Feeling a little sick riding around and around on Instagram seeing carousel after carousel? Consuming too much junk food content might be the problem.
What the hell am I talking about?
An Instagram carousel, if you’re not clued in, is a feature you can utilise on Instagram that allows you to post multiple images/slides on one post, with a max of ten slides. This allows your audience to swipe right through each frame to consume that piece of content. It’s used to show more images or video in a kind of mini-album akin to a proud dad’s fold-out photo album in his wallet…but horizontal.
Now I remember when I first starting seeing these edutainment Instagram carousels pop-up within the design community back in April 2019. At first, I rolled my eyes big time when they started popping up. Of course, little did we know how saturated they would become within six months and now dominating our feeds a year since.
I call it edutainment as carousels are now being used to communicate ideas, process and knowledge than just pure entertainment or simply to share what you’re eating at that boujee cafe you like to show off at.
AND I’M TOTALLY GUILTY OF CREATING THEM! Yep, that’s right! I’ve been creating Instagram edutainment carousels for over a year now! Shocker.
My first post of this kind was April 26, 2019 and man was it bland and boring! By today’s standards, that is.
THE UPSIDES OF CAROUSELS
Don’t get me wrong, Instagram carousels a freakin great. For me, they have become one of the most expressive mediums I’ve used to convey who I am, what I can do, how I do what I do, why I do what I do, what I know, what I’m learning and even share my values to my intended audience (potential clients). Oh and entertain, I like doing a bit of that too because life’s to short not to have fun doing what I love.
A carousel also has tremendously higher payoffs for your engagement. Both for that one particular carousel post (likes, saves, shares, comments) and for future content. As the attention people give your content, it requires more of their time. That interaction rewards you over time by showing up higher in your audiences feed and stories, based on their interactions with you and them on your posts or even DMs. Which is what Instagram loves the most - features and content that generates more time on app by users.
From a content standpoint, carousels allow you to expand upon an idea or show several thoughts in one post. I’ve made a point of using carousels to more thoroughly explain my points of view about branding, social presence, marketing and design, sometimes more text-heavy than simply being a visual delight.
From an interaction perspective, they are snackable and easily digestible. Possibly far too digestible and frictionless compared to having to fix your attention on a video for more than 30 seconds. Which to me is weird, as video gets far less attention on Instagram than YouTube does. Though this goes to show what users want to see (or don’t want to see) on specific social platforms. I digress.
But the quick swiping nature that compels us to get to slide ten of a carousel as quick as we can because there are another ten carousels in the queue, is possibly the inherent problem and reason for our growing discontent with them in the design community.
THE DOWNSIDES OF CAROUSELS
Put simply they are too stackable. As I mentioned in that last paragraph, the desire to get to the end punchline has lead to a formula that urges you as the content creator, to have as minimal amounts of communication per slide so that it can be quickly digestible. Hell, I’ve even seen single words per slide.
Remember what I said a few paragraphs above, that “Instagram loves (…) content that generates more time on app by users”? This whole idea of snackable content flys in the face of that need that Instagram wants you to be doing.
However, for me at least and for quite a few fellow designers I have frequent conversations with about this, it’s leading to content creation that is ridiculously hollow and purely made to feed the beast, by creating content just to show up consistently AND once again, keeping you and your audience on the app for longer.
But this leads to regurgitated ideas. Thoughts that don’t give you actionable tips or advice. Quotes that light the tiniest of matches under your ass rather than a bonfire. Or you end up sharing the same thing someone’s probably heard before or could easily google. In other words, lightweight hollow content that is made to keep up appearances.
Which is why, after thinking about a lunch I was about to make myself over the weekend, the following analogy sprung to mind.
The reason why we’re starting to hate on carousels is that we’re consuming too much junk food.
For context, I’d had 3–4 meals from Friday to Saturday that were pretty indulgent, so by lunchtime Sunday, I was so damn ready for something healthy.
But when I saw the peanut butter on the bench, I could have easily just made a simple peanut butter sandwich. While the latter option was taking the time to put together a more healthy sandwich.
And that’s when this idea sparked 💡
Carousels that are hollow or lightweight in its content, are easy to make and allows you to show up more consistently. They get good attention because they are quick and easy to engage with and digest. But give it an hour, just like a McDonalds Happy Meal and you’re left with a barely full stomach full of junk food that won’t sustain your energy levels beyond a few hours. Because it’s just junk food.
However, carousels that are richer in original ideas, denser in context laden information and actionable takeaways, become a burden on the audiences immediate time. Go figure. We’re junk food mad and not in it for the long run.
But the interesting sign that I alluded to at the beginning of this story, is that you might be sick of consuming too much junk food content.
You’re looking for a healthy change
I’ve heard so many of my fellow designers take an Instagram detox, which is funny given my analogy. Simply because they’re so freakin’ over seeing the same kinds of posts show up in their feeds, much like the one below.
*Not actually a real post — but it’s not far from the style of content you might see on InstagramBig ass, all caps, bold text, with a distinct hierarchy that guides you to some visually provocative image to grab your attention (not always a good looking woman) and a signature bright colour like yellow, red or neon colours (or pink in my case). These are the hallmark attributes of this viral Instagram trend.
Which to be fair is all of our own faults as designers 😂 because this is what good visual communication hinges on. But many of us are becoming stagnant and lacking creative originality that inspires the next wave of creativity.
Interestingly, this carousel-style has now flowed onto those who are in the marketing and sales space and I have no doubt it’ll flow onto more industries like I am seeing happen in the financial and real estate space who are starting to gravitate to social media platforms with content creation.
Even though it’s blatantly clear the style and trend have been championed by a select bunch of creatives that have made it as ever-popular as it now seems. But for those who want to stay ahead of the curve, like I am trying to do myelf. I’m thinking damn hard about how to push this medium creatively to do things others aren’t. Simply so that it does blow my audience away, catches them off guard and delights them, hopefully with something actionable or learned.
It might be a wasteful effort but if there is a person in my audience that is starting to feel ill from the ever-present carousel ride, they’ve got something at least to look at that is far different from the dime-a-dozen look alike, sound alike carousel post and I may become far more memorable because of that.
But how do you get a healthy change beyond a detox?
The healthy wholesome meal
It’s safe to say that when you go to a fast-food outlet like McDonald’s, the healthy option you see on the menu isn’t there because you’re intentionally going to McDonald’s to seek out a healthy meal. Which, if I compared McDonald’s to Instagram in this instance, are we really going to Instagram to find the best knowledge we can find?
Nope. And here I think, lies the problem.
It’s a social media platform, we’re there to share, interact and be social. If you learn something, that’s just a bonus. Which is why those who teach “how to Instagram” do so well on the platform because they are ticking all the boxes, especially as it’s all about the platform we’re on and using. Funny that.
Which is why those of us who feel like they need to chow down on the healthiest, most boring looking kale salad possible after a year of consuming an ungodly amount of most likely uneducated, unproven and untested ideas and tips, turn to books. The thing society turned it’s back on for a period but are now coming full circle to embrace them again.
Why? Because they are thoughtful, revised, critiqued and often fact-checked editions of an idea that people trust far and feel extremely nourished by. Why else do you think half the edutainment content you see on Instagram is a reference taken from that person has just learnt from the books they have been reading?
But it’s not only books that offer a more wholesome meal to sustain us for longer. We indulge in TED talks, Medium articles, Wordpress blogs, Netflix documentaries and true story movies to inspire our next ideas or decisions in life.