How to write Instagram captions to drive audience engagement

The caption to your Instagram photo presents great opportunity show off your brand’s personality, entertain your audience, and entice them to take action.

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I know Instagram is allllll about the compelling visuals, but your efforts with the app shouldn’t grind to a halt as soon as you’ve snapped a photo and decided which of the 40-odd filters bring it the most to life.

The accompanying caption copy is just as much a representation of your brand as the image itself, so it’s important to spend time getting creative with your words and creating your own Instagram voice.

Done well, a strong caption can help push the audience engagement needle, taking your profile and its reach to the next level.

What makes a good Instagram caption?

The Instagram caption presents great opportunity to add contextual depth to the photo, show off your brand’s personality, entertain your audience, and entice them to take action(s). And just as is the case with any piece of half-decent web copy, your Instagram caption should be attention-grabbing, easy to read, and geared to appeal to your dream audience.

Lead with the important details

Instagram allows up to 2,200 characters in any one caption (including emojis and up to 30 hashtags – more on those later) but, it’s important to be aware that your caption will get cut off in the feed after around 3-4 lines of copy and users will have to click “see more” to read anything beyond this point.

With this in mind, it’s worthwhile front-loading your caption with the most essential details or CTAs, leaving the finer details, @mentions, and hashtags to the end. For example, if you’re a foodie brand, you might choose to share an entire recipe in your caption, but be sure to lead with the key point (such as the name of the dish in the recipe) so it’s super clear what you’re showcasing from the outset. If you try to be too creative or wordy in the first few lines, you run the risk that your audience will miss your point entirely.

That said, longer-form content can still encourage people to sit around a bit longer and interact with your post, particularly if there’s a heartwarming or intriguing story to narrate the image.

NASA and National Geographic are two accounts that I feel do a great job at adding value to their already-incredible images with lengthy, but lovely captions.

Photo by @FransLanting Moving as one, a herd of elephants made up of related females and their offspring and led by a matriarch is heading to water at the edge of a floodplain along the Chobe river in Botswana. Elephants can go without water for several days, but when they are thirsty you can sense their anticipation of the relief a flowing river poses for them after days of crunching on dry vegetation. You can see here that they are almost breaking into a run. Better not get between them and and the water. Follow me @FransLanting and @#ChristineEckstrom to see what happens when a safari lodge gets in the way between a family of elephants and a favorite mango tree. @natgeocreative @thephotosociety #SavetheElephants #Botswana #Elephants #Safari #Family #Motherhood #Wildlife

A post shared by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

Beautiful, sparkling arms swirl outward from a bar slicing through this galaxy’s center in this image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope (@NASAHubble). It is classified as an active galaxy, which means that it hosts an active galactic nucleus – a compact region at a galaxy’s center where material is dragged towards a supermassive black hole. As this black hole devours the surrounding matter it emits intense radiation, causing it to shine brightly. But this galaxy is more exotic still. It essentially acts as a giant astronomical laser that also spews out light at microwave, not visible, wavelengths — this type of object is dubbed a megamaser (maser being the term for a microwave laser). Megamasers such as this can be some 100 million times brighter than masers found in galaxies like the Milky Way! Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA #nasa #space #hubble #spothubble #telescope #galaxy #universe #solarsystem #swirl #arms #beautiful #center #active #microwave #visible #light #bright #pictureoftheday #astronomy #science

A post shared by NASA (@nasa) on


Linking to your website

Unlike other social media platforms, Instagram doesn’t provide any method to post website URLs alongside a post. However, it is possible to add a clickable link to your site in your profile’s main bio.

It is not uncommon for brands on Instagram to frequently update this bio link to direct traffic toward a particular page, product, special offer, or piece of content. For example, if you are trying to promote a new product, entice more entrants to a prize draw, or increase subscribers to your emails; simply amend your bio link to take them to that page, and then post a photo that mentions the new link in its caption.

Nike is one brand that is forever updating its bio link, and rounding off photo captions with a “link in bio” mention.


Linking to your other social media profiles

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


Asking questions to encourage comments

In addition to links, it’s worth using your caption space to encourage your audience to engage with your post, perhaps by asking them a question which they can easily respond to in the comments. This can help to grow awareness of your brand’s profile because the followers of anyone who responds will also be able to see your post (and then hopefully engage with it, too).

To further boost engagement rates and impress your followers, take the time to respond to your audience’s answers to turn it into more of a conversation.

Once you’ve asked followers to share their ideas, thoughts, and experiences, you can then use the information they give you to help shape your Instagram strategy moving forward.

Tell us… What's in your bag? ? #HM??Shop now via link in bio.

A post shared by H&M (@hm) on


Using hashtags

Accompanying your amazing photo with a hashtag will help expose your brand to a wider audience through positioning the image alongside any other content with the same tag.

According to a study by Simply Measured, posts on Instagram that include at least one hashtag will attract on average 12.6% more engagement than those posts with no hashtags. But, that’s not to say you should start bombarding each and every one of your posts with hashtags for hashtags’ sake.

Be sure to pick hashtags that are relevant to the post, your brand, and to your target audience, and use them sparingly in the copy so they don’t overtake the space and make the post difficult to read. If you’re not sure what you should be hashtagging for your niche, take a look at or just start typing within Instagram, and you’ll be provided with a handy list of the hottest hashtags right now.

To avoid cluttering up their captions, some choose to add their hashtags right at the end of their caption, with a few lines of spacing separating from the copy. Alternatively, they can be added to the comment section below the actual post, as illustrated below by Ikea.



Adding Emojis to the caption

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.



Some users choose to simply enhance their wording with the little cartoon-like features, while others prefer to use emojis to completely replace wording.





Running Instagram competitions

I’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.


Try, try, try again

Great copy – whether written for a press release, blog post, or Instagram post – should go through several drafts and edits before being published. All too often, I see a stunning image on Instagram with great potential that is hindered by a lazy caption riddled with typos and other nonsense.

Don’t rush the process. Instead, spend time planning your caption’s content: jot a few ideas down, poll colleagues to see which they prefer, and have a fresh pair of eyes proofread and edit your work before hitting the share button.

As you trial different types of caption for your posts, monitor their performance to see what styles are working for your brand. Annoyingly, Instagram doesn’t offer much in the way of analytical insight, so you may need to do a bit of manual digging around and track the results in a spreadsheet. Alongside the actual image and copy, consider the day of the week and time that you’ve posted as well as the type of feedback you’re getting from your followers.

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