Once Upon an Instagram Post: A Guide to Storytelling on Social Media

Now more than ever, consumers’ buying decisions are based less on a company’s products and more on its story. That’s why it’s important for brands to have a story about what they’re doing, for whom, and why.

Photo courtesy of Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels

“Brand storytelling is using a narrative to connect your brand to customers, with a focus on linking what you stand for to the values you share with your customers.”

Scribewise, a Philadelphia-based marketing agency

There are various benefits to using storytelling as a marketing tool. Some include:

  • Simplifying complex organizational ideas
  • Communicating company mission and values
  • Creating an engaging community

That being said, most people find brands’ storytelling efforts on websites, mailers, and advertisements. However, a storytelling platform that often goes unnoticed is social media.

Adapt to Social Media’s Unique Storytelling Environment

Social media provides a unique environment that poses various benefits and challenges to storytelling.

Benefits

One benefit of using social media to tell your brand’s story is that it’s interactive in nature. Users can comment, react, and engage with your posts. This can sometimes even lead them to helping create your brand story!

Another benefit is that social media provides easy access to any audience(s). You can use social media analytics to ensure you’re targeting the right groups and using the right messaging, so that you can communicate your story in the best way possible.

Challenges

The biggest challenge of storytelling in the social media landscape is that your audiences are overloaded with updates from other people and organizations. Within seconds, their feeds could fill with several new posts.

On top of that, a recent Nielsen/Norman Group Social Media User Experience Report found that the main reason people join social networks is to connect with friends and family–not businesses. Interacting with businesses came more as an afterthought, which means that users are less likely to prioritize posts coming from them. Brands are competing for attention with real, living people.

With those two challenges in mind, it’s important that brands choose their storytelling strategies carefully and execute them properly.

Execute Your Social Storytelling

Digital marketing professionals have worked hard to develop a list of the three most important things to consider when creating a social storytelling strategy. Here’s what they came up with:

  1. Be human. The key to being human comes in the authenticity of your posts–specifically the messages within them. Share genuine thoughts, feelings, and questions a regular person would have, and respond like a regular person would respond. It adds the aspects of personability and relatability that humans desire.
  2. Create value. Your posts need to be useful for users, otherwise they will just find them annoying. Find creative ways to inform and entertain your audience so they continue to see value in following you. This could be via pictures, videos, contests, or informational resources. Keep it fresh!
  3. Show, don’t tell. Words are important, but they often aren’t enough when it comes to social media. The environment is fast-paced, so users are less likely to read a long post than they are to watch a ten second video. However, this also depends on the norms of the platform you’re posting on.

Diversify Your Storytelling for Different Platforms

Each social media platform has different goals, features, and audiences. Therefore, while it’s important to keep basic information (usernames, profile pictures, bios) similar across them all, you need to switch up your storytelling method to fit the environment. Read on to learn some tips for storytelling on four of today’s most popular platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.

Facebook

Facebook is currently the most popular platform, with over 2.6 billion monthly active users. This means that it is a key platform to tell your brand story on. Here are a few key Facebook features you should utilize in the process:

  • No character limits. Facebook sometimes has longer text posts due to its lack of a character limit. You could take advantage of this by keeping it “old school” and writing a long post about your company’s values or mission. However, this isn’t something you should do often, as users aren’t likely to take time to read them all.
  • Pictures and videos. Facebook allows users to include multiple pictures and videos into one post. You could use this feature to tell your brand story by including multiple graphics or a series of informational videos about your company history.
  • Ads. Facebook ads are social media’s most powerful targeted ads. The ads can be in different formats, such as text, photo, and even video. Video ads can be extremely beneficial in storytelling because of their cinematic nature.
  • About section. On each Facebook Business page, there is an About section. You can fill out your company’s basic information (name, address, email), as well as write a short paragraph about its story, mission, and values.
Photo courtesy of @meijer on Facebook

Instagram

Instagram is a fast-growing platform, with over 1 billion monthly active users. Instagram is unique in its emphasis on visuals–photos and videos of various formats and lengths. Here are a few key Instagram features you should use while storytelling:

