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Storytelling on Instagram: Tips for Brands from travel expert Christian LeBlanc

A few weeks ago, during a post-graduation trip to Thailand, I posted a picture of a plate of pad thai.  That was it. Just pad thai.  It got 19 likes. Honestly, I’m not sure why I would have expected anyone to care.  This pad thai picture didn’t help fellow travelers, it provided no information on where I bought it or how it tasted, and it had no relevance to the previous and future posts.  My end goal was to create a buzz, show my family about my trip, and show friends something useful and interesting, but that end goal was difficult to achieve without consistency and relevance.

I should have known better. Before my trip, I came across an account for a 22 year old Canadian traveler named Christian LeBlanc.  He was awesome.  Cool pictures, unique experiences, and amazing advice for traveling to Southeast Asia.  At first I couldn’t figure out why his account was resonating with me more than Travel and Leisure or the Travel Channel.  Then I realized it was because I could relate to him.  We were the same age.  I wanted to be him.  I wanted his adventures.

insert motivational quote

A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on

So after returning from my trip, I sat down to talk with LeBlanc to see how he grew his Instagram account from 700 followers to 30,000 followers in just 7 months. LeBlanc has a simple but widely underused strategy that has helped him achieve international recognition and publicity from Buzzfeed, CNN, Daily Mail, and more. At one point, he added 10,000 followers to his account in just three days.  This success has also encouraged him to start a YouTube channel where he hopes to start providing more concrete advice and tips for fellow travelers. Here’s what I learned:

Be Fresh

Consumers want to rally behind the companies and people that they follow.  They do not want to be forced to choose between two products that are only differentiated by mildly exciting features.  Take car commercials as an example.  Tesla seems to be changing the game a bit but for the most part, they all compete on MPG and Powertrain warranties.  When was the last time you felt an emotional connection to a Powertrain warranty?

Let’s get this Elfie on Ellen Degeneres! #ElfieOnEllen @theellenshow

A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on

As LeBlanc says, “I just kind of thought to myself, ‘What would I want to see if I was following someone.’”  He has now returned from his 7 month adventure in Asia with his girlfriend Laura Reid who also has an impressive Instagram following.  And it’s not just about posting travel photos.  Deciding on the content, LeBlanc focuses on “stick[ing] to a theme.”

I don’t really like sharing…pictures of a group of friends taking a cheesy picture in front of a waterfall.  That is so overdone and it’s not genuine content that other people want to join with.”

Be Authentic

Many companies do something that I call staged content, the act of setting up unauthentic situations for the sole sake of marketing.  The new consumer sees right through staged content and would rather become evangelists for authentic user generated content.  These are the types of things that companies need to set a high priority on with their marketing efforts.  The content that resonates with consumers has evolved as social media has become a larger player in the everyday lives of multiple generations, not just teenagers.

Create a narrative throughout your posts

Numerous Instagram and social accounts post beach pictures or pretty backdrops but they lack a connection.  Constantly posting unrelated photos would be like reading one chapter from each of the Harry Potter books and expecting to understand it all.  As Christian explains,

“I think it’s cool that we’ve added ourselves [my girlfriend and me] into the photos because people feel that it’s almost like tagging along with people you’ve come to know.  So instead of just saying, ‘Oh that’s a beautiful picture of the Philippines,’ adding the personal touch sells the account more because people can feel like they are on an adventure with us.  It tells a story.”

 

Tag a friend or you will never find true love. // #Gopro

A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on

Social media reinvigorates storytelling.  It changes the landscape of experiences moving from static out of date images in travel guidebooks to user generated, relevant, and recent content.

When content is real and relatable, fans and customers have a deeper connection.  They feel as if they are not having content pushed at them, rather that they are pulling in the content that they feel they connected with.  That is the true essence of a story and exactly what LeBlanc has achieved. Followers of his story track the characters along a plot and create that meaningful connection.

It seems like common sense that companies should maintain a consistent story throughout their social accounts, but everyday unnecessary posts like my pad thai picture arrive on social media sites to lukewarm reactions.  Like independent travelers, companies need to make sure that they stick to a theme so their content can stick out from the flood of mediocre social media posts.  Be true to yourself while still telling a story that people want to hear and follow.

This could be us, but you won’t get off Instagram. // #Gopro

A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on

Instagram is one kind of storytelling

The only difference with traditional stories and social media is the medium. LeBlanc reiterates this when talking about his own form of a travel story:

“It’s important to have the people that subscribe to you feel like they are a part of the trip.  So including the consistent faces, either me or my girlfriend, people have begun to feel that they are a part of the trip.”

Followers need flow and consistency.  There need to be links showing a theme that carries throughout your social account.  Most accounts have a theme as sporadic as a kangaroo jumping around on the happiest day of its life (i.e. all over the place).

Finally a fish story that doesn’t need exaggeration. #Whaleshark #Gopro

A photo posted by Christian LeBlanc (@christian_leblanc) on

Christian LeBlanc is a modern social media storyteller.  One that captures the attention of travelers because of the connection he creates and the consistency of his posts.  For companies to drive brand loyalty and trust they need to develop a story — not a story that pushes their latest product down the throats of unassuming viewers, but one that drives a deeper understanding into what the company stands for. Your product marketing will be easier if your followers and customers connect with you. Connection comes with stories. Now tell yours.