Using the real world to amplify the digital world: National Geographic

National Geographic Museum in Washington DC

It’s become common place for organisations to talk about using digital channels to amplify their activity. But (as I found out on a recent visit) over in Washington D.C., National Geographic has gone further and flipped around the usual relationship.

Its showpiece museum, best known for the model of the Grand Canyon upside down on the ceiling, has been turned into an extension of its Instagram account. Beautiful, jaw-dropping and educational photographs first appear on its Instagram feed and then the best and most successful make it into the physical museum, complete with description labels pointing out how they performed online.

There’s even a role for user-generated content with visitors able to record short audio clips about the photos they see. (Pro tip: cute children beat incoherent adults hands down.)

This role-reversal for online and offline illustrates a more fundamental change: when your digital audiences grow as large as they have for National Geographic, then your digital face on the world is primarily who you are in their eyes. The traditional work that you used to do becomes the supporting detail rather than the substance.

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