112 million – as I write this article, that is how many followers National Geographic (@natgeo) has on Instagram. This is currently more followers than major brands like Nike and Chanel, the superheroes of the Marvel universe, and one of the most popular sports teams in the world, Real Madrid. They were also the first brand to top 100 million followers on Instagram. The only company that has more followers is Instagram itself. Not bad for a brand most well known for a printed magazine that was first published in 1888. So, how did National Geographic earn all those followers and what social media lessons does it hold for other marketers? Let’s take a look:

1. Stay on-brand. One of my favorite parts about going to my grandparents’ house when I was a kid was looking through their collection of National Geographic magazines. The photos, stories and big pull-out maps transported me to new places and taught me about people, locations and animals around the globe. The @natgeo Instagram account does too. Although a social media account and a printed magazine are vastly different, the brand voice and mission carry across both. Despite the often more casual nature of social media, your company should still feel like your company to your audiences – whether that is in an email, sales collateral or an Instagram post.

2. Make it easy for your audience. “Follow the link in our bio to get the full story!” It would be easy for the @natgeo social team – comprised mostly of their photographers – to post a fascinating photo along with a teaser caption and a call for you to click a link for you to visit their website to read the full article. But take a look at the post below. The caption tells a compelling story on its own, all without having to leave Instagram. While there will be times that you will need to direct your followers to a clickable link or another source, make it easy for your audience to consume and like your content by allowing them to enjoy it solely on social media sometimes. This is particularly true for more visual content or platforms, like Instagram.

3. Diversify your viewpoints. More than 100 of the world’s top photojournalists contribute to the @natgeo account. While your social media team doesn’t need to be that big, look for ways that you can diversify viewpoints in your social media content. Whether they are posting directly or submitting photos for your marketing team to use, recruit others within your organization to share their perspectives. This could be people in different functional areas of the organization or different locations, and ideally both. Ensure that what your followers see and read about on your social pages don’t just come through a marketing lens.

4. Provide an inside look. Want to take a look inside an ancient civilization, a peek at an endangered species or a glimpse at some of the many fascinating people that live in our world? National Geographic’s Instagram has you covered. Be sure that your social media does the same for your business or industry. Showcase a side of your company that few people see or provide an inside look at a major industry event that some of your followers may not have had an opportunity to attend.

5. Showcase your expertise. National Geographic’s contributors are experts in exploring the world and making it accessible for their audiences. They demonstrate this through every Instagram post, as well as all other content that they create. On Instagram, their photographers also occasionally share photography tips related to how they captured a particular shot. So, what is your organization’s expertise? Tap into it and showcase it whenever possible on social, whether by sharing a blog post or posting an explainer video. By doing so, you further your organization’s credibility as an expert and you solidify your brand as one that values being helpful over being salesy on social.

6. Remember that words matter. In recent years, visual content has been king on social. But @natgeo proves that words matter too. Look at the post below as an example. The caption tells you what is happening in the photo, dives deeper into a related issue that matters to the photographer and brand, and provides a simple action the audience can take to help combat that issue. It is informative and passionate and, although it is on the longer side, it isn’t unnecessarily wordy. The words are as important as the image; they empower one another to garner those nearly 290,000 likes. While brevity is often encouraged on social media, make sure that the words you choose for your post fully tell the story.

Happy Marketing!

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