Saturday, June 30, 2012

National Geographic and the social media

National Geographic (NatGeo) has been active in social media for a few years. In May of 2009, its facebook Page already had slightly fewer than half a million “Fans” (as Likes were referred to at the time), its tweet stream had 7,780 Followers, and its YouTube Channel had over 150,000 subscribers. In the three years that have transpired since then, its numbers have increased exponentially. However, NatGeo’s strategic application of social media does not seem to have grown up with its numbers.

The primary objective for NatGeo’s use of social media is most likely to advance its mission:

The National Geographic Society has been inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888. It is one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world. Its interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, the promotion of environmental and historical conservation.
On Twitter, @NatGeo currently has over 2-million Tweeps following its tweet stream. It also has a facebook Page that almost 11-million users have Liked. The YouTube Channel now has almost 700,000 subscribers and NatGeo’s videos on it have been viewed over 750-million times. Besides its primary web site, these constitute the bulk of NatGeo’s social media presence. In addition, NatGeo leverages its brand in TV by establishing National Geographic Channel’s own unique Twitter @NatGeoChannel and facebook Page.

There’s no denying the growth but NatGeo could do an even more effective job of capitalizing on those strong numbers. For example, when facebook Pages used to have Tabs, NatGeo used them to highlight special offers, contests, reviews, and more content. Granted, the use of their facebook page has been hampered by the new Timeline layout but the only features they’re using now are the Photos and Likes. They have plenty of content to also engage users with Timeline features like Videos, Events, Notes, and the Map. But the biggest insult to its audience is that NatGeo doesn’t allow those who Like their Page to post anything on their Timeline. It screams, “We’re not interested in what you have to say.”
National Geographic's facebook Page

Its tweets also lack a sense of connecting with @NatGeo’s Followers. The only retweets in its tweet stream are of other NatGeo @s. While Tweeps regularly retweet and mention NatGeo, there’s no reciprocation. There is not a single @mention of any of its Followers. Even though hashtags could significantly increase @NatGeo’s visibility in Twitter searches with all of the unique topics its content covers, @NatGeo uses very few of them. #lostOpportunity
National Geographic's Twitter stream

The posts on both the facebook Page and tweet stream are predominantly hyperlinks to content on NatGeo’s primary web site but the content they post differs substantially one from the other. NatGeo publishes both short clips and full-length shows on its YouTube Channel but the use of the “real estate” on the front page indicates that its primary objective for the Channel is to drive its audience to new content on their primary web site that is not yet available on YouTube.
National Geographic's YouTube Channel

In all fairness, NatGeo’s primary web site is itself a social medium. Visitors to the site are permitted to post their own Comments on News articles and Photo of the Day. NatGeo publishes Community Rules for visitors to follow and there’s a healthy amount of Web 2.0 activity on its web site. Nonetheless, NatGeo would be better served to extend its social presence rather than trying to centralize it on their primary web site.
National Geographic's web site

In its latest social media promotion, NatGeo is generating interest in its Chasing UFOs series. All tweets composed between 8:00 p.m. last night and 3:00 a.m. EDT this morning containing the hashtag #ChasingUFOs will be rolled into a single message. Then on August 15, exactly 35 years after the Wow! signal was detected, NatGeo’s crowdsourced message will be transmitted back into space towards the origin of the mysterious signal. If an extraterrestrial alien responds, I'll rescind my criticism of NatGeo’s social media efforts.

Posted by David Ward for the first assignment in Developing a Social Media Strategy

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