It’s well established that readable social media results result in better engagement. We’ll explore how Instagram’s carousel feature is used as a slideshow to break down complex information.
What is a carousel on Instagram?
Carousel is used to post multiple photos or videos on one Instagram grid post.
What does a carousel post have to do with readability?
Carousel posts provide an opportunity to use Instagram as a slide show platform. Multiple pieces of micro-content are presented in one post. In this way, you could say it’s like a visual Twitter thread.
This lends itself well to educational posts. In our turbulent times, using carousel has been increasingly used to post text-based graphics. It has given brands, educators and activists an opportunity to feed bite-sized information to their audience. Typically, they are visually branded and aesthetically appealing.
It has been critically referred to as “PowerPoint activism”. Text-based carousels exploded in popularity throughout the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Just like any other form of media, it can be used in a reductive way. It can be used to send messages that aren't useful. So, it’s the quality of the content and information that comes first.
However, presenting the information in a way that’s easy to understand increases its reach. Saves and shares on Instagram are the new like. These interactions make posts algorithm-friendly. The carousel slides need to be readable snapshots that convey a clear message.
Who is best utilising readability on Instagram?
There are a few examples of text-based, informative Instagram accounts. They have distinctive branding and quality carousels or text-based images.
The first example is Simple Politics.
They use single images rather than the carousel. But, they primarily use Instagram to inform the public about current affairs and politics. Perhaps their posts are even more effective because they manage to condense the information into just one frame.
They stick with the same distinctive, simple branding. They use blue. Blue is universally well-liked. It represents trust and responsibility.
Simple Politics started out only posting about UK politics. They have recently expanded to include Simple Politics US. This is their mission statement:
Simple Politics does things differently. We exist to help you have better conversations about the issues and the changes that matter. We do so by being clear, accurate and impartial.
This sets a clear standard for their readability and tone of voice. In terms of visual readability, they use plenty of white space They also use a sans-serif font, which is the easiest to read.
They make good use of paragraphs. This breaks up their text. They use bullet points where appropriate. This makes the information easier to digest.
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The text itself in the example above has a Readable grade A. It takes only 22 seconds to read. It also has a neutral sentiment. Perfect for their brand guideline to be impartial.
so you want to talk about…
When it comes to the carousel feature, the Instagram account @soyouwanttotalkabout has it down to a fine art.
The account is run by an individual who isn’t affiliated with any company. Yet, the page has a distinctive aesthetic. It uses muted colours and a mix of serif and sans-serif typography.
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FAQs in their story highlights reveal the purpose of the page:
I created this page to help people learn in an easy-to-understand way.
And SYWTTA does just that. They make good use of the grid view, with plenty of negative space and a simple, catchy headline clearly stating the topic. Every post is a carousel, which is unsurprising since none of the topics can be summed up in one frame.
Then there is one point per slide. Each point has just one or two paragraphs beneath it. Then there is a summary, takeaway or action item on the last slide.
That it is formulaic keeps people following - they know what to expect and they trust the source. It’s highly readable and, perhaps most importantly, the action points tell people what they can do beyond Instagram.
The Slow Factory
The Slow Factory is a nonprofit focused on educating on human rights and environmental issues. Their Instagram page is much more design-focused than the other examples. They use a variety of imagery, but they tie it all together with their sans-serif font and the curves of their logo.
They have a multicolour palette, which they also tie into their Open Education series, as well as for their story highlight cover photos.
Interestingly, The Slow Factory have talked about their fight against the Instagram algorithm to get their information to the masses. In this way, they have to work hard to create graphics that are equally striking and informative because people respond well to that. As long as people are following for their graphics and sharing and saving their content, they can overcome the restrictions of the platform.
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In the example above, The Slow Factory are a good example of making statistics readable. ‘1 in 3’ is a figure people can instantly understand, and it humanises the number.
How to create great carousel infographics
From the examples we’ve covered, we can see the benefits of visual and linguistic readability on Instagram. When you’re creating your graphics, consider the following:
- Design is everything. Sans-serif fonts are the most readable, but you can mix it up with your headlines - just make sure if you use a serif font for your headlines, that the typography isn’t too narrow
- Utilise negative space - you’ve got several slides to get your points across, so don’t crowd the frame
- Use bullet points and paragraphs to clearly separate your points
- Use short, simple sentences
- Don’t use long words where shorter words will convey the same meaning
- Keep your colour palette consistent and distinctive
- Put the quality of the information first
- Present statistics in a way that’s meaningful to the audience