A picture paints a thousand words, right? Not necessarily.
Although Instagram is a visual medium, nailing your Instagram caption is almost as critical as the photo (or video) itself.
That’s because those few lines of text not only help to provide context for your image but they also help to showcase your brand’s personality.
But crafting the perfect caption that captures millions of eyes isn’t an easy task.
What should you write? How do you get your audience to engage? What’s the perfect length for your Instagram captions?
You’ll find the answers to all your questions (and more) in this post.
Let there be no confusion: just plopping down a few words for your Instagram post is NOT enough!
Remember, your posts are competing with millions of other posts on a daily basis. With each Instagram caption screaming for a place in your audience’s feed, you’ll need to put time and effort into each one…
Especially when Instagram has over 700M active monthly users — a figure that’s only set to rise:
We know — it’s tricky to craft that perfect bit of text to accompany your photo.
And that’s why we’re here to help.
But before we dive into our juicy tips, let’s iron-out the basics — and cover why Instagram captions are so important for businesses to get right.
Why All Your Photos on Instagram Need a Caption
A small snippet of text to go alongside your visual, captions are the perfect place to show your brand’s personality.
You’re able to share a story, tell a joke or ask a question to your target audience. That’s pretty hard to do with a wordless photo, right?
And while it’s certainly easier to do so with a video, it’s only possible if your followers actually watch the video… Which is why even for videos, nailing your caption is still important.
Showing your brand’s personality is a great way to make sales from Instagram, too.
Considering of consumers want to buy from personable brands on social media, why wouldn’t you optimize this sweet spot to boost your social media ROI?
Take a look at the chart below to see behaviors consumers want from brands on social and note the top 4… honest, friendly, helpful, and funny.
Not only are captions a great way to get people to see your brand’s personality, but captions also give you the opportunity to engage and connect with your audience.
Instead of just posting a pretty photo that will suit your page’s theme, use your caption space to get your audience engaged.
Whether you’re asking questions or sparking debate, improving engagement on your Instagram page can be nailed with a simple caption.
By creating posts that your followers engage with – comment, share, like, and spend more time with – Instagram’s algorithm will reward your content and increase the likelihood that it gets seen by your audience.
Talk about a win-win!
Are you ready to start crafting the perfect captions for your Instagram posts? Alright… let’s get to work.
The 7 Ingredients of a Perfect Instagram Caption
You only need seven ingredients to bake the perfect Instagram caption. Use them, and you’ll see a ton of engagement from your business’ Instagram page — and maybe a few conversions, too!
The seven ingredients of the perfect Instagram caption are:
- Tell a Story, or Sell a Lifestyle
- Consider Caption Length
- Ask Questions
- Play with Emojis
- Use Hashtags
- Mention Other Pages in Your Caption
- Add a Call to Action
If you don’t believe us, you will trust the famous chef, restaurateur, and writer of cookery books Fabio Viviani, that cooked all the 7 ingredients to perfection in this Instagram caption:
Could you spot them in the picture above?
We’re here to help you, so we have highlightedall the ingredients Fabio used for his Instagram caption for your convenience:
Breaking it down we see that:
- The caption helps set a scene that most people can relate to (needing an energy boost after an exhausting day).
- The caption length is long enough to convey a story without being needlessly wordy.
- Great use of a question to pique interest and get people to read on (because who doesn’t need a pick-me-up after a long day?)
- The emoji fits perfectly with the caption and help to enhance the overall post.
- Fabio uses the right balance of hashtags – #coffee and #espressomartini to let people know what the post is about (if they’re just skimming) plus it makes his post discoverable by the right audience (espresso lovers and Martini fan… 90% of the people I know!).
While #coffee is broad and ultra-competitive with over 90 million posts, #espressomartini has a more targeted audience (related to the photo) and is less competitive with only 263,000 posts, which allows for a better opportunity for user engagement.
- Fabio mentions @LavazzaUSA as his choice of coffee for his espresso martini.
- Fabio uses a call to action to tell people to check out @LavazzaUSA.
1. Tell a Story, or Sell a Lifestyle
Did you know that storytelling helps brands to sell more products?
Don’t argue — it’s psychology.
Whether you’re leasing an apartment or selling sneakers, storytelling has been proven to boost sales.
