Photograph by Randy Olson/Nat Geo Image Collection
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A storm lights Nebraska’s Platte River as hundreds of thousands of cranes rest for the night. The image was among the most popular on the @NatGeo Instagram account in 2016.

Photograph by Randy Olson/Nat Geo Image Collection
MagazineFrom the Editor

Where Social Media Fits in National Geographic’s Mission

With Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat—and 67 million Instagram followers of @NatGeo—we’re maintaining our founders’ commitment to storytelling.

This story appears in the April 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.

At National Geographic, we want to be part of the conversation. We do that by creating stories for our magazines and that are timely, memorable, and important. Our recent coverage of the refugee crisis, the gender revolution, and climate change are examples of meeting that objective.

But today, to be in conversation with the widest possible audience, we need to be a player on social media as well.

We’re proud that for most of the past two years, National Geographic has ranked number one among brands on social media in the United States. With more than 2.6 billion social engagements, we’re right up there with the NFL, the NBA, and Victoria’s Secret.

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Find the book @NatGeo at, or wherever books are sold. And until April 30, 2017, see the exhibit “@NatGeo: Popular Instagram Photos” at the National Geographic Museum, Washington, D.C.

Our largest publishing platforms, outside of our own properties, are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. We approach each differently, customizing content to meet the unique expectations and desires of each site’s users. For example, our Snapchat audience—mostly younger people—wants a more kinetic, high-energy approach to information than our audience on Facebook.

And then there’s Instagram. Given that we’re famous for visual storytelling, perhaps it’s not surprising that our main account—@NatGeo, which is run by our photographers—is taking almost 67 million followers on virtual journeys all over the world.

“One moment you’ll be underwater, face-to-face with a whitetip shark, and the next moment you’ll be atop a volcano in Rwanda with a family of mountain gorillas,” says Patrick Witty, our deputy director of digital photography, who manages the account. “Through @NatGeo we help people experience the planet and cultures as seen by our photographers—a special, unfiltered view.”

We also see a great future with 360-degree video and virtual reality. The fully immersive experiences we’ve created so far include a close look at an erupting volcano and the first ever VR event with a sitting president.

What do our audiences want to see? The photo above is a good example. Randy Olson shot it while on assignment for a story on the Ogallala aquifer, which ran in our August 2016 issue. Putting the photo on Instagram gave it new life. More than 1.3 million people “liked” it, making it one of the year’s most liked images.

We’ve come a long way since 1906, when Editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor’s bold use of photos in the magazine prompted two National Geographic board members to resign. In all those years, though, one thing hasn’t changed: our commitment to storytelling that brings you the world.