Neverending carousels

How to tell narratives in Instagram Carousels
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Grant Faint/Getty Images

· 5 min read

“Storytelling” can usually be found right next to “authentic” on the social-buzzword bingo card, but I honestly don’t blame how frequently they’re shouted. Both concepts are important, and neither are used nearly often enough.

Usually, storytelling-focused thinking gets channeled into video content, when in reality, storytelling should apply to every element of every social media post:

  • What medium tells your story best? Text? A photo? Multiple photos? Video?
  • Which beats of the story are most compelling to stop someone from scrolling?
  • Is the caption its own hook? Or supplementary to the content?

Today, I want to focus on one of my personal favorites: Instagram-carousel storytelling.

Instagram carousels allow you to use up to 10 photos or videos in one Instagram post. While no social network confirms which content styles receive algorithmic preference, it seems carousels get a lot of love from the platform for a few reasons.

  • A carousel swipe counts as an “engagement,” and the more engagement, the more Instagram pushes it.
  • Unengaged carousels are often pushed back into feeds, surfacing the second image.
  • Carousels earn more comments, saves, and reach than individual photos or videos.

I have a bunch of examples for how your brand can integrate carousels into your social strategy below, but first, I want to show you how a band(!) built a gorgeous carousel to celebrate a special day.

Telling a narrative across 10 slides

Post-rock band Hundredth just hit the fifth anniversary of RARE, their 2017 breakthrough record, which has earned 20 million streams to date on Spotify alone.

To celebrate the occasion, tell the story of the moment, and share some new behind-the-scenes details, the band elected to create an Instagram carousel, and boy, they did it in spectacular fashion. This 10-slide carousel is best-in-class with a ton to learn from. Let’s break it down slide by slide.

Slide 1: Title card + stand-alone image

Your first carousel photo needs to hit a few important notes: On its own, it must be compelling enough to drive user interest in swiping, and it needs to be highly shareable so fans will add it to their personal Instagram Stories. Think of it like the first movie in your larger franchise—if it doesn’t pull in audiences now, no one’s going to watch your sequels. Hundredth nailed both by not just posting their eye-catching album art, but overlaying it with big, bold text to make a clear announcement (“5 years of RARE”). Through the caption, they make sure you know to keep swiping, inviting you to hear more of their story.

A Social Media Newsletter by Jack Appleby

Slide 2: Introduction + hook

Throwing your big hook on slide No. 1 is perfectly viable, especially for listicle or writing-focused carousels. Author Mark Manson uses that strategy often. Because Hundredth are a band, they chose to stay more visually focused for slide No. 1, then use on-image text to introduce the purpose of the carousel on slide No. 2. The arrow here on slide 2 is a great addition too, giving users a clear, directional prompt.

Slides 3–9: Storytelling

I love the visual balance Hundredth hits as they tell their narrative via three consistent elements:

  • Photos: A mixture of aesthetics and behind-the-scenes snapshots, leading to the next post.
  • Storyline: Two big, bold sentences per slide. They’re not trying to over explain, but give you the big points with succinct yet casual flair.
  • Easter eggs: The band rewards the most curious of fans with fine print facts on each slide, a nice touch that adds without distracting.

As if the format wasn’t a great fit on its own, the band expertly curated anecdotes that’d be the most interesting for fans, ranging from insider info to FAQs. (Why do people ask bands to change their name when they change their sound?)

Slide 10: Outro + shareable

The band ends their carousel with their album title in huge letters alongside an asterisk. As a fan, I never knew that RARE was an acronym: “Refine and Reinvent Everything.” It’s a perfectly fitting mantra with the aforementioned sound shift. Concluding on one last easter egg is a smart touch that lends itself to another highly shareable image.

So, how can I use Instagram-carousel storytelling?

Narratives like Hundredth’s are an excellent opportunity to build a personal relationship with your followers. It’s a tried-and-true approach: They’ll care about you more when they know more.

Maybe you want to try something a little easier, or feature a product alongside all that awesome content you’re making. Here are a few other trends with carousels to consider:

If you wanna hook your consumers or fans with deeper emotions, Instagram-carousel storytelling is an easy way in without dumping tons of time and money into video. Play around with the format! I bet you’ve got plenty of tales to tell.

A Social Media Newsletter by Jack Appleby