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.
How do you craft an Instagram caption for billions of eyes? You have a huge potential audience to appeal to but also a huge amount of posts to compete with every day.
What should you write? How do you get your audience to engage? What length is the best for your 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! So, before we dive into our tips, let’s look at why it’s so important to have a well-crafted Instagram caption.
Why Your Instagram Caption Matters
Your Instagram caption allows you to express your brand’s personality in ways that a photo can’t do alone. You can share stories, tell jokes, and personify your business by speaking directly to your followers. You might be able to accomplish this with a video, but that means your followers have to actually watch the video. Even someone quickly scrolling through their feed can skim a caption!
Captions also give you the ability to engage with your audience. You can ask questions, spark debates, and offer chances to win prizes if people like and follow your page.
Why is engagement so important?
As of 2016, users no longer see posts on their feed in chronological order. Instead, content is prioritized based on engagement and interest, as well as the actual time when the content is posted. Basically, more engagement means your current and future posts are more likely to be seen.
With so many brands using Instagram, your company needs to stand out. The best way to do this is to personalize your business through interesting, relevant content and engaging captions.
Now that you know the basics, let’s get into the details.
How to Write a Better Instagram Captions
Your goal: create a caption that will elevate your post and increase engagement and reach while still representing your brand.
To help you achieve this goal, we looked through the latest research and combed through Instagram posts from top companies to determine what makes a high-performing Instagram caption.
We found eight tips you can use in your content creation strategy.
Use them to increase your post reach and engagement, ensuring that your brand has more visibility—and therefore, more potential customers!
- Keep The Important Information First
- Tell A Story About Your Brand
- Consider The Structure Of Your Captions
- Ask Questions To Encourage Engagement
- Use Emojis To Show Your Personality
- Include Relevant Hashtags
- Use @ Mentions To Increase Reach
- Always Include A Call To Action
What does a well-crafted caption actually look like?
This post from LEGO includes every one of these tips. We’ve highlighted where, in the caption, you can see them at work and listed them below.
- LEGO places the most important information, referencing their Build to Give campaign, in the first few words of the caption.
- The caption tells readers about the charitable side of LEGO, and their goals with this particular charity drive.
- The caption is fairly short and to the point, with the question at the end offset by dashes, so it’s more obvious.
- LEGO asks, ‘will you join us’ at the end of the post, encouraging Instagram users to be more involved with LEGO’s charity drive.
- The gift and high-five emojis in the middle of the caption break up the text and add a fun, personalized element to the post.
- LEGO includes #BuildtoGive at the beginning of the post, linking this post with any others LEGO or other users have made about this campaign.
- The post mentions @fairybrickscharity and @sheffieldchildrens, pulling these two users directly into the post and connecting them with the charity drive.
- The question at the end of the caption also serves as a call to action. It encourages readers to participate in the charity drive and interact with LEGO outside of the Instagram platform.
Of course, you don’t have to use every single one of these tips in all of your captions. Using just one or two can go a long way toward making your posts more engaging.
Instagram is optimized for a mobile viewing experience. This means that only the first 125 characters of a caption show up in a user’s feed. To see the rest of the caption, the user has to click more.
Remember, you’re competing for user attention with every other blog that they follow, branded or not. You want to catch their interest quickly before they scroll past to look at a more interesting post.
In the example above, the reader learns the location and a positive attribute of this Airbnb option without having to click more. Anyone interested in staying close to Chicago can expand the post to learn more, but the most important details are there for even the most passive Instagram viewer to see.
For contrast, take a look at this post from National Geographic:
By placing the photo credit first, instead of at the end, National Geographic hides the most critical and interesting information. There is little in the initial part of the caption to entice readers to learn more or engage with the post.
86% of users prefer a brand with an honest, authentic, and personalized social media presence.
You can build authenticity with your Instagram captions by telling a story about your brand that connects with readers. This might be anything from a brief history of the company or product to a personal story about an employee.
A caption doesn’t need to be long to tell a story. Here’s another example from LEGO:
In just a few words, LEGO gives a brief history of their Winter Village series of products, stating that it has been around for 10 years and associating the series with positive traits (‘joy,’ ‘creativity,’ ‘iconic,’ ‘festive’). This establishes the product line as a holiday tradition, rather than just another toy.
Another example of this is GoPro. Like many brands, they use their Instagram posts to promote a lifestyle instead of just a product:
The photo draws in the reader, but the caption encourages engagement and gives more personality to the brand. The phrase ‘hidden treasures’ appeals to the reader’s sense of adventure and the desire to go off the beaten path. GoPro encourages this further by asking users to share their own sunset pictures, which increases the possibility of engagement and positions the brand as a lifestyle instead of just a camera.
You already know that a user has to click more to see a caption longer than 125 characters, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid long captions. Since Instagram allows up to 2,200 characters in a caption, you could use around 400 words on average!
When constructing a longer caption, formatting is key. A huge block of text is difficult to read, especially on mobile where the print is smaller. Just to give you an idea, the post below uses 2,125 characters.
This post is written and formatted like a full article, not like an Instagram caption. The writer wrote an introduction and then posted a transcription of her friend’s podcast. In the process, some information and phrases are repeated (e.g., ‘dear friend and colleague’).
Instead of posting blocks of plain text, the user could have written an eye-catching initial caption and then a short description of the podcast and a reason the reader should listen. A link is already included. This structure would encourage Instagram users to listen to the podcast while using the caption to grab their attention and provoke interest.
This post also breaks tip #1—the most interesting and eye-catching information is hidden behind the more.
By comparison, the post below has 1,889 characters:
This caption is almost as long as the previous example, but it’s much easier to read. The poster uses spacing to break up the initial body of text and to separate out the ingredients. Then they use asterisks and emojis to separate the notes and recipe steps. These structural elements make the post easier to skim and read on mobile devices.