You can put this into practice, and use stories to boost engagement for your Instagram page, by editing your caption and selling a lifestyle.
Let’s see that put into practice: GoPro, a camera retailer, uses their Instagram to promote their products — and uses captions to sell a lifestyle.
I know what you’re thinking: “it’s just a piece of hardware. No matter how good their camcorder is, you can’t ‘sell a lifestyle’ for a camera”.
…But GoPro are masters of this. By using carefully-crafted captions and user-generated content to fill their Instagram feed, they tell a story about the adventure the user had.
Here’s a fantastic example of one of their customers who used one of their cameras to snap this stunning photo on the coast of San Nicola Arcella (Italy).
While there’s no doubt that the photo is what catches a user’s attention, it’s the caption that gets people to stick around and actually engage with the post.
The idea of a destination being a hidden treasure incites the longing that travelers have to go explore new destinations. Furthermore, GoPro motivates these travelers to take action – specifically to capture their adventures with GoPro’s products – by telling them to share their photos with GoPro’s Instagram account for a chance of being featured in front of GoPro’s audience of 13 million people.
Considering their entire brand is associated with fun, adventure and excitement, this type of Instagram content encourages their audience to go out and capture memories of their own.
I don’t know about you, but that’s much more exciting than this bog-standard photo of a similar camera with a caption that discusses the features or even the benefits of using their product.
Since using this strategy for their Instagram profile, GoPro increased their average monthly interactions per photo by 57%, and average interactions per video by 53%.
Not a bad result, right?
That, my friend, is a masterclass in selling a lifestyle to your audience through Instagram captions without directly mentioning your product.
2. Consider Caption Length
Did you know that the length of your Instagram caption affects its readability in your audience’s feed?
Although Instagram allows 2,200 characters in their captions, it’s wise to cut yours off long before that point.
Just to give you an idea, the caption in the image below is 1872 character… just a tad long, don’t you agree?
Chances are, you’ve clicked the “… more” button on a cut-off caption that picked your interest. However, your audience might not always be that intrigued. Why?
Well, Instagram is a quick-fire platform. With so many photos being published, users want to see them all. Unless you’re front-loading your caption with something eye-catching or an important detail, there’s a chance of having your essay-like caption slipping through the net.
That’s almost as bad as avoiding a caption!
Considering the point of a well-crafted caption is to engage your audience (a well-known factor that influences Instagram’s algorithm) through comments, direct messages, likes and story views, captions that take a few minutes to digest might reduce engagement.
Notice how succinct the caption is in the above example from Levi’s? It avoids the risk of overloading their audience with too much text while getting their point across easily.
…However, that’s not to say that captions can’t be long. In fact, longer Instagram captions can be used to enhance the storytelling process — like this example by Discovery Channel:
Although this caption is on the longer side, it starts strong by providing a concise summary of what the photo is about, giving people a clear understanding of what’s being discussed before they decide to continue reading.
Additionally, they do a good job of breaking up the text with spacing.
While it might require users to scroll a bit more, the tradeoff is worth it as it makes the text much easier to read. Just take a look at the edited photo below where we combined the text to see what a difference spacing makes:
If writing longer captions, you definitely want to use short paragraphs and good spacing. Reading small text on a mobile device is difficult for even those with good vision.
So accommodate your audience by keeping paragraphs to a few sentences and using a full line break between paragraphs.”
Jenn Herman, Social Media Strategist, Jenn’s Trends
Instagram’s 2,200 characters caption length limit means about 400 words, but you don’t have to use them all.
Finding the sweet spot for Instagram character length might take trial and error. You’ll want to A/B test and assess your very personal engagement rates based on caption length to try and get a clearer picture of what the ideal length is for the types of posts you submit to your account.
One thing to keep in mind is that within a user’s feed, the caption is cut off after the first three lines.
If you want your entire caption to display in the feed, or if you’re writing a longer style caption, we recommend summarizing your content in 125 characters or fewer and putting the important information about the post upfront, so that you can draw your followers’ attention before going into further details.
This caption gives animal lovers who are looking to adopt a pet a reason to click more and learn about Buddy.
In the caption below, instead, there’s a big mistake.
3. Ask Questions
Questions can be a great way to pique a reader’s curiosity as well as generate dialogue among followers.
However, just asking random questions that either don’t align with your business’ goals or are irrelevant to the visual or caption that the question is accompanying will fail to generate any type of meaningful feedback or engagement.
