You may have seen Pope Francis’ Instagram debut and wondered how he does it: 326,000 likes on his first ever Instagram post! Unless you want to become the Pope, we at Photoslurp recommend you take another look at your company’s Instagram captions.
Photoslurp like nothing better than to see our customers build their Instagram presence: it’s good for them, and good for us. Always doing research on how we can help you improve your Instagram presence, we’ve found some useful tips on Instagram captions, an often underrated but crucial area.
Captions are often overlooked when composing a top-notch Instagram post. In a world of filters and hashtags, it can be all too easy to forget about that text plays an important role. We’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: Text matters more than you might think on a social medium devoted to pictures. The Pope’s post above has a simple message that appeals to his target audience and encourages an action which engages the user… And it works!
With that said, we’ve collected 6 points for creating the perfect Instagram captions. How to make your captions stand out without clouding your message – it’s all here.
Instagram captions point #1: Research your followers interests
A good rule of thumb for all Instagram work, make sure you do your homework and research your target market. Find users whose interests match yours and you’ll reap long-term rewards in increased user engagement. Hold off on creating your captions – and posts in general – until you’re sure what your target audience wants, however time-consuming it may seem.
For example, if your business deals in fashion and wants to promote a specific line of exciting new tank-tops, don’t write captions which are:
Too broad – ‘Do you like fashion?’
Too specific – ‘Introducing our new tank tops, which come in a range of 23 colours and 7 sizes, are made from polyester and cotton and available in… (etc..)’
Based on good images, but irrelevant – ‘Here’s a cute photo of my dog… buy our tank-tops!
Take this example from Instagram fashionista ‘fashionforall’. The post shows a knowledge of where many of their followers come from (in this case Scandinavia), yet it remains relatable to everyone, simple and relevant.
Instagram captions point #2: Go Short and Snappy or have No Caption at All
Keep your captions short where possible – consider having none at all if it suits! A study by Buffer showed that captions of 40 characters or less receive 86% more engagement than those of more than 40 characters. Each post can have a maximum of 2,200 characters per caption, but for the love of all that is Instagram, please don’t make a caption that long unless it is needed!
If you want to let the picture do all the talking and have no caption, it’s always an option. Minimalism works in select cases, and if your picture is particularly captivating or puts across a specific message, a caption may become distracting. As one Instagrammer puts it, ‘brevity is king’ – that includes having no caption at all if appropriate.
If you have a target demographic who want a lot of detail or perhaps a longer story behind your photo (see Point 4), then, a longer caption could be useful, but most users want to see shorter captions. Take advantage of how easily scannable Instagram captions can be when done correctly:
This post promotes the popular TV series Game of Thrones with a few words taken from the show and a few relevant hashtags: it’s super easy to read and deserves its 50,100 likes.
If you do have to use a longer caption, try breaking it up into smaller, scannable lines. If it fits your company’s style and image, consider adding in the occasional emoji to help compress that caption into something shorter (but more on that in Point 4).
Remember: under 40 characters if you can manage it.
Instagram captions point #3: Plan your Cross-Linking – Use Clever Hashtags and Emojis
Instagram and apps like Everypost are great for helping you cross-post on other social media, boosting the combined impact of your posts. