2023 Excellence in Social Media Engagement, Medium Newsroom winner

National Geographic TikTok

About the Project

We are facing the challenge of finding the next generation of National Geographic subscribers and communicating the vision and breath of National Geographic storytelling to younger generations who are not familiar with the iconic print magazine. We use social media and vertical video strategically to find new audiences by meeting them on the platforms they’re already engaging with. Historically, we’ve had success on Instagram (where we currently have 276 million followers), and where we’ve experimented with Tap-stories, Reels, curated and interactive Feed posts, and AR filters.

Through constant experimentation and respect for TikTok style, we’ve developed a new language of storytelling and custom video formats, including POV, In-The-Field, Explainer, Photomode, and How I Got the Shot videos, that translate our visual-first reporting into vertical, short-form videos for a wider audience. A key element of our strategy has been embracing the less polished TikTok vibe using techniques like greenscreen effects and selfie videos to establish an authentic voice that feels organic to the platform.

Since Gen Z is increasingly turning to TikTok as its #1 search engine, we’ve leveraged Explainer formats to offer useful information and context to our viewers. We are a trusted voice of authority, especially around topics like science, wildlife, and history, so we try to meet the needs of our audience by “setting the record straight” on trending subjects (like cordyceps fungi during HBO’s Last of Us craze) and other evergreen topics. Reimagining long-form reporting into more “snackable” bites of 1-2 minutes, without losing important nuance, has been challenging. work closely with the full story team and have an extensive review process to ensure we do justice to complex topics and uphold our high editorial standards. We are careful to strike the appropriate balance between a fun, entertaining style and the seriousness warranted by certain issues.

Because TikTok emphasizes first-person narratives, coaching photographers and writers on how to effectively and creatively film vertical video in the field has also become an important part of our storytelling strategy. We’ve also embraced TikTok as a space where we can experiment working with newer talent on smaller-format stories, allowing us to widen our pool of contributors and invest in their growth.

Developing new formats and processing the feedback and engagement on the videos has been rewarding. Our account has garnered 75 million views in the past year, 11 million engagements in the form of comments and likes, and an increase in 1 million followers. As our publishing cadence has increased, tracking viewer engagement over time has helped us understand themes and topics that our audience is interested in learning about. This has been additionally helpful in creating a feedback loop to develop more reporting and coverage on topics that people are asking deep questions about. We also aim to continue the conversation around issues by encouraging our photographers and writers to interact with people in the comments and responding to comments with follow-up videos. On our TikTok, a story only gets started when it’s published.

Judges Comments

National Geographic’s TikTok content felt perfectly suited to the platform with a mix of behind-the-scenes intrigue, first-person narrative, and adorable animals to boot. The videos were compelling and informative, and the edits were well-executed without losing the feeling of authenticity.