think about my Grandpa Harry. He was a big fan of that storied publication, as well as the late, great Life magazine. He had extensive collections of old editions of Nat Geo, and at one time owned every Life since it first started publishing in 1936.
There’s a connection here. Gramps was a fan of visual storytelling. And if he was alive today, I have a feeling he would’ve enjoyed Snapchat and Instagram for essentially the same reason. Both Nat Geo and Life specialized in telling stories through spectacular photography. That’s what sold magazines decades ago, and not ironically, it’s what attracts fans and followers in social media and in online spaces.
These days, National Geographic is once again making amazing gains in visual storytelling – on the web. And while many have a very old school perception of this historic magazine, its metrics shows eye-opening gains for its apps, and its presence on social media platforms like Snapchat. While teens may dominate that social space, AdWeek‘s Lauren Johnson reports Nat Geo has added more than 3 million Snapchat subscribers in a short time. Not bad for a brand that many associate with old school print media.
This is precisely how mature media brands can grow their audiences in the digital arena – techniques radio can use to expand the tent.
How did Nat Geo do it? Johnson’s story tell us it started with the hiring of Vox Media’s Jonathan Hunt, focusing on audience development and digital strategy. Turning first to the company’s Discover channel, Hunt has now worked his way toward improving Nat Geo’s overall social presence.
There are several strategic techniques he’s employed, all of which apply directly to radio’s quest to remain relevant and visually vibrant in the social and online spaces.
1. A commitment to visual storytelling…
This is obviously in Nat Geo‘s DNA. The magazine always featured some of the best photography ever displayed on newsstands. On the web, it has retooled to provide that same level of visuals National Geographic was always famous for. Realizing the competition for visual storytelling is TMZ and Cosmo, Hunt directed his efforts toward a key value proposition: “Strong visuals and piquing people’s curiosity.” That’s a good starting point for radio brands eyeing visual media – it starts with a goal rather than posting random photos.
2. …with less text
Nat Geo believes in the “picture is worth 1,000 words” philosophy, making every effort to limit text. Hunt notes the focus is now on “Holy shit photo(s) and supplementing that with context text.” Perhaps it’s always been that way, but great photos are far more compelling than long, wordy essays – especially as consumers rely on their smartphones as their media gadget of choice.
3. Get a focus
Hunt channeled Nat Geo’s visual storytelling on science and exploration, wildlife and culture – all core strengths of the brand. That’s a key to radio’s efforts to use photos to tell its stories rather than wasting time on memes and distracting social content.
Through Hunt’s words in the story, it’s obvious Nat Geo does more than just post – they study their results to hone their craft. Yet, so many radio stations engage in “random acts of social,” never analyzing what works – and what doesn’t. And that’s why success is often very spotty.
4. Publish lots of content
Nat Geo publishes 12 content pieces per day – not just photos, but features, quizzes, and polls. It’s important to achieve consistency levels, while meeting the expectations of readers and fans. Some radio brands have quantity goals in place, but balance is important. It’s about regularly posting to satisfy fan expectations while ensuring quality content that connects and emotes.
5. Research, research, research
Using four panels or tiles with different headlines and visuals, Nat Geo “tests” each for three hours, before deciding on the most popular (most-clicked). The winner becomes the cover image for that day. Particularly in the social space, it is easy to learn by studying what fans enjoy, unlike waiting weeks for Nielsen to tell you whether it worked.
6. Maximize content…
Nat Geo repurposes some of its web and app content on its social media pages to make the most out of great photography and viral storytelling. As Hunt explains, “We try to squeeze as much value out of a single item as possible.” Oftentimes, radio doesn’t maximize its best work – whether it’s at a local concert festival or raising money for hurricane victims – on all its assets. Great content can live in many different places, connecting with fans on multiple outlets.
7….but create a different experience
Nat Geo‘s Stephanie Atlas (perfect name, right?) heads up the visuals and graphics on the brand’s Discover channel. She notes they simply don’t post content from the TV network on social media sites like Snap and Instagram. The idea is to “create a new experience that makes sense for our audience.”
And that’s very much in keeping with radio’s opportunity to use its social pages and websites to give audiences content new and different from what’s been on the air – especially if it’s not PPM-friendly. Social media, the app, and website provide radio brands with the chance to create and distribute niche content that entertains and informs in different places.
8. Activate your station staff (and maybe your audience)
Everyone has a camera. And as iPhones and Android devices improve, the quality of their optics continues to impress.
Nat Geo is encouraging its photographers to not just take wonderful pictures, but to provide their own commentary. That’s what makes these photos personal – and it’s why fans enjoy them.
They also have a “Your Shot” feature, described as a “storytelling community where photograhers can take part in photo assignments, get expert feedback, be published, and more.”
Radio can encourage its staffers to think more visually, wherever and whenever they go. And at big local events, the audience can get into the game, too, providing their own context and stories. This is how radio can use visuals to engage fans, while creating even more compelling content.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at some radio people from very different parts of the industry doing an especially great job of visual storytelling.
Thanks to Chris Firmage.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
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