A complete guide to writing the best Instagram captions

Everything you need to know about writing amazing Instagram captions to maximise engagement.

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We think of Instagram as a visual platform, brimming with lifestyle snapshots of the rich and famous, adorable animal pics, annoyingly beautiful people, and mouth-watering images of people’s latest brunch-time indulgences. But as well as a catalogue of life goals, it can be a highly valuable business tool. However, brands that cut corners when it comes to their post captions are doing themselves a huge disservice in the long run.

We’ve put together this complete guide that’ll help you to write amazing Instagram captions, and take your Instagram marketing strategy to the next level.

What is an Instagram caption?

While Instagram is first and foremost about beautiful images, adding a caption alongside your image can help give meaning to the photo itself. They provide a valuable opportunity to:

  • Add context to your imagery
  • Showcase your brand’s personality and tone of voice
  • Influence what your audience takes away from your post, and how they respond to your message
  • Encourage audience interaction through questions and calls to action, and encourage discussion amongst your Insta following with your brand at the helm
  • Respond to consumer comments and insights, and deepen your relationship with your audience

How long should my caption be?

Instagram allows up to 2,200 characters in any one caption, but that’s not to say you need to max out your allowance each time. What is important is that your caption leads with purpose, outlining exactly what your post is all about and what you want your audience to do with this information.

Bear in mind that after around 3-4 lines of copy users will have to click to “see more” of your caption. Of course, for short captions this isn’t going to be an issue, however when writing long-form captions, it’s essential to make it super clear what you’re showcasing from the outset, as unless those first few lines hit the spot, the chances are your audience is just going to keep scrolling.

Ultimately, short, snappy captions still need to serve a purpose, and long-form captions need to be worth the read.

Captions that capture your audience

Just like your blog content, an effective Instagram caption should be useful to your audience, and provide it with one or many of the following:

Inform

Use your caption to give context to your accompanying image/s. For example, a recipe, product description, or offer short and sweet, hard-hitting facts or stats that offer a tangible link to your imagery.

Entertain

Humour – when used correctly – makes highly shareable content. Incorporate a funny quote, wordplay or piggy back on a current news story with some topical satire to make your audience engages with your content.

Storytelling might sound like childsplay, but creating a strong and memorable storyline for your brand can seriously enhance your customers’ journey, and increase conversion rates. What’s more, research suggests that we are also far more likely to remember information when it is told to us in a story, so use your caption to provide a compelling narrative that can bring your image to life.

Competitions are a great way to encourage engagement and discussion around your product or brand because, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love a freebie? More on Insta competitions later in the guide…

Inspire

Captions give you a degree of influence over how your audience interacts with your post. Simply posting an image without written context leaves the meaning behind your post open to the viewer’s interpretation. Gain back control over how people perceive your message with an emotive caption that taps straight into your viewers’ personal feelings and values; if your audience feels that your brand shares their values, they’ll be more likely to establish a deeper rapport with you.

Instagram captions - imagination has no limits. See how in our story
@adidas

Should I include links in my caption?

Linking to websites

Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t currently facilitate including URLs within captions, however, you can add a clickable link back to your site in your profile’s main bio.

@zenasearringsnthings

Many brands get around this restriction by frequently changing the link in their bio to reflect the goals of their latest campaign or product drive, and using their post caption to direct users to the link, and therefore onto the particular landing page, product page, competition draw, or piece of blog content they are trying to drive traffic to.

In fact, it’s become such a popular strategy that the hashtag, #linkinbio, has been used in almost 8.7 million posts to date.

Instagram captions - #linkinbio has been used in almost 8.7 million posts to date.

Linking to other social media platforms

Many brands cross-promote their other social media accounts through the captions on their Insta posts. It’s an effective way of converting your Instagram followers into Facebook fans, Twitter followers, or Snapchat watchers, too.

Using hashtags on Instagram

When you include a hashtag in your caption, Instagram will position your post alongside others using the same hashtag, so it’s a quick and easy way of exposing your brand to a wider audience outside your existing followers.

Where to put them

Incorporating your hashtags within the body text of your caption may seem like a savvy way to save on characters, but it often makes your copy look clunky and more difficult to read. Keep things user-friendly by grouping your hashtags together right at the end of your caption. That way you can be sure that your main copy gets the user’s full attention while your hashtags quietly work their magic.

@denise_limhighlyflavoured

Hashtag research

If you’re not sure of the best hashtags to use for your niche market, there are numerous websites, such as tagsforlikes.com or tagblender.net, that have some good suggestions, and all separated into categories for ease of use.

Another way is to simply start typing within Instagram’s search field and its native autocomplete function will provide a handy list of popular hashtags related to your topic. When using this tool, pay attention to the grey figure that appears beneath each result as this is the number of posts in which that particular hashtag has appeared, giving you a good indicator of competition.