Examples of types of questions to ask:
Asking For Feedback
Just take a look at this Instagram caption by Fitbit. Although the photo itself asks the question, the caption goes further into detail — and offers an incentive for people to answer it:
Not only does this approach help Fitbit get valuable feedback and insight on why their followers use Fitbit, it also helps to boost Fitbit’s presence in a user’s feed.
Take a look at the following post from Converse where they ask a simple question: “red or blue”:
A simple question like this makes it easy for followers to engage with your brand by providing a quick answer.
Additionally, even though it’s a simple question, Converse is able to potentially get some useful feedback — assuming that a significant amount of followers choose choose one color over the other.
You could also share personal stories and then ask a follow-up question in your Instagram captions, like this post by UN Women:
Including a personal story with a follow-up question can help to build relatability as well as empower and inspire your community of followers which has a direct impact on the connection a consumer has with your business.
Pique Interest / Open Knowledge Gap
Remember what we said about Instagram viewing your content as more interesting, and placing it higher as a result?
You’re able to pique your customers’ interest — and create a knowledge gap — by asking questions that play to their curiosity.
Here’s how Lego use this strategy to convince people to engage with their video:
I mean, aren’t you interested in which tool would be better at capturing a raptor?
4. Play with Emojis
Should you really be using emojis on your business’ social media page?
Over 50% of all Instagram captions contain one, but the question can start a debate.
Generally, in your Instagram captions it’s OK to use emojis that are:
- Related to your business, somehow
- Aren’t taking away from the message itself
While there’s no strict checklist to check whether you should be using emojis, the previously mentioned guidelines should keep you on track.
Well, because there’s a risk of confusing your audience if your emoji choice is off-brand, or not related to your caption.
Plus, stuffing an emoji in between every word can look unappealing, or hard to read (check the image below). Which defeats the point of the entire caption.
Having said that, emojis are a fantastic way to personalize your Instagram captions. You’re able to prove who’s behind the brand, and take the burden off relying solely on text to meet your social media goals.
Brittany Berger is a great example of how emojis can be used in Instagram captions. Although she’s a content marketer and has a B2B audience, she isn’t shy about her use of emoji:
While emojis aren’t necessary for every Instagram caption, sprinkling a few emoji’s into your text can be a great way to break-up text.
Plus the fact they’re named the fastest-growing language in the UK, so you might be onto a blossoming trend by incorporating them into your Instagram captions.
5. Use Hashtags
Twitter and Instagram made the hashtag symbol what it is today. However, when using them in your Instagram captions, it goes beyond “#likeforlike” and “follow4follow”.
That’s because we’re getting savvy — and Instagram is, too.
The platform now allows users to follow a hashtag (previously, you could only follow other profiles). However, you should be wary about the hashtags you’re using, and be sure to only use ones that are relevant to your photo.
You don’t want to annoy people who’re following the #makeup hashtag with a photo of your men’s sneakers, right?
However, by carefully selecting a range of relevant hashtags in your captions, you could hit the jackpot with exposure of your content.
That’s because 91% of posts by top brands have seven or fewer hashtags and Instagram posts with at least one hashtag see 12% more engagement.
One of the best ways to find relevant hashtags for your Instagram captions is to look at your competitors. Since these are the people you’re competing with, it does no harm to look at their captions for inspiration!
So, browse the Instagram pages that your competitors run. Can you spot any common hashtags they’re using on each post? If so, jot it down, or add it to a list of potential hashtags you might want to use in future.
Entrepreneur Nathan Chan, CEO & Publisher of Foundr Magazine, suggests this strategy:
Search for common trends / tags that are relevant to the niche / market you’re trying to attract.”
Additionally, you can find hashtags for your Instagram captions by using hashtagify.me.
If I was a digital marketing agency and I wanted to find hashtags my ideal audience are using, I’d simply put “#digitalmarketing” and find other suggestions:
When you’ve got your list of potential hashtags, look to use a mixture of popular and not-so-popular variations.
Popular hashtags have a much wider audience to potentially grab (and boost the number of eyeballs on your content), but hashtags with a smaller audience means there’s less competition — allowing your content to get noticed, build engagement, and more easily reach the “top posts” section.