We established that increasing engagement is the main way to increase reach on Instagram. However, just having interesting content isn’t always enough. You have to encourage users to actively engage with your posts instead of just skimming them.
One way to encourage engagement is to ask questions. Questions give users something direct to respond to, so they are engaging with an answer rather than having to come up with an off-the-cuff comment. Keep in mind that your questions need to be relevant to your brand. Random questions will not generate meaningful engagement or help your brand stick in the minds of users.
There are many different types of questions you can ask, including:
- Asking for Feedback. Find out which of your products are your customers’ favorite, or get their input on a new product. Not only will this increase engagement, but you will also gain valuable insight into the opinions of your customers.
- Closed-Ended or Binary Questions. Ask a yes-or-no or a multiple-choice question. It requires minimal effort for users to respond, and every response increases your engagement.
- Getting-to-Know-You Questions. Share a personal story of your brand and then ask users to share their own similar or related stories. This helps you get to know your customers and humanizes your brand.
Let’s look at a few brands that used this strategy.
Starbucks used their Instagram caption to build on the photo and actively ask users for engagement. We highlighted the question and the response from another user. Starbucks went one step farther and responded back to the user, making it an actual conversation.
Glossier provided a pro tip of their own before asking for tips from users. They received both joke responses (‘buy it’) and serious tips. Both kinds of responses increase the post’s—and therefore, the brand’s—overall engagement.
Emojis have been used in marketing strategies since at least 2015. By now, they are common across social media platforms, with over 50% of Instagram accounts using emojis in their posts. Including emojis in your Instagram captions is a great way to grab interest and personalize your brand.
Studies have shown that Instagram posts with emojis actually have higher rates of engagement than posts without emojis. Emojis can also be used to break up long blocks of text (as we saw earlier), and they add extra personality to your posts.
Here’s an example:
Allbirds uses dessert emojis to emphasize the sugary theme of their new product line. The colorful images also serve to break up the paragraph and draw attention to the caption, where users can learn more about the line and where to buy.
Notably, Allbirds chooses emojis that are directly relevant to the post and the brand. Sprinkling random emojis into your Instagram caption may break up the text, but they won’t help with your brand’s personality, and they may confuse your readers.
Increasing engagement is important, but your posts also need to increase reach and attract new followers.
Hashtags are one way to achieve this. Research has shown that posts with at least one hashtag receive more likes and comments than posts without any hashtags.
Hashtags increase reach dramatically now that Instagram users can follow a specific hashtag. This means if you use that hashtag in your post, you will reach users who follow the hashtag as well as users who follow you personally.
However, this doesn’t mean you should just use all of the most popular hashtags in your posts to reach as many people as possible. In fact, posts with large numbers of hashtags tend to receive less engagement than posts with a few relevant ones. Users can also hide posts they don’t want to see for a particular hashtag, and too many flags will likely decrease how often your posts show up in user feeds.
It’s easy to find examples of posts with hashtags, but in this post, LEGO does it particularly well. We highlighted the hashtags.
Not only does LEGO stick to hashtags that are relevant either to the post, to the brand, or both, but they also use a mixture of popular and specialized hashtags. #Holidays, for example, has 62,216,198 posts associated with it. #RebuildTheWorld has only 9,838 posts, and many of them are LEGO-related.
LEGO also makes use of their branded post (#LEGO). 7/10 hashtags on Instagram are branded, and branded hashtags are a great way to make your company more searchable on the platform.
You may have heard of Instagram influencers. These social media stars have huge followings and actively impact the purchase decisions of their followers.
Now imagine you can connect yourself to these influencers and reach their followers as well as your own. When you use the ‘@ mention’ function to tag someone on Instagram, they receive a notification. If they comment on or share your post, the post will appear in their followers’ feeds. In the case of an Instagram influencer, your post may be showing up in the feeds of thousands of people you wouldn’t have otherwise reached.
Of course, an influencer isn’t likely to engage with a random post, but if you work with another Instagram user or post content directly related to them, tagging them is a great way to increase your reach.
Around 60% of posts tag other users, and you can see active engagement from the tagged user in many cases:
In this post, both of the tagged users responded. Now the post will reach the followers of two other blogs in addition to users following Macy’s. The comments also allowed Macy’s to hold a conversation, humanizing the brand and increasing engagement.
All of these tips are designed to increase engagement and the reach of your posts, but if you really want Instagram users to take action, you should explicitly tell them so.
A call to action directs users on what they should do after they finish reading your post. Where is the best place for a call to action on Instagram? That’s right, your Instagram caption.
Airbnb makes use of this to direct users to their magazine, which then gives them more options for places to stay:
Sephora uses their call to action to encourage user engagement and direct customers on where to buy the featured product:
Other call-to-action examples include:
- ‘Tag us in your photos’
- ‘Like if you agree’
- ‘Comment with your favorite…’
- ‘Visit (link to your website) to order today’
The goal of your call to action is to encourage users to engage with your brand, either inside or outside of Instagram, and to give them a specific way they can do so.
Make Your Instagram Captions Work Harder
Is a picture always worth a thousand words? Not necessarily.
Instagram captions provide context for the post while showcasing your brand’s personality and providing an opportunity for your followers to engage with you.
Even a short caption can work hard for your brand, elevating your post beyond what a photo or even a video could do on its own. If you use these tips as guidelines, you will increase your reach, maximize engagement, and avoid common caption pitfalls.
Of course, every business’s Instagram is unique, and you have to find a style that works for your brand and your customers. Try these tips in your Instagram captions, either separately or in combination, and record the results. Once you see what your followers respond to, you can tailor your content—and your captions—to engage your current customers and attract new ones.