  • Pictures and videos. There’s no way to post on Instagram without a picture or video. Both are displayed in large formats that take up most of users’ screens. Therefore, high-quality visuals are important, and they should be able to tell a brand story almost entirely alone because Instagram captions are usually short. For example, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty cosmetics brand focuses on diversity and inclusion, so the visuals posted display that diversity.
Photo courtesy of @fentybeauty on Instagram
Photo courtesy of @fentybeauty on Instagram
Photo courtesy of @fentybeauty on Instagram
  • Filters. Aesthetics are also an important part of Instagram’s visual appeal. Therefore, all pictures and videos should fit brand guidelines, especially in terms of color scheme, so your profile looks cohesive and consistent. Instagram offers various filters and an editing app called Instasize for you to use.
  • Stories. Instagram Stories posts that stay on your profile for 24 hours. Users can click through stories similar to how they would flip through pages in a book. Therefore, this is a great place for various graphics or a company representative to talk through your brand story.
  • IGTV. Instagram TV gives you the ability to create mini-episodes about your brand or related topics. These mini-episodes can be up to ten minutes long and remain permanently on your profile, making IGTV a perfect visual-based equivalent for a typical “About page”.

Twitter

Twitter is home to over 330 million monthly active users. It is largely text-based, but has a tweet character limit of 280 characters. Therefore, it’s largely used for momentary thoughts and reactions to everyday life. Here’s a few key Twitter features that will help you tell your brand story briefly:

  • Threads. Twitter threads are chains of tweets. They’re a loophole to the small character limit that you can use to tell stories in a longer text format.
  • Hashtags. Twitter is hashtag-heavy. If your organization has a branded hashtag, you should use it for storytelling because when users click on it, it shows them all the posts with that hashtag. Also, if your hashtag is descriptive and catchy enough, it could tell a brand story and values all in itself (think Coca Cola’s #ShareACoke or Charmin’s #TweetFromTheSeat).
Photo courtesy of @Charmin on Twitter
  • Memes. Twitter is popular for its memes, which is a comical way to share your brand story. If your brand identity includes fun or humor, this memes are definitely something you should utilize.
  • Fleets. Twitter just released a new feature called “Fleets.” They are very similar to Instagram Stories, and you can use them similarly for storytelling purposes. However, Twitter’s currently receiving a lot of backlash because the feature is so similar to Instagram’s–so Fleets may not last long.

Snapchat

Snapchat has over 230 million monthly active users. Through this platform, users can send “snaps” (AKA photos) to each other and post 24-hour statuses in the form of Stories. Although the platform is a little less marketing-heavy, there are some brands who have successfully told stories on it. Here’s a few key Snapchat features they used to do it:

  • Stories. Similar to Instagram (and Twitter, for now), Snapchat has a 24-hour story post feature. These stories could include just one visual, or multiple back-to-back visuals that tell a story. Because of Snapchat’s chat-like features, the visuals usually include people speaking.
  • Discover. Snapchat Discover the page that brands post on. Each Discover “event” has multiple snaps that users can flip through like pages in a book. It’s very similar to stories, but is branded more like an ad.
  • Filters. Snapchat is unique in regards to its location-based filters, that are available to users all over the world. You could use this to add extra detail to your story. Other filters include graphics, games, weather, and face-morphing that could add some entertainment to the mix. Brands can even make filters of their own for users to enjoy.
Photo courtesy of my personal Snapchat account
  • Collaborations. On Snapchat, you have the ability to collaborate with other brands or influencers. You can create stories in which you respond to one another, or you can do a “Snapchat Takeover”, where a representative takes the Snapchat account for a day and posts on it. By collaborating, you can get more views and engagement on your posts.

Stay Consistent and Organized

Now you may be thinking that this all seems like a lot to keep track of–and it is! That’s why there are people whose entire careers are dedicated to social media management; and for large organizations, there is usually a whole team of people involved.

But have no fear–there is a way to stay on track and organized. Many brands create a social media style guide, similar to this social media style guide created for North Dakota’s state government. These social media guides are used to keep track of standards for visuals, tone, formatting, branded hashtags, etc. It’s best to start off with one of these before tackling each platform.

