You might think that Instagram is all about pictures. Beautiful images and captivating photos are undoubtedly Instagram’s main point of difference. However, virtually every post also includes a caption. And if you want your post to stand out, then you need your caption to standout too.
Instagram is a social network; people want to engage with you. They may go there to look at attractive imagery, but they want to be able to comment on and share favorite posts with their friends. Therefore, they love you to show context in your images and give insights into your emotions.
The longer people spend reading and engaging with your Instagram captions, the better Instagram’s algorithm will rank you, and you will increase the likelihood of your future Instagram posts being made visible to a wider audience. Some influencers even take the opportunity of using Instagram captions for micro-blogging to connect with their followers more deeply.
How to Write Instagram Captions to Deliver Engagement:
Align Your Captions With Your Goals
Although less relevant for a personal Instagram account, businesses and influencers will generally set goals for their accounts. Often, they will make posts as part of an overall campaign. Therefore, it’s essential that any posts they make, both the images they use and the captions that go with them, align with the goals of their campaign.
For instance, three possible reasons for an Instagram campaign could be to:
1. Run an awareness campaign to increase your brand’s visibility
2. Promote a product, perhaps for a sale or product launch
3. Collect user-generated content (UGC) using branded Instagram hashtags
You are going to want your post captions to reflect the goal you choose. For example, you need to include your brand name and any branded hashtags if you’re running an awareness campaign. You will need to focus on the product in question if your goal is sales, and you have to remember to include the relevant hashtag when requesting UGC.
If you choose to share a Promoted Post, you have the option to include relevant Call to Action buttons, such as Contact Us, Learn More, and Download.
Think About the Length of Your Captions
There are varying views regarding caption length. At one extreme, well-known celebrities can get away with concise captions, sometimes even just an emoji.
At the other extreme, some Instagrammers like to use their captions to write micro-blog posts like Beth Kirby | Local Milk.
Sprout Social recommends that you stick to captions of 138-150 characters if you wish to maximize engagement. They observe that Facebook recommends you cap your Instagram Ad captions at 125 characters to avoid your text truncating on smaller screens.
Later, however, has observed that caption lengths have risen over the last five years. The average caption in 2016 had 142 characters. This had grown to 336 characters by 2019 and was expected to reach 405 characters (65-70 words) in 2020. Later sees no reason why this trend will change in 2021.
Perhaps the easiest way to reconcile these conflicting views is to create a caption of the length that seems right for your post. However, focus on the first 140 characters that most people can see before they have to click on “More.” Ensure that your first 140 characters are interesting and enticing to encourage people to continue reading the rest of the way.
Journalists often use the inverted pyramid style of writing, knowing that most people won’t reach the end of their articles. Therefore, they ensure they place the most crucial information at the top of the article, gradually going into more detail as the piece progresses. They start with “The Lead,” which states who, what, where, when, and how, in 1-2 paragraphs. They follow this with “The Body,” which gives the crucial information – the argument, controversy, story, or issue. Then they finish with “The Tail,” which consists of additional interesting or related information. If you intend to write a lengthy Instagram caption, you could use a similar style.
Think Before Writing Your First Sentence
Whether you use the inverted pyramid style or not, the most critical line of your caption is the first sentence. This is where you catch your reader or bore them so that they skim over, take a quick look at your picture, and move onto the next post. Therefore, your first sentence needs to be compelling, ideally making the reader stop and think.
Break Longer Captions Up For Easier Reading
One problem with more extended captions is that they can look like a wall of text if you aren’t careful. Instagram only gives you limited formatting options. People aren’t going to read your captions if they seem intimidating and if reading them looks like hard work.
Therefore, it makes sense to break up your captions into short paragraphs of skimmable text. Modern writing doesn’t use long paragraphs anyway. Look at most blog posts here on the Influencer Marketing Hub. They generally don’t have more than 1-5 sentences per paragraph. So, you want your captions, even your longer ones, to be easy-to-read with short chunks of text.
Emoji, symbols, ALL-CAPS, and bullet points all help break up text blocks, too.
Ensure Your Instagram Captions Add Value
You have to give people viewing your posts a reason to read your captions. Ensure that they always add value to the image or video clip you are sharing. If you write captions that add value, people will stop and make an effort to engage with you.
Of course, your entire post needs to add value. Some people create posts for the sake of it, for example, sharing an image of what they’ve had for breakfast. However, if you share such a photo, you should use your caption to add context to your picture. Give people a reason to comment or like your post, even if the image is of an everyday activity.
Remember that if your audience likes your post, then it must be adding value to their lives. So, you can use an uplifting caption to add value to even the most mundane image.
Food blogger, Megan Gilmore, uses captions on some of her posts to explain the context of a delicious food photo or video and then shows the website where you can pick up the recipe.
Sometimes you might use your caption to expand on what you have depicted in your image. For example, your caption may explain what the image represents. Often people share memes or short gleams of information as their image. You can expand on these as part of your caption to give more in-depth information.
Tell a Story With Your Captions
One of the main reasons many people prefer more extended Instagram captions is that it gives enough space for you to tell a story. People can become as engrossed in the story your caption tells as they are in the image you share.
For example, Annette White, on the Bucket list journey, uses her caption to explain how she needed some time out and decided to hike the Earthquake Trail.
Include a Call to Action or Request For Engagement
As with most online content, you should include a Call to Action (CTA) and ask for engagement in your Instagram captions. Note how in the above example, Annette White tries to tie the reader into her story, with questions like “How do you reset after a hard week? What cool new thing could you explore within a half-hour of your home?”
You don’t have to ask a question. You might merely ask your readers to save or share your post or to make a comment tagging a friend.
Don’t Be Afraid to be Personal in Your Captions
If you enjoy making Instagram posts for your friends to view, then you will have no problem with the idea of being personal in your captions. You’re likely to be doing it naturally. However, if you’re posting on behalf of a business, you might feel warier about this, thinking perhaps that it may come across as unprofessional.
Yet, as we have mentioned above, the best Instagram posts tell a story. And this will often involve sharing a personal picture or telling some work-related tale. People like to get to know the faces behind brands, and by personalizing your captions, you can come across as being more human and relatable. It can also increase the likelihood that people will engage with your post.
Use Hashtags Correctly
We have previously written the Ultimate Guide to Using Instagram Hashtags to Grow your Followers. Hashtags generally help you widen the spread of your posts and Simply Measured found that posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement than those without.
Instagram lets you use 30 hashtags in each post, but just because you can use that number doesn’t mean you should. You will gain no value from using irrelevant hashtags. Ideally, you should include plenty of relevant hashtags, however, to help your fellow Instagrammers.
For example, the post by Ashley Stark Kenner below shows an upmarket bathroom. Her caption is short, with just “Neutral but not boring. That slab.”, some @mentions, hashtags, and an emoji. The hashtags all related to bathrooms, e.g., #bathroomdesign #bathroomdecor. She also makes a point of separating her hashtags from the main part of her caption.
Remember that the purpose of using hashtags is to find your post when people search for a particular hashtag. Therefore, you should only use hashtags that will interest your target audience.
@Mention – But Only When Relevant
As with hashtags, you should restrict yourself to relevant @mentions. Don’t name everybody who you would like to see your post. The people you @mention will receive a notification telling them that you have mentioned them, so there is little point mentioning people who have no interest in you or the topic on which you have made your post.
Include Emojis, But Not Excessively
Emojis add fun and color to your copy. In addition, they add a small visual component to the text section of your post. You can also use relevant emojis to break up your post to make it look less cramped.
However, you need to use suitable emojis for the post you’ve made. You don’t want people to be distracted by a string of irrelevant or inappropriate emojis. If you don’t use emojis regularly, be aware that some have developed lives and meanings of their own that may differ entirely from how you intend to use them. Be particularly careful when using emoji depicting fruit and vegetables; some now have interpretations quite different from their innocent appearance.
Of course, you can have too much of everything. Ultimately, people take the most interest in the image you share. A whole series of unrelated emojis can be just as annoying as 30 irrelevant hashtags.
Create a Consistent Style For Your Captions
Over time you will attract a group of interested followers who enjoy looking at your posts and reading their captions. Therefore, you want to create a consistent style that you use in all your Instagram posts. Indeed you might use variations of it across all your social accounts.
This doesn’t mean that you write all your captions the same; you can have some variation. However, you should structure most of your captions the same way, keeping them a similar length. Ask yourself which hashtags and emojis you will frequently use. Will any of these become symbolic of you? How do you intend to show emphasis in your posts? What about line breaks?
Disclose Sponsored Posts
If you promote sponsored goods or services, you must recognize this in your Instagram captions. The FTC has made it clear in the US that you need to adhere to their guidelines, and many other jurisdictions, particularly in Europe, have similar rules. Instagram makes it easy for you to use a “Paid Partnership with…” sub header. If you receive money to write a post, make that fact very clear to your followers.
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