National Geographic is using VR and social platforms to appeal to Gen Z

In early October, 400 gathered in National Geographic’s newly opened virtual reality theater in Washington, D.C., sporting VR headsets as photographer Aaron Huey guided them along the cliffs of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. It was one of many ways the 130-year-old Nat Geo is trying to reach people under 24, along with putting its content on platforms like Wattpad, IGTV and Snapchat.

“We know that to remain relevant and regarded within this shifting media landscape, we must create exceptional content that reaches our readers wherever they are,” said Jill Cress, CMO and evp of National Geographic. “Understanding that we aren’t going to necessary engage a younger new audience coming to our traditional channels, we are creating content in platform-specific ways.”

Nat Geo’s audience across its properties skews older. The median age of its magazine readers, for one, is 47, according to the company’s Spring 2018 media kit. Those 18 to 24 years old make up only 13.4 percent of its readership. Those 25 to 64 make up 65.5 percent and those older than 65 make up 21.3 percent of all readership, according to the media kit.

To that end, Nat Geo is repurposing its TV and magazine content for events and social platforms that skew young. The VR experience, for instance, was inspired by Nat Geo’s November cover story. It’s also adopting the visual formats that are popular with Gen Z, such as vertical video, explainers and OTT video.

Nat Geo is already the most-followed brand on Instagram with 92.8 million followers, and in June, it started testing IGTV, Instagram’s new home for long-form video. On IGTV, Nat Geo aired the final episode of its documentary series “One Strange Rock,” in vertical video. It turned a 9,000-word September magazine feature, “The Story of a Face,” about the youngest face transplant recipient in U.S. history, into its longest-ever Instagram Story, with 25 chapters. It was viewed over 5.8 million times.

On Snapchat, Nat Geo uses its Discover channel to focus on wildlife, cultures and science. Nat Geo has grown it Snapchat subscriptions to 7 million subscribers, with 1.5 million joining in the past year, said Cress.

For still-younger audiences, Nat Geo launched four skills for kids on Amazon Alexa. The skills, which are mostly quizzes, come with parental controls like bedtime limits. In July, it relaunched its National Geographic Kids YouTube channel, where it publishes one video a day and has 168,615 subscribers with 500,000 views a month.

It helps Nat Geo that a lot of its core themes — the environment, science and innovation and exploration and adventure — are popular subjects with Gen Zers. Two weeks ago, the company asked users of social storytelling platform Wattpad to write 500-word stories about plastic, a theme tied to its June issue cover story about plastic’s environmental impact. The Wattpad contest encouraged participants to take a pledge to reduce their plastic use with the hashtag #PlanetorPlastic. In 16 days, Nat Geo got 1,000 submissions and 30,000 followers on Wattpad.

“Gen Z is synonymous with being purpose-driven, and engaging with brands that show a dedication to social impact and are environmentally conscious,” said Cress.

Image via National Geographic

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