Amy Maniatis & the new world of NGS “membership”

In the weeks to come, we’ll have some thoughts & analysis about this video and National Geographic’s new definition of “membership.”

But for now: Hats off to NGS & to Chief Marketing Officer Amy Maniatis for making this video publicly available — and enabling the world to see what’s happening inside our Society.

UPDATE @ 10:30pm: Actually, the video does exist, but soon after I posted the clip, which was available at noon today on Vimeo, National Geographic took it down. Here’s what the splash screen looked like on my phone:


Another part of the video (full screen):


It’s worth noting that nothing in the video is a company secret. For instance, look at the frame above: Is this something we need to hide from the public?

During this 60-minute all-hands staff meeting, one presenter (whose name I didn’t catch) talked about recent brand research which revealed that National Geographic is a highly respected brand around the world. Robert Michael Murray, NG’s VP for Social Media, shared data that reflects how deeply engaged people are with the Society’s online content, with millions of fans, likes, shares, and comments. Kara Marston, Social Media Manager, said the new member platform was generating all sorts of great data about who visitors are, where they’re from, what they like, and so on.

The only real surprise came from Norman Gorcys, Vice President of Product Management, who said:

Membership is a product and we’re treating it like one. … The message we’re trying to give is that membership doesn’t exist without the other content that the Society provides.” 

In the eyes of National Geographic managers, membership is a product, not a relationship. Which sort of drains away the warm & fuzzy feeling most people get when they join a mission-driven organization.

Maybe that’s why the video was taken down.

As for the membership strategy as a whole, the focus is on harvesting data about site visitors, and then serving them customized content — and advertisements. Ads are how this platform will be monetized because “membership” is now free. You can now “join” the National Geographic Society for nothing. Zero. Zip. Just hand over your name and email address, and you’re part of the club.

This approach reminds us (yet again) that if you’re not paying for the product, you’re not the customer; you are the product being sold.

Taking down this video may hide the way NGS managers talk about us “members,” but there’s no hiding how we’ll be treated online. It’s now in full view here, and it serves as a perfect reflection of what Norm Gorcys said in the video: “Membership is a product and we’re treating it like one.”

Dear Norm: Thank you for the warm welcome.

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.