AUSTIN, TX: National Geographic, the media group focused on exploration and science, has built an Instagram fan base topping 77m people with an unconventional approach that sees the brand hand control of its account to 105 photographers.

"We are currently the most-followed media brand on Instagram in the world," Rajiv Mody, VP/Social Media at National Geographic, told delegates at the 2017 South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference. (For more details, read WARC's exclusive report: How National Geographic built a massive Instagram following.)

More specifically, alongside its huge following, the engagement metrics for this content feed include well over 3.7bn "likes" and 27m comments.

"The question is: How did we get there?" Mody asked. As an answer, he reported that the brand has ceded control of this account to fully 105 photographers it has commissioned to shoot material for its eponymous magazine.

"It's a very unique approach, in the sense that we essentially give the keys to the account to some of the best photographers in the world and they post on their own," he said.

While National Geographic lays out guidelines for posting on Instagram – covering issues like frequency, what makes for the best captions, and priorities concerning video – it adopts a flexible mindset as required.

The brand has also been an early adopter of new Instagram features such as "Stories", which gather together multiple content items from a 24-hour period, and a tool letting users share several pictures and videos in a single post.

While Instagram enables National Geographic to reach a different audience than its magazine traditionally has, it avoids the hard sell on this social channel. That does not mean, however, it cannot connect this activity with revenue generation.

"There's a heavy editorial focus on the account. We really see it was a way to push our overall belief statement forward. Having said that, we are interested in commercial success. And we're looking at ways to advance that as well, utilising Instagram and all our other options," said Mody.

"We are able to track back and see how well different types of content are doing in terms of driving subscriptions … We do look at that very closely."

Data sourced from WARC