Currently, Instagram allows 30 hashtags per caption. While that may sound like a small amount, we’d still advise not nearing your limit.
Captions that include 20+ hashtags can look spammy and off-putting. So, in a bid to make your hashtags count, stick to a handful per caption — like this example by @herschelsupply:
Once you’ve got your hashtag choice down to a T, you might be wondering where to put them.
Do hashtags perform better in the caption, or see better results if they’re embedded in a comment?
There isn’t a clear-cut answer: it’s down to preference.
Some people put their hashtags in a comment because it looks more visually appealing, and helps the caption to shine. However, some people stuff their hashtags in the caption to make it more prominent.
The placement of hashtags has absolutely no relevance on anything except personal preference. The algorithm, engagement, and search results are not impacted by where you place your hashtags. The only caveat to that is if you use super popular hashtags (which I don’t recommend because they only attract bots and automated interactions), then you want to put those in the caption because losing even a few seconds in the time it takes you to post those in a caption is valuable time lost in the hashtag search results.”
Jenn Herman, Social Media Strategist, Jenn’s Trends
The choice for where you place your hashtags is yours, but we’d generally advise:
- Hashtags in captions:
if the text is short, and you’re only using a handful or if you’re using an extremely popular hashtag (as mentioned above by Jenn).
- Hashtags in comments:
if your caption text is long, and you’re using 5+ hashtags.
6. Mention Other Pages in Your Caption
You already know that influencers are taking over the world, right? These social media stars are taking over traditional forms of brand endorsements, with 92% of consumers trusting an influencer more than an advertisement or celebrity.
…I know, it’s pretty groundbreaking stuff.
Want to know something even more groundbreaking? You can latch onto these influencers — and potentially be positioned in front of their audience — by mentioning their profiles in your caption.
Think about it: influencers always want to share something they’ve been positively mentioned in. It boosts their influencer status if they’re credible.
Why wouldn’t they want to re-post your content if they’re mentioned in it?
(That’s partly why user-generated content is also on the rise.)
Here’s how two Instagram profiles use this strategy on their page:
Even if the individual or brand you’ve tagged doesn’t reply, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
Influencers can comment on your post with a simple “thanks for the mention”, and you could still experience a ton of new traffic to your content.
That’s because Instagram offers an Activity slide, where users can see the activity of profiles they’re following. If they spot their favourite influencer has commented on your post, there’s a high chance they’ll check it out.
7. Add a Call to Action
While you can’t add clickable links to your Instagram captions when posting organically, that doesn’t mean calls to action are pointless.
You see, calls to action drive people to do something. (It’s a bit like expecting someone not to do something, unless you tell them to.)
In a social media world where business can profit from these online relationships, you should always drive your target audience to take action if you want to see any real results.
The best way to do that? You guessed it: through your Instagram caption.
Depending on the nature of your content, you’ll want to give someone an action that relates to your business’ goals.
Let me explain: if I’m posting a photo of the candles I’ve got for sale, my call to action could be “click the link in our bio to purchase yours!”.
Here’s another example, this time from City Cakes which uses their CTA to get people to call their business:
However, if you’re not actively selling through Instagram (or your goal is engagement-based), your calls to action could range from:
- “Tag us in your photos”
- “Follow us”
- “Like if you agree”
- “Tag a friend if… ”
- “Comment with your favorite…”
There are plenty of ingredients that make the perfect Instagram caption, but the best formula for your business’ page might take trial and error to uncover.
However, the logic is simple: make sure your Instagram captions fun, engaging, and spark conversation.
Not only will this help to boost engagement on your business’ profile, but you’re bound to start cultivating a community around your Instagram posts by creating thoughtful captions.
For each tip we’ve shared, stick with your new caption strategy, and avoid publishing posts with quick, off-the-cuff captions that haven’t had much thought.
That won’t do anyone any favors.
Pick your formula and stick with it. Test each element and record your results.
You’ll soon find YOUR perfect formula — and start meeting your Instagram goals — in no time!
A 10-plus year veteran of the digital marketing industry, Anthony Capetola has built and managed successful SEM and Social PPC campaigns for hundreds of small to large-sized businesses in various industry verticals including national franchises and eCommerce.
As the current Marketing Manager for Sales & Orders, which provides management software for Google Shopping, Anthony manages the entirety of paid search and inbound marketing efforts.