It’s estimated that a post containing a hashtag with 10 million posts under its belt will be pushed out of the first nine posts in a feed within around three minutes. That’s not a lot of airtime for a post you’ve worked damn hard on creating, so aim for hashtags that are popular, but not so popular that your post won’t get a look in.

Keep it relevant

Choose hashtags that are relevant to your post, your brand, and your target audience. There’s nothing more cringey than a company jumping on the bandwagon of a trending hashtag that has no connection to their brand in a desperate attempt at more engagement. It’s a cheap trick, and users are likely to become annoyed when bombarded with posts that aren’t relevant to them, so you may end up doing more harm than good.

Using emojis in your captions

Emojis can be added to Instagram captions to give them a bit more personality and help capture your audience’s attention – even some of the more ‘serious’ brands are using them.

Even 'serious' companies, such as the BBC, are using emojis as a fun way to enhance copy, or to replace words altogether
@bbcnews

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to using emojis in your captions; use them as a fun way to enhance your copy, or to replace words altogether… just make sure that you aren’t detracting from your message by using emojis, or making it too difficult for readers to decipher.

Calls to action

Your caption space is a great opportunity to start a conversation with your audience, posing questions and encouraging them to respond in the comment feed. There are several benefits to doing this:

  • Build a rapport: Make sure you respond to your comment feed and use it as an opportunity to have a conversation with your audience. Your followers will be impressed that you have taken the time to respond, having a favourable effect on your engagement rates and doing wonders for your reputation as a brand
  • Wider coverage: The followers of anyone who responds will also be able to see your post, and will hopefully engage with it too, creating a domino effect of engagement, and generating wider coverage and awareness of your brand
  • Primary research: You’ll gain a first hand insight into the likes, thoughts, and experience of your market audience, enabling you to shape your Instagram strategy and indeed other areas of your marketing efforts moving forward
@hm
@virginatlantic

Instagram competitions

We’ve written before about running competitions on social media to increase brand exposure and engagement, and Instagram is a fantastic place to do just that. More specifically, the caption space can be used to promote your contest and explain to the audience how they can enter and what they can potentially win.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

“You don’t have to be a professional troublemaker to take a stand.”—Cecile Richards . . ? Giveaway ? How do you make trouble? Comment below to enter for a chance to win a copy of @cecilerichards‘ Make Trouble, a tote bag, a bookmark, and Make Trouble pins! There will be five winners total. . . Sweepstakes begins at 10:00 AM ET on Friday, April 6, 2018 and ends on 11:59 PM ET on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Participation open only to legal residents of the United States or the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older as of date of entry. Official rules here: spr.ly/SweepsRules . . @maketroublebook @touchstonebooks #MakeTrouble #MakeTroubleBook #CecileRichards #memoir #socialactivism #nonfiction #plannedparenthood #shepersisted #futureisfemale #preorder #bookstagram #booksofinstagram #igreads #literature #bibliophile #bookworm #booklover #bookish #booknerd #readinglist #currentlyreading #reading #read #giveaway #sweeps #enter #win

A post shared by Simon & Schuster (@simonandschuster) on

If you’re running a competition or interactive campaign, make sure you place any calls to action, prize descriptions, or entry instructions at the front of your caption to grab attention and encourage participation.

Don’t underestimate the legwork involved in planning effective caption copy for your competition campaign. You’ll need to spend time brainstorming ideas, and researching previous examples from competitor campaigns can be a useful exercise to see what works for your audience. Put your ideas to the test by polling your colleagues to see which they prefer, and always ask a fresh pair of eyes to proofread and edit your work before hitting the share button.

Always analyse your results

It’s really important to monitor the performance of different types of captions to see what styles your audience responds best to. Instagram’s analytics platform, Instagram Insights, provides access to all the essential data and metrics you’ll need to assess how your posts are performing, including:

  • Which content works and what doesn’t
  • Key information about your followers including gender, age, location, and when they are most active
  • Your performance on Instagram over the last week – change in followers, number of posts, impressions, reach, profile views, website clicks, and email clicks

You can also view historical posts by engagement and impressions from up to two years back. Instagram Insights is only available to those with a business Instagram account, so if you haven’t yet made the jump up to a business account status, it’s definitely worth considering.

Practice makes perfect

Nailing the perfect caption takes work. Just as press releases, blog posts, and case studies go through several redrafts and edits before finally being published, so must your Instagram caption. Promising posts that have taken time and effort to curate can easily go to waste if partnered with a lazy caption.

While a striking image will quickly pique your audience’s curiosity, a well crafted caption is where you can really win their attention, so avoid falling at the last hurdle and make caption copywriting a key aspect of your Insta marketing strategy.

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