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How National Geographic’s Successful Social Media Campaigns Build Engagement

National Geographic is one of the top Instagram accounts online today with more than 61.4 million followers, and it's easy to see why with its access to gorgeous global imagery and the world's top photo-explorers. Yet it is using its highly engaged follower base to create innovative and visually stunning content with interactive, successful social media marketing campaigns such as Wanderlust.

Wanderlust is a campaign that invites amateur photographers to submit their best travel photos – and to date, there are more than 55,000 photos on Instagram with the #wanderlustcontest hashstag. It’s a powerful example of how the organization has perfected engagement strategies that lead to effective user generated content campaigns. Here’s a closer look at why brands should consider user generated content campaigns for Instagram and what they can learn from National Geographic’s example of a successful social media campaign

How Travel Marketers are Leveraging User-Generated Content:  

For travel marketers wondering how to make a successful social media campaign, look no further than user generated content. According to the Social Times, user generated campaigns are an untapped goldmine for travel brands. 52% of travelers use online photos to research destinations and plan trips. The majority of travelers have a camera in their pocket via their smartphones, and are often shooting video and images to share with friends, load on social media or include in travel reviews later. The success of potential user generated campaigns is showcased by Wanderlust’s general success: it received extensive publicity and tens of thousands of photos now bear the hashtag.

For travel brands that are looking for a creative alternative to marketing shots that can feel too staged and polished in today’s organic, fast-moving and authentic online context, user generated content campaigns can help. It takes advantage of present and engaged tourists, generates visual content for accounts and provides a natural intersection with what travel brands have to offer.

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What Can Brands Learn from National Geographic's Approach? 

Simplify participation: National Geographic kept the general participation guidelines simple. Users with a public Instagram account who resided in the U.S. could participate in Wanderlust by uploading the shot and including the campaign hashtag in their comments. The most successful social media campaigns don’t let complex rules become a barrier to entry. Ensure that you have the appropriate guidelines in place to prevent misuse and protect your brand – and from there, make it easy to take part in the competition.

Strike the right media mix: National Geographic’s user generated content campaigns were successful because it was just one part of their overall channel strategy. The Instagram account publishes original, high quality images. They also host annual photography competitions that are dominated by experts, and segment campaigns targeted at young photographers. Wanderlust is a deliberate effort to target an amateur audience and embraces a wide range of skill levels and contributions. Incorporating the right messaging – about sharing the world through your lens, for example - is more likely to engage the average traveler and get them excited about making a contribution.

Don’t be too restrictive: Travelers find inspiration in a wide range of places. One photographer might be captivated by beach scenes, while others enjoy the vibrancy and colors of a market on a busy day. Each contribution will speak to a different part of your audience. While it’s fine to provide guidelines, suggestions or even categories, a user generated content campaign should have an inclusive theme. For example, a campaign for Hawaii might consider asking for something like “Show us the image that best captures your favorite Hawaiian island” or “What was the most beautiful moment of your trip?” 

Reward participation: Contests often have a grand prize, whether it’s a free item, a monetary prize, or simply an award. However, there are other easy ways to thank participants for sharing content. Like and comment on each photo that’s submitted. Share outstanding submissions so that your photographers get additional exposure and feel appreciated. One option that many brands miss is the chance to use their platform to reward participation through simple engagement and sharing.

As brands rush to find ways to incorporate visual content into their marketing mix, travel marketers have an advantage. Whether it's a photo of relaxing by the pool or exploring a mountain peak, images of destinations, hotels and events speak to the target user and provide strong successful social media marketing campaign examples. National Geographic's campaigns - especially Wanderlust - provide a great example of strategies of how to amplify your reach and use it as an opportunity to engage with followers. If you’re wondering how to create a successful social media marketing campaign that really engages viewers, study National Geographic’s work across platforms for world-class inspiration.

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Liz Alton

Digital marketing writer. Boston native, data geek and travel junkie.

Social Media Informer