Instagram was born out of the mantra that a ‘picture says a thousand words’ and it’s obviously had a huge amount of success on that basis. However you wouldn’t be wrong if you thought that you’d seen an increase in the length of the captions being used across the platform – such as the post by @sussexroyal for the launch of The Duchess of Sussex’s Smart Works campaign. Over 1,800 characters and 312 words no less.
You’d be hard pressed to call it a caption – a micro blog perhaps? In fact, we’ve seen some Instagram captions that are almost as long as fully fledged blog posts.
So what exactly is going on?
As a starter for ten, there is currently a 2,200 character cap on Instagram captions. Obviously only a small proportion of this is actually readable without clicking the see ‘more’ button to expand the post. Not really a problem in itself as long as the first 125 characters (the bit on show) is enticing.
So why are people writing more when it can’t be seen?
I think four components are feeding in to this phenomenon… our desire to be unique, our need to interact, a shift to ‘keep it real’, and also an awareness of mental health.
I’ll take each of these each in turn.
In the boredom stakes, other people’s holiday pics are only one step removed from discussing other people’s night time dreams. We know you’ve been away, we’re glad you’ve had a good time but quite frankly, the shot of your cocktail framed by the sunset is exactly the same as everyone else’s. Yawn. However if you were to tell me that moments after this, you’d fallen into the pool and knocked the waiter in too, then I’d be more entertained and feel like I’d shared a precious little moment of your holiday with you.
The same can be said for a business. The internet is so saturated with images, at first glance I might not be able to tell the difference between two products, for example two shaker-style kitchens. But if you share a caption with me that explains that one kitchen was designed to fit into a really unusually-shaped room and how it’s transformed the owner’s home, I’m right with you.
Instagram has recently taken away its public ‘like’ count so that only the account holder knows how much approval their post has received. A sound idea in my opinion and if you’ve ever watched the ‘Nosedive’ episode of Black Mirror, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Social media users, whether individuals or businesses, are always looking for more meaningful interaction, usually termed ‘engagement’. It can however be hard to engage with the same stale images we see day after day, week after week, so adding something thought-provoking or witty, makes it easier for someone to respond. It’s like an ice breaker at a party: when one person starts talking, everyone starts talking. An image with a longer statement, says, “I’m a real person, please talk back.”
There have been a number of bloggers-turned-influencers who have been called out for promoting their seemingly perfect lives, partners, kids, homes etc. and this has reflected badly on both the individual and some of the brands they’ve been working with.
We do of course want to be inspired, and way before the days of t’internet, we all bought glossy magazines (RIP Marie Claire print edition) to get the same fix as we do from Instagram today.
I think where things have moved on, is the desire for people to be more real, honest, and open. They may have posted an image of their perfect smoky-eye make-up or newly decorated bedroom but I believe we’re entering an era where people are more likely to share that this was their third attempt at getting their eyeliner right, or highlighting the flaws in the wallpapering or paint finish.
It’s not that we don’t want to enjoy the picture perfect world they’ve created but it’s quite nice to know that other people have to strive to get there too – they don’t just wake up and look that good!
@doesmybumlook40 does a really great job of dishing out fashion and beauty advice alongside a big dose of comic humility and frank insight into family life.
If you haven’t noticed, everyone who’s anyone is talking about mental health. From the royals to celebrities, the media, and employers. Most of us are becoming more aware about what we need to do to protect our mental health and with this recognition becomes a desire to take action to maintain our wellbeing. For some this may mean opting out of social media altogether but for others, it could mean distancing themselves from content that doesn’t help their mental state.
When Instagrammers openly demonstrate their flaws, show some vulnerability, or just share life without a filter, they become more human and that’s very appealing to the rest of us.
Personally, I think we like our superheroes and super-celebrities to be a bit more complex than they were previously, and the same can be said for the brands, businesses, bloggers and influencers we choose to follow. We want to know what they stand for, how and where their products are made, what ethical and eco policies they have in place, and that if they do make a mistake, that they know how to say sorry… properly.
So that all got a bit heavy on the back of just wanting to know why Instagram posts are getting longer. In short, I think it’s because we’re all happier knowing that everything isn’t always rosy and that whilst a picture might paint a thousand words, two thousand characters gives the reader even more insight and more ‘realness’.
Footnote: All of these musings are my own and perhaps a little less scientific than some of Browser Media’s usual blog posts but that’s exactly what we’re good at – merging the scientific with an approach that resonates with real people.