Photo courtesy of nd.gov

You now have all the tools you need to tell you brand’s story on various social media platforms. Get brainstorming, start engaging, and share your brand’s unique story so it can live on, happily ever after.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Hi Kendall,
    Thanks for your blog post this week! I liked how you discussed each social media platform in order of its popularity. It was helpful to recognize the relevance of each social media platform in today’s world and the presence of businesses on each platform. Your post was very well organized; I liked that you started with both the benefits and challenges of storytelling on social media platforms and led into some general storytelling strategies. The introduction to these strategies led really well into your breakdown of the storytelling strategies of each social media platform. I really appreciated learning about these strategies in more detail, as the business side of social media platforms is not something I think about as often as I probable should. I think your point about showing versus telling is really important—while it might be beneficial to use images instead of large blocks of text, one must also consider the usual formula of the brand and the platform. I read an article about small business advertising on TikTok (The Small Business Guide to Marketing on TikTok – Business 2 Community). The article discusses how small businesses can advertise on the platform and describes the benefits of creating custom content on their branded account, one of those benefits being that it is much more affordable. The challenge comes with knowing how to resonate with the target audience. It was an interesting article that helped me gain a little more insight into the advertising world of TikTok.

  2. Hi Kendall,
    The first thing I want to say is I think it’s so funny that we used the same picture at the top of our posts. I kept clicking on your blog post to comment, and I was frustrated because I kept thinking it was going to mine because of the picture. I really enjoyed your post and the ideas you talked about because social media is becoming a big marketing tool. I’ve been looking at internships, and a lot of them that pop up are social media interns.
    The way your post is split up is really effective, and i enjoyed how you dedicated space to talk about each platform individually because they are so different. I loved the images you used when talking about the platforms because I found them funny, but also helpful to show the difference between marketing on each platform. I didn’t realize how much thought goes into marketing on different social media sites, which is why I never applied for any of the social media internships, but after reading your post, I’m reconsidering. There are a lot of different aspects to each platform, which you mentioned, and I loved how you went over the different aspects of each, such as filters, memes, hashtags, stories, etc.
    The platform that interested me the most was snapchat because I never really saw it as a marketing platform. I get ads all the time on snapchat, but I usually just see them as annoying. However, I did some research, and I found a blog that talks a lot about marketing on snapchat. It even shows how to set up a snapchat business account, which I didn’t know they had. The address is here https://blog.hootsuite.com/snapchat-for-business-guide/ if you’re interested in learning more about marketing on snapchat.

  3. Hi Kendall,
    Really good blog this week! I really enjoyed how you split up the design. The headings were easy to follow and I think that you integrated a good combination of bullets and paragraphs. I found it helpful that when using numbers or bullets you bolded the key words or phrases in order to ensure that the reader understands what that portion is highlighting. The different images you used for storytelling on various platforms really helped me envision what it was that you were describing. It makes sense. There are different things you are allowed to do on each platform, and besides it is more exciting for the customers if they see different things on different platforms. I found your insight about how connecting with businesses on social media is an afterthought for many really interesting and decided to look further into what brands have created quality storytelling for their users and this is what I found: 8 Best Brands on Social Media to Inspire Your Social Strategy (lyfemarketing.com) It is cool to see what brands are thriving with their customers in order for other brands to understand what is or isn’t working.

  4. Kendall,

    Right off the bat, your post made an excellent point about consumer’s buying based on a story and not just based on products. We are becoming much more conscious of the history of the businesses we are supporting, and that in turn means businesses must be more conscious of how they convey their history/story to their customers. I really enjoyed the way you set up your blog post. I think it was really beneficial the way you described the benefits of adapting a brand to social media as well as the challenges of it. Social media is definitely dominating the brand market, and almost all brands now have some form of social media presence. Just as you described the benefits and challenges, I thought it was especially important how you described how to adapt to the various social media platforms that are out there. A lot of the time I’ve seen businesses that may have a facebook page but nothing else, (sometimes not even a website) and usually if I find that a company/brand ONLY has a facebook page, I give up on it. (I hate facebook) I found an article from 2016 published by the Harvard Business Review, and it was pretty funny looking back on it because it talks about how 2016 was when the real wave of social media really took over, and businesses thought that it would help them, however it didn’t help at all. The article discusses how the businesses that succeeded the most through social media were the ones that managed to stand out. This goes hand-in-hand with what your post has talked about, and how businesses can be the most successful when they convey an engaging story about their business through various social media platforms. Check out the article here: https://hbr.org/2016/03/branding-in-the-age-of-social-media

  5. Hi Kendall! I really appreciated your blog post this week. Social media is an important topic within the world of the internet, and I think that some of the coolest uses of social media platforms are when brands use them to tell stories. Some of these examples are really creative, but they tend to be lost in the overwhelming amount of content that is available on these platforms. I agree with you that social media can either be a biggest advantage or the greatest enemy of the brand and it all depends on how it is used. I really appreciated the way that you broke down each individual social media platform. Your organization and consistent use of headings, bullet points, and visuals for each platform really makes it easy to read and follow along. One thing that I have not seen a lot of is business using snapchat to promote their brand. Maybe I just don’t use snapchat enough, but I mostly see my friends and then other social media ‘influencers’ and trending news sources using snapchat. So, I did a little bit of research to find out how some of the bigger companies use snapchat to their best advantage, especially considering that the app is mainly focused on communication between people who are already friends. I found this article (https://www.lyfemarketing.com/blog/best-brands-social-media/) about how some brands are using snapchat to communicate storytelling, and I thought it was really interesting!

  6. Kendall,

    I really like your blog post, it is very detailed and refreshing. Though your blog post provided a great deal of information, it wasn’t overwhelming. The images that you chose helped with the information that you’ve provided. I like that you introduced some of the photos in the paragraph before. For example, you talked about fenty beauty in a paragraph then provided pictures from fenty beauty’s social media. This helped with your transitions. Though there were many things that stuck out to me, but there was one thing that really stuck out to me. “One benefit of using social media to tell your brand’s story is that it’s interactive in nature. Users can comment, react, and engage with your posts. This can sometimes even lead them to helping create your brand story!” I feel as if storytelling in social media is evolving. For me, Facebook was a way to connect with old acquaintances now the site has become much bigger. Though often forgotten myspace in a way started(from what I can remember) storytelling due to how customizable it is. Here is an article that talks about how brands use storytelling. The article also give tips on storytelling. https://postcron.com/en/blog/storytelling-social-media/

  7. Hi Kendall!
    I thought the way you organized this post was really well done. I liked having the quote near the top so I got a brief introduction and understanding of what you were going to discuss in this article. The use of headings, pictures, and bullet points helped me to navigate everything with ease. I also really enjoyed how you included the Black Friday turkey Snapchat from your own account lol. As you said in this post, it is difficult to connect with users on social media who are just there to connect with their friends/family, not with businesses. I think that is exactly why storytelling is so important. It allows businesses to seem as if they are your aunt or your friend. Making businesses seem more human through the use of storytelling helps businesses to connect with their consumers more closely. Here is an article about this: https://www.socialpilot.co/blog/social-media-storytelling

  8. This was a very well written blog post!
    You’ve done an excellent job at organizing the information by platform, which I thought was a great idea. Looking into this topic, I really never noticed how much companies have tried to relate to the public by making “inside jokes” in order to connect with their audience more. I don’t follow many businesses, except for on instagram, but I know that some business twitter accounts are famous for their “clapbacks”. It seems that relating in more than just everyday life is also important to us as a society. Some brands have lost customers, including myself, because I can’t relate to the content. A lot of the times on instagram, posting just a model with a vague caption doesn’t make me feel apart of everything. Obviously they can’t customize it for everyone, but less tone-deaf posts would make it a lot more comforting.
    But there can also be a downside to this, such as performative activism. I’m sure you are familiar with the BLM blackout that happened over the summer. Many companies turned their logo black for “solidarity”, but once pride month came around, they changed their logos to a rainbow. Pride month is also an example of performative activism. So, I appreciate companies trying to relate to their customers, but it’s not always done with the best intentions. For more info on this:https://theconversation.com/corporate-activism-is-more-than-a-marketing-gimmick-141570

  9. This is so valuable to me because I am starting a small business, sort of. I have been collecting a following and developing a brand based on my art. I am still in the very beginning stages so this blog post is very relevant to me. I really value and focused on your Instagram section, because it is most relevant to me. I have not done this research. Comparing an ABOUT page to the IGTV is so innovative and I hadn’t looked at it that way before. This article from Forbes focuses on brand building on Instagram. https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2017/02/16/use-these-8-steps-for-branding-with-instagram-like-a-star/?sh=6cb10a9a22a5 They speak a lot to visuals as well, even using some sites to create visually interesting posts.

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