When people think of National Geographic, they probably recall an arresting wildlife photo surrounded by a yellow border on one of the magazine’s classic print covers. For Stephanie Atlas and her team, however, an imaginary yellow border now frames the smartphones of the publishers’ Snapchat Discover page, which has grown its subscribers by more than 3 million people over a three-month period.
Beyond helping lead an 160% increase in its audience numbers on the platform, Atlas, senior director of Nat Geo’s Snapchat Discover team, said the media brand is now seeing a 2x to 4x increase in its daily active users, a 2x increase in completion rate and a 50% increase in year-to-date revenue from Discover.
According to Atlas, the strong numbers are the result of an internal reorganization of the team that contributes Nat Geo content to Snapchat, as well as a month-long incubation process that pulled in UX designers, writers, video producers and others across the company. Overall, though, she said the biggest problem to solve was simply not developing content that was specific enough for the Discover user experience.
“It’s a question of tailoring what you’re doing to that audience and making sure you’re not just repurposing content. People think you can take what’s on television and do it online, for example, but people will notice that,” she said. “You have to make sure that you’re speaking the language of that platform.”

Putting talent in close-up

Though Nat Geo has been on Snapchat Discover since the publisher portal made its debut in 2015, Atlas said its efforts were initially fragmented across many different departments, from the print magazine to its television channel and several other teams. The lack of coordination meant there were also inconsistencies in the way the brand was presented visually on the platform. Atlas is now leading a dedicated group that can work cross-functionally with those other departments.
Today, Nat Geo also aims for a far more immersive experience, she said. Photographers who traditionally shot images for the print magazine, for instance, are now offering selfies and video snippets that take audiences behind the scenes of their work in real-time.
Atlas pointed to Kirsten Luce, a photographer assigned to take pictures of fireflies in Mexico, as an example of the strategy in action.
“She was almost whispering to the camera and talking about how they were landing on her. The lights were so bright,” she recalled. “It’s giving you a real sense of the experience that they’re having.”
Of course, creating that kind of content requires different skill sets than what Nat Geo might once have asked of a photographer. Atlas noted the team guides the various talent it uses by writing out a sort of “deliverables list” of questions they should answer and tips on how to showcase themselves.
“We want to make sure these pieces feel personal and not ‘hosted,'” Atlas said. “The most important point is that the photographers are the vehicles for the story, not the main attraction.”
Snapchat’s ongoing appeal
Nat Geo is doubling down on Snapchat at a time when the platform has indicated slowing new user growth compared to rivals such as Instagram. Though Snapchat Discover has been a hit in new markets such as France, where it has been attracting 10 million users, Reuters reported that shares of Snap Inc., Snapchat’s parent company, have fallen 18% since its initial public offering in March. Snapchat only has 173 million daily active users compared to Instagram’s 500 million.
“Nat Geo’s success is a direct result of their thoughtful approach to creating unique content that resonates with Snapchatters,” a Snap Inc. spokesperson said in a comment emailed to Marketing Dive. “We are thrilled to have them as a partner and can’t wait to see what they come up with next.”
Stacy Jones, founder of L.A.-based agency Hollywood Branded that advises companies on social strategy, said Snapchat is still finding unique ways to partner with publishers and advertisers. This includes the recent “Train With Curry” game that athletic apparel brand Under Armour has launched with its ambassador Stephen Curry, as well as Snap Maps, a popular way of showcasing content in a specific geographic area.
“I think the fact that Snapchat shares Discover ad revenue back to media outlets who have spent the time to create content that lives there has to have an impact on more participation,” she said.
Atlas said Nat Geo simply continues to see Snapchat Discover as a way to reach a younger demographic that aligns well with the way a publisher works. Forty-seven percent of teens report Snapchat is their favorite social platform, up 12 percentage points from a year earlier, according to the latest version of a closely-watched survey of the age group by investment bank Piper Jaffray.
“It’s a very targeted way of getting content every day,” Atlas said. “It’s almost getting a digital magazine digest of the day, and then it disappears. You can go in and get news, pique your curiosity, get your content and then you’re out. It doesn’t feel like a rabbit hole.”
Driving results
Perhaps just as importantly, Snapchat’s also proving to be a source of revenue. Atlas said Nat Geo is offering thematic takeovers where a tourism board for Scotland, for instance, could have content on Discover that promotes visiting the country.
Though the early success has validated what Nat Geo is doing with Snapchat Discover, Atlas added that the team is considering new ways to pull in audience feedback, such as doing an in-person survey at its museum in Washington, DC, where draft versions of its stories could be shown to visitors.
“We could be talking to people and having them look at our tiles or a cover of our story and ask, would they read this today? And if so why — what did they like about it?” she said. “Now that we’re in a place where we feel confident, we just want to continue to learn as much as we can.”

Stacy Jones

Stacy Jones has become a world-renowned specialist in branded content. Now it’s her mission to share her expertise and help brands and other business owners and executives leverage the tools our agency has crafted in building brand awareness – using the same proven methods she’s built her agency on and leveraged for client success.