A million years ago, early cavemen sat around a fire sharing tales about the woolly mammoth they’d hunted that morning. Listeners that paid attention were rewarded with valuable information about the outside world. In modern times, information-seekers devour news articles all day every day and blog posts that fill us with emotion go viral with popularity.
One thing that a million years has not changed about humanity: we all love a good story.
In fact, some scientists believe that storytelling is what makes us human.
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari argues that our species came to dominate the world because we are the only animals that can cooperate in large numbers. This is only possible because of our unique and well-honed ability to imagine and believe the stories we tell each other.
Tell Instagram Stories That Would Make Shakespeare Proud
This love of stories is the reason we pride ourselves on being readers or movie buffs; we like to get lost in a good story because it helps us connect with each other and lets us see the world in ways we may never have thought of on our own.
Okay, but what does this mean for Instagram?
Isn’t it just a platform on which to share carefully edited pictures of our brunch?
Sure, you can use your Insta-feed to share cheesy, “hot dog or legs” snaps and dancing holiday stickers, but if you really want to engage your audience and build connections with potential customers, then use storytelling tactics as old as time to do it.
Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell. – Seth Godin
Of course, there are good and bad ways to tell stories, which we’ll decode in a moment. But just know that if you can nail storytelling on Instagram, you’ll keep your audience’s interest, build a loyal following, and soon take over the world (well, maybe not the last part).
Juicy Storytelling Techniques for Even Juicier Instagram Stories
1) Start With the End in Mind
There’s a reason we love ticking things off to-do lists.
Finishing something is completely and utterly satisfying, whether it’s a load of laundry that’s now fresh and folded or a year-long web-design project we’ve just wrapped up with a client.
With these kinds of processes in particular, we know how they’re going to end.
The laundry is going to end up clean and the client is going to have a new website.
With a medium as in-the-moment as an Instagram Story, it can be easy to just start publishing stuff without knowing where your story is headed.
And we all know what happens when we don’t have any idea what the end product should look like: we get lost and our process gets messy.
We’re not saying you need to plot out an entire novel, complete with developed characters and sub-plotlines. You just need to know what the subject and goal of your IG Story is.
For example, if you’re a budding influencer, don’t start off your day’s Stories with a random video of something you saw on your way to work. The best Stories have flow, and when you post your first Story in a series, you should know where things are going to finish.
2) En Media Res
Literally translated, ‘en media res’ means into the middle.
This means starting your story right in the thick of the action. Loads of novels, Netflix shows and movies do this now to drop the viewer right into the juicy bits, keeping them intrigued and engaged from the get-go.
Once you’ve delivered some of the central action, you can then go back to the beginning and explain how you got there, since you’ve captured the attention of your audience.
There are five steps to nailing this technique:
- Choose a pivotal scene from your main story to start with (bonus points if it evokes some emotion).
- Plan how you’re going to reveal your backstory.
- Make the opening event crucial to the rest of the story. (Don’t have an awesome opening that has nothing to do with the rest of your Stories just to trick people into watching.)
- Give viewers an incentive to find out what happened.
- Make sure you’re not dumping too much info on your viewers in each subsequent Story.
There are two ways you can work en media res into your Insta Stories.
One is to record everything beforehand and upload your series in non-chronological order, starting with the most exciting video or photo.
Or you can live-capture the pivotal moment (say you’ve literally just witnessed a flash mob as you were waiting for your train) and then follow that up with a series of Stories that share more information about it.
3) The 3 Modes of Persuasion
We’re going to bring out the big guns here and cite Aristotle. He argued that his three modes of persuasion should be at the heart of every story since they build the credibility of the author, stir emotions in the audience, and encourage reaction.
Aristotle first mentioned this theory 2000 years ago in The Art of Rhetoric, and we can apply it today with surprising effectiveness to our modern methods of communication. We’re willing to bet that Aristotle never imagined his modes of persuasion would be used for something like Instagram, but they absolutely can.
So, what exactly are the three modes of persuasion?
- Ethos (or character) refers to the authority or credibility of the storyteller and is boosted by being an influencer in your industry, demonstrating real skill at the topic you’re talking about, or having well-placed connections.
Influencers on Instagram have incredible power over their audiences. People basically hang on every word they say and become actively invested in their lives because they want to be like them. It’s the reason millions of people tune in to Kim Kardashian’s Stories every day.
- Pathos (or emotion) refers to how a storyteller appeals to their audience’s emotions and builds a common bond and shared identity. Emotion is powerful.
There’s probably a few Stories you remember vividly because they made you feel something in the moment, whether it was happiness, sadness, or even anger. Injecting your Stories with emotion gives them staying power because they tap into our most basic feelings as a human.
- Logos (or logic and reason) refers to the idea of a storyteller making a logical argument that’s evidence-backed to add an extra layer of persuasion.
We like facts. Fact.
Sharing true stories, case studies and reliable data gives that extra element of believability to your Stories that will build trust with your audience.
4) Hint at What’s Coming Next
We’ve all read a novel that’s kept us on the edge of our seat by dropping in little hints here and there about a major event that’s about to go down or a HUGE secret that’s about to be blown wide open.
This is what keeps us turning page after page after page: we need to know!
Using this technique in your Instagram Stories is pretty simple. Since the whole idea behind Stories is small moments stitched together with a tap of the finger, you can hint at what’s coming up next so the viewer can’t help but want to stay tuned.
For example, a fitness influencer who pairs up with other health industry authorities might link one Story to another by saying, “Thanks, that was today’s lesson on intermittent fasting. Tomorrow, I’ll be working out with my friend & Yoga guru, Jenny, so tune in for that!”
And guess what?
The viewers who want to see that workout and are interested in that kind of content are sure as heck going to tune in tomorrow.
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5) The Narrative Arc
Good Instagram Stories are just like good stories in general: they have a beginning, a middle and an end.
There’s a reason this is the foundational structure in storytelling because we like our loose ends tied up. If a story ended before then, it would feel unfinished and we’d have this nagging sense of dissatisfaction gnawing away at us.
In storytelling, this is known as the narrative arc and it works like this:
- In the first “act,” you set the scene, introduce the characters and plant the seeds of conflict.
- In the second “act,” the characters start to grow and change in response to conflict, and they try and resolve the Big Problem.
- In the third (and final) “act,” the characters resolve the Big Problem. Cue a satisfying end.
It helps to consider this narrative arc when you’re planning your Stories so that you can create the right amount of tension at the right time, even if your “characters” are cleaning products and the Big Problem is a dirty mirror.
Let’s go back to our fitness influencer example.
Say they want to post a series of Stories about 10-minute workouts. In the first one, they might ask whether you’re struggling to fit working out into your busy lifestyle (the conflict!).
For the second “act” (which might run over a few Stories), they might show a few different workouts that incorporate into a 10-minute routine.
Then, for the end, they might share some success stories of other busy people (just like you!) who have reaped the benefits of 10-minute workouts.
Storytelling is Timeless
It’s hard-wired into our brains; almost anyone can be captivated by a well-told story. It’s why the experience of watching an amazing movie can be so different than just the plot synopsis. Good storytelling is what makes us feel, and, according to some, it’s what makes us human – pretty powerful, huh?
By integrating time-tested storytelling techniques into your Instagram Stories, you’re using a strategy that has worked for everyone from cavemen all the way through to the modern consumer today.
Don’t think you have to write the next American page-turner in order to share on your Instagram, though!
Instead, just think about the ways you can weave emotions, authority, and structure into your Stories to build a connection with your followers and create an engaged community that keeps coming back for more.
Want even more hacks for Instagram stories? Check out these tips and ideas.