“The shortest distance between two people is a story.” –Patti Digh
Stories are powerful. They can bring people together, establish connections, build rapport, teach information, spur debate, and engage our imaginations. They allow people to become more invested than if they were just recited information.
From blockbuster movies to friends recounting their weekend adventures, all good stories have one thing in common: they follow the same three-act structure. Not just the beginning, middle, and end, but the purpose they serve as the setup, conflict, and resolution.
Act 1: Setup allows you to introduce the characters, the setting (time, place, and circumstance), and perhaps even allude to the forthcoming conflict.
30% of viewers stop watching an Instagram Story after the first frame. The setup should be engaging and hook your audience so that they want to see the story through to the end. Introduce yourself, your brand, or what they might be able to expect from the Story.
Act 2: Conflict is some sort of disagreement between characters, either internally, externally, or interpersonally. This is likely where most of the story would develop.
As it relates to marketing, the conflict might be a problem that needs to be solved. As you examine the problem, your audience will learn how your product/service can help to solve it.
Remember, the optimal length for a Set is 7 Stories, so keep it brief in order to keep your audience’s attention. You can send them to where there’s more information later.
Act 3: Resolution is when the conflict subsides and we learn what happens to the characters afterward.
The problem is solved and everyone is happy. Your audience should know what you do, how you do it, and it would be at this point that you use a CTA (Call to Action) in order to get your audience to engage: comment, share, visit your website, provide their email address, answer your poll, etc.
These are the elements of any good story but this is not a one-size-fits-all formula. Some stories are told in reverse, some have ups and downs, and some jump right into the conflict and save the setup for later. It’s all about how a storyteller wants their audience to feel but it’s still important to include all of these elements or people will be left confused or won’t have closure.
So, how does this relate to Instagram Stories? Just like how there are so many different ways to tell stories, there are different ways to create Stories. People document their day throughout the day (wherein the story should develop on its own) or people plan and execute a particular story. While the former delivers an extra sense of authenticity through improvisation, the latter is preferable for marketers because it offers more control. Control over the message, the look & feel, the distribution, and the audience.
For example, take an event like a conference. Two marketers, each with a different approach, will likely tell two very different stories at the end of the day. One will most likely be long and unstructured, risking losing or confusing its audience, and the other will likely be succinct and more engaging to watch. Which of the two will people be more likely to respond to when asked to sign up for the next conference?
Or, take a product. It would be advisable to start your Story by introducing the brand or the product for people who may be seeing it for the first time. Use the next couple of Stories to illustrate the problem that your product solves. This can be through text, a graphic, or a video and will allow viewers to imagine or remember having this problem themselves. End the Story by encouraging viewers to take action. Swipe Up (if you have that feature), send a DM for more information, visit your website, provide a coupon code, etc.
In the same way that we see different scenes or shots in a movie, we can use different Stories to deliver different information in different ways.
What makes a good social story?
In an increasingly noisy world, there are certain elements of social storytelling that people look for and resonate with. Even if the average consumer doesn’t know what these elements are, they can feel when one is missing.
A brand has to be authentic. Being disingenuous with an audience is the quickest way to lose them. You can utilize user-generated content, influencers, and brand advocates to tell your stories for you because having real people outside of your organization speak highly of your brand will give it a very positive perception.
No one wants to be constantly bombarded by brands hocking their products. The reason that stories are the best way to market your brand is that people can relate to the experiences that you’re describing. You’re solving their problems, offering them solutions, or making their lives easier. Share experiences of how your brand helps people and you will be much more likely to convert and create happier customers.
You should have a very clear idea of who you’re trying to market to and what they’re interested in or how they interpret your information. Pay attention to how certain content works and how other content doesn’t. What you think is a great idea may not hit your audience as you expected, so you can adjust for next time. You may have to put your creative ego aside and ensure that you are creating a storyline that resonates with your target audience.
You can talk about your brand all day long, and there is a lot of value in generating an audience just based on that, but unless you go for the ask, they’ll remain viewers and not customers. Focus on engaging your audience with creative CTAs (Calls to Action), interactive tactics, and thumb-stopping visuals.
Q&As, live streams, and behind-the-scenes content are simple, opportunistic ways to give your brand a human element while building trust. These are the best ways to give your brand a face, a voice, and a great way to build rapport with (potential) customers.
Context & Flow
Your story should be easy to digest and make sense from beginning to end.
It would be difficult to improvise content that covers all of these elements, so that’s why we plan. Planning your content gives it intentionality. Your audience can tell when extra care and effort has been put into the content that you create. Doing so over a period of time helps to establish trust. Not just between the customer and your product/service but also between the audience and the brand. They’ll be able to consistently rely on content, both the quality and the message.
Planning content has enormous benefits for the creator, as well. They’ll have a bit of a plan for what to create based around major events & holidays and the brand’s current objectives & priorities. Planning content will also save them time during the creation process and, once the content is published, they’re free to interact with your audience or community. It would often take more time to create improvised content on the day that it needs to be published than to create it ahead of time, and doing it that way leaves very little time for engagement.
Plan your stories by storyboarding
As we mentioned before, the way that you control the narrative of your story (Instagram or otherwise) is to plan ahead by breaking it down into its smallest parts. They do it with blockbuster movies, comic books, YouTube videos, some authors do it with books, and now it’s time that we do it with social content.
In short, a storyboard is a graphic representation of how your video will unfold, shot by shot. It’s made up of a number of cells with illustrations or pictures representing each shot with notes about what’s going on in the scene and what’s being said in the script during that shot.
When planning Instagram Stories, these notes might include where this clip falls in the overall Set, a description of what’s happening or what its purpose is, whether or not you’ll be adding stickers, and what sound/music will be used (if any).
A story is the most powerful way to put an idea into the world. One ad, as short or as simple as it may be, can deliver so much information and establish such a connection that people start to care. By using the tried and true three-act structure of storytelling, you can get people invested in the story and, by extension, care about the brand behind it.
Every brand has the opportunity to create these connections through stories, but it doesn’t just happen. It takes having a defined audience, finding a way to relate to them, and creating engaging content that introduces your brand, defines the problem that you solve, and shares a solution to that problem. Setup, conflict, resolution.