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FIPP meets...Rajiv Mody, vice president, social media at National Geographic

Rajiv Mody, National Geographic Society’s vice president, social media, oversees all social media activities serving a total audience of more than 120 million people across all media platforms. Mody spoke to Piet van Niekerk about the company's overall social media strategy.

When Rajiv Mody became vice president, social media at National Geographic Society last year, he effectively became the employee of 120 million “followers”. His task was to formulate social media direction for National Geographic, develop social media guidelines for local language editions and engineer deals in the ever-changing world of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Snapchat and Instagram. The Instagram undertaking on its own was daunting. The National Geographic Instagram account is the top non-celebrity brand in the world in terms of followers, while National Geographic was also named the top US social brand on the social web according to metrics monitor Shareable’s 2014 survey. National Geographic consistently ranks number one for total fans and engagement across social media platforms.

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A strategy built on philosophy

Where others would have run for the hills, Mody had a clear strategy. He built his social media plan within National Geographic’s overall philosophy of science, exploration and storytelling. “We use social media as a way to advance our mission as an organisation. Science, exploration and storytelling are vital for us and therefore our main focus on social media. Our aim is to reach people who are curious about their world. We give them access to experiences they cannot find anywhere else.”

He emphasises how fortunate he is to build on the history of such a powerful organisation. “We are lucky to have passionate people who believe in the National Geographic mission, and believe in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world.”  

Common areas and digging deeper

Managing content for such a large global market comes with its own set of unique challenges. One of them is the diversity of the regional audiences. What Mody has done was to find commonalities of engagement between these communities. The upside is that wildlife has widespread appeal and although the first phase is to focus on those common areas, the important part is to dig deeper and also look at the individual markets. “We need to understand how to engage with a specific community.” 

It’s also important to work closely with magazine and news teams to identify content for social media platforms. “We frame content to better engage with our social media communities. Both breaking and evergreen content works for us, but what is really important is that the content is timely, relatable and relevant.” 

These three things, says Mody, are essential. “Even if you have a stream of fresh content, it must always be timely, relatable with and relevant to the audience.”

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Diversified media platforms

The choice of media platform, or the mode of engagement on each platform, is just as important. In practice this means that his team’s need to curate content for each platform and use only what work best for a specific medium. “For Facebook we capture real world stories to guide the audience to for more, whereas on Twitter it’s all about sparking discussion through timely, high-impact tweetable moments. 

“With Snapchat we engage young people with a mix of shareable videos, photos, articles and quizzes, while Pinterest ties into people’s passion points,” he says.

The National Geographic Instagram account, however, is even more unique. By giving some of the best photojournalists in the world the keys to the account - around 90 of them each have passwords -  they curate images from assignments, their lives, their travels and anything else that they choose. It now has close to 7,000 images, more than 25 million followers and recently reached its billionth ‘like’.

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Measuring success and growth

Measuring social media success is not as complicated as some people would like to imply. For Mody it’s a combination of the key matrixes: web traffic, engagement frequency and generating revenue from it. A hard statistic like the fact that National Geographic’s social media reached over 100 million followers across all networks - not including the National Geographic Channel - proves that the engagement strategy is successful.

But there remains areas where growth can be achieved. First on Mody’s mind is video. “We have to capitalise on incredible stories that make our audience thirst for more. We also look at ways to deepen the engagement with especially the younger audience. With video we see huge potential.”

He also mentions growing successes with Snapchat and some of the newer innovations out there that they need to tap into, like Snapchat Discover where users can read or watch a mix of news, videos, and listicles repackaged from publishers’ websites. 

Then there is Facebook’s new Instant Articles, which allows publishers to create versions of their stories for display inside Facebook. Only a handful of publishers worldwide took advantage of this innovation and National Geographic is one of them. 

It sums up Mody’s approach to innovation. “The more we can do to give people the ability to interact and engage with us the better. We want to be where our communities are. Curating content for communities on social networks is critical because you want to be sure you engage in the best and most relevant way. The future is bright.”

About Rajiv Mody

Mody joined the National Geographic Society as Vice President, Social Media in 2014 with 12 years’ experience in social/digital media, marketing, entertainment and public service having worked for WWE and Time Warner Cable. He also served as vice president and executive producer at MTV, where he helped leverage emerging social media platforms to build television/music-based online communities. Prior to his time at MTV he served as a research analyst in the Clinton Administration White House working on such policy initiatives as education, crime and the economy.

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