In 2010, Instagram was launched exclusively for iOS users. Fast forward a decade later, the photo-sharing app has over a billion users.
With this massive number of users, Instagram seems the perfect place to get people to listen to what you have to say and engage with your brand.
Before you start flooding your Instagram feed with several posts a day, it makes sense to learn the “how” of improving engagement on the photo-sharing app. After all, customer engagement almost always drives brand loyalty.
In this blog post, I’m going to take a closer look at the power of storytelling techniques on Instagram and how you can use them to gain meaningful engagement, find your tribe, and grow your number of real followers (not bots!).
The Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing for Business
How to be a master storyteller on Instagram
There’s no two ways about it – great storytelling is the heart and soul of effective persuasion.
According to Ilya Vedrashko, former SVP and director of research at Hill Holliday’s consumer research arm Origin, stories move more than just people; they can also move products. How did they come to this conclusion?
Origin conducted a series of experiments where photos of products with standard item descriptions and another set of items with more detailed stories were shown to consumers, ranging from creator bios to user reviews to even fiction.
As for their findings?
“Every time, the product that had a story pulled in more money than the same product without one,” said Vedrashko.
This isn’t a surprise given that human civilizations have always been fascinated with stories. The first recorded history of humanity, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh of Mesopotamian myths were told through stories.
Apart from being memorable, great storytelling can make people feel that they’re in the stories themselves.
With that said, let’s dive into three storytelling techniques you can use to connect with your Instagram audience and keep them engaged consistently!
#1. Share your hero’s journey
The hero’s journey or monomyth is a well-loved storytelling technique used by most writers.
Developed in Hero With A Thousand Faces by writer and English professor Joseph Campbell, the monomyth describes a narrative in which a heroic protagonist sets out for an adventure.
After experiencing a series of conflicts (with others or within himself), the hero triumphs and eventually comes home. As the hero goes through the journey, he is forever changed or transformed.
Throughout the centuries, various legends and myths have used the hero’s journey style. Great examples being the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Twelve Labors of Hercules, and, more recently, the journeys of Bilbo Baggins from the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
Films have also used the hero’s journey as a way to frame their overall storylines. Take, for example, Luke Skywalker of the Star Wars films. He started his journey as a farm boy. Due to his lineage and unforeseen circumstances, he was thrust into a dangerous and fantastic adventure that changed his life forever.
How can you use this storytelling technique to boost Instagram engagement?
Let’s say you’re managing a new gym in town. You can use the hero’s journey format by making your target audience the hero of their own story. They’re about to start on their weight loss journey, and the critical point in the story is whether they want to change their lives or not. You can use internal obstacles such as laziness and procrastination as the villains in your story.
Salomon Running illustrates the hero’s journey perfectly in their Instagram post below. In this example, the folks at Salomon shared the hero’s journey of one of their brand ambassadors.
#2. Show, don’t tell
As a storytelling technique, the show-don’t-tell approach helps your readers experience your story through vivid imagery. As a result, it empowers you to communicate product value without sounding like a sales pitch.
Henneke Duistermaat of Enchanting Marketing succinctly describes the difference between showing and telling:
“Telling means giving a brief, factual statement. Showing means using sensory details and describing actions to direct a mental movie in your reader’s mind.”
For example, let’s say you’re managing a small island resort looking to gain more followers and engagement on Instagram. So you take a photo of one of your island resort suites and talk about the size of the bed on the photo-sharing app. Somewhere in your caption, you manage to sneak in a promo code.
Unless you’re already a highly-established island resort brand, you may not get the meaningful engagement you’re after if you’re telling rather than showing.
How about describing your island resort in full color rather than stating bland, dull facts? Perhaps you’d like to share what it feels like the moment a guest steps foot in one of your suites.
Describe how the sun glows in the midday light. Share what it feels like to walk barefoot on a sandy beach. Invite your readers to experience the seaside charm.
Take a look at the example below by Airbnb. As you go over the caption, can you imagine what it feels like to spend a day in the fisherman’s boathouse?
#3. Build tension
A reader is likely to be more intrigued and invested in your story if it feels visceral to them. So how do you accomplish this?
Have you noticed how page-turning novels are often filled with mystery, suspense, and tension?
The best writers and storytellers understand that creating tension in their stories will elicit feelings of uncertainty and anxiety from their readers, prompting them to turn the next page or watch the next episode on Netflix.
Parsley Health did a great job of building tension on one of their Instagram posts. Take a look at the example below.
As you scroll down your Instagram feed and stumble upon the tensely-written post, there’s a heightened sense of uneasiness and wanting to learn more. It steers you towards learning more about what they’ve just read by listening to the podcast episode.
Instagram is a must-use platform for small and large brands alike. Whether you’re a solopreneur or marketer for a Fortune 500 brand, take a step back from your current Instagram strategy and figure out if there are ways to level up engagement and boost your following through the storytelling techniques I’ve discussed.
Guest author: Kai Tomboc is the resident wordsmith for Easelly, makers of a simple infographic maker tool, and an information design service studio. When not engrossed in a book, she’s most likely taming tardigrades or trying really hard to perfect her one-handed kettlebell swing.