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They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words, but in today’s digital age, a carefully curated image that connects the reader to an underlying story can be even more powerful than an image alone.
Just this past week, Instagram announced that they have surpassed 600 million monthly users, and the use of Instagram Stories has already surpassed 150 million in the short five months since its release.
Companies that are killing it on Instagram are combining inspiring images and video with an enticing narrative that makes for more memorable and engaging visual storytelling.
With this growing number of people across all demographics on the platform, Instagram must be a significant part of the overall strategy for a brand's visual storytelling strategy.
Here are a variety of examples of companies and organizations that are creating inspiring visual stories on Instagram.
Photo Pete McBride @pedromcbride // The Confluence. A sacred place where the Colorado River meets the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado, holds profound spiritual significance for many Native Americans whose ancestral lands lie within the canyon, including the Zuni, the Hopi, and the Navajo. This is also the location of a proposed tramway that would deliver 10,000 people a day. Today, as we celebrate 100 year of @nationalparkservice, what path will we take? “Are We Losing the Grand Canyon?” in @natgeo on newsstands now and at the link in my bio @pedromcbride. #chasingrivers #grandcanyon #NPS100
National Geographic represents the gold standard when it comes to images that invoke engaging storytelling.
The words they use to describe the picture are just as powerful as the images and create context about the story for the reader.
This treehouse suite rests on the shoulders of seven trees, including the Old Man, a southern shortleaf pine halfway through his second century. To get there, you'll have to cross a wood rope bridge strewn with lights. If a few of those lights start to wander, don’t be alarmed – that just means it’s firefly season. #TreehouseTuesday For a closer look, click the link in the bio.
Airbnb is another example of a familiar brand that uses great imagery to attract readers and insert themselves into a scene.
Coupled with a whimsical description, this image sets the stage for a great story to be completed by the reader. Can you hear the locusts buzzing and smell the fresh, clean air in this picture?
Jimmy John’s sub sandwiches has curated an Instagram feed that strongly supports their logo design and color scheme.
Much of their marketing is centered around their slogan “Subs so fast you’ll freak!” and the images show people on the move in their busy, everyday lives while enjoying their food.
Video is a natural choice for the WiFi camera company Nest.
There are over 70 million dogs as pets in 42% of households in the US, which means there are potentially millions of dog owners who would love this video. It answers a common question among pet lovers: “I wonder what my dog does all day while I'm at work.”
Here is an example of a stop-motion video from PlayDoh that will take many of you back to your childhood.
Each post on their feed inspires people to follow their imagination and make their own inspired creations while invoking a feeling of nostalgia.
Califia Farms has made the use of video a regular feature on their Instagram feed.
This example shows their products being used in a unique way their customers might not have considered before, such as this combo of coffee and vodka at a New Year’s Eve party.
For a long time, Lego has been combining imagination and storytelling for children and adults alike.
In this example, Lego appeals to the massive base of Star Wars fans as they reenact a scene from one of the latest episodes.
Staples does a great job of spicing up the promotion of a rather mundane product category: office supplies.
The items are displayed in an aesthetically pleasing layout using bright colors on light backgrounds that make the products stand out.
Pottery Barn has an avid fan base of customers who are enthusiastic about their products and are eager to share their own inspired design ideas.
Utilizing the hashtag #mypotterybarn, they gave customers an outlet to help them promote their products. Fans share pictures of how Pottery Barn products are part of the story of their everyday lives.
Camp Brand Goods is a small outdoor retailer that has capitalized on the outdoor lifestyle category that has been trending so heavily in the past few years.
Almost 100% of the images on their Instagram feed come from their followers who engage with the brand using #keepitwild to share their stories of authentic adventure.
“When the last kid left for college, it came to a point where it was just pretense. And I couldn’t hide it anymore. I was tired of worrying if people suspected, or if they’d find out, or if they’d still care about me if they knew. The first person I came out to was my wife. It was wrenching. It was the end of our marriage. I just kept telling her I was sorry. I think she felt abandoned. And I’m sorry for that. I also think she felt that our life together was a lie. But I don’t see it that way. We were a family. We had four wonderful children that we raised to adulthood. And those are facts. I’m not happy about the hurt I caused. But I feel authentic now. I regret the things I did, but I’m so happy about what I’ve done.”
Humans of NY describes their Instagram feed this way: “New York City, one story at a time.”
When people-watching in public spaces, I am sure many folks often wonder: “What is his/her story?” Humans of NY peels back the layers on everyday people encountered on the streets of New York and reveals deeply emotional and inspiring stories.
Charity Water has helped fund over 21,000 projects that have brought clean water to 6.4 million people around the globe.
Their use of real images combined with short tales of real people and how access to clean water has impacted their lives tells the complete story of the organization and their mission, allowing them to connect with the audience on an emotional level.
Surprisingly, this company was started by three guys who were friends in high school in Spokane, Washington and were inspired to turn their hobby into a business built on empowering people and helping them rise above poverty.
Many of their images do not even show or mention their products directly, but tell the more important tale of the impact made in people’s lives.
Time to celebrate! Today, President @barackobama boldly protected Bears Ears National Monument, thereby preserving 1.3 million acres in southeastern Utah for its amazing landscape, sacred cultural sites and world-class recreation. We are witnessing the power of community activism, and we thank President Obama for listening and taking action. Read more through the link in our profile. Video: @bluffoto and @coreyrobinson
At a time when it is fashionable to support environmental causes, Patagonia has been walking the walk from the very beginning, following the inspiration of their founder, Yvon Chinourd.
Here is a recent example of engaging video celebrating the newly protected Bears Ears National Monument. Patagonia also donated 100% of all their profits ($10m!) from Black Friday to environmental causes to further reinforce the story and mission of the brand.
This post by Washington Post Design takes an artistic approach by using a flow chart infographic to promote the story told in their publication.
Overall, their Instagram feed conveys a refined, sophisticated view of the world that resonates strongly with the tastes and interests of their readership.
The health food brand Nature’s Earthly Choice has crafted an Instagram feed to inspire and educate their followers.
This example has a great design that is visually easy to digest but is also packed with a wealth of information, if someone wants to get more details about each of the 10 grains highlighted.
The blog What But Why has a humorous and quirky tone and tackles many topics about life in general by combining human stick figures with other strong visuals to reinforce the story they are telling.
What But Why covers many everyday topics and concepts that are so broad in scope they may be hard to comprehend without the use of visuals, such as this infographic that breaks down the story of how a typical human spends their life in weeks.
Jillian Lukiwski is a wildly successful artisan on Etsy and a brand ambassador for Orvis and Filson.
Her Instagram feed exudes the outdoor lifestyle and tells the stories of adventure that brands in this segment look to embody to their audience.
Amber Fillerup is a fantastic example of an influencer with a massive audience.
She has perfected the art of using a great image to tell a story, while conveying the sense of style of brands like Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters.
Many memes focus on humor and this example from Ruffles captures the epic fail moment.
They used this meme to kick off a contest connected with an activity associated with the consumption of their chips: grilling out.
Runner’s World magazine posts memes just about every day and consistently gets thousands of likes and @mentions by their followers.
A meme is like an inside joke that everyone gets. For memes to be effective you must have an in-depth understanding of your audience to hit the mark.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to examples of visual storytelling on Instagram. Does your brand’s Instagram feed tell a great story? Share the link to yours or any other inspired feeds in the comments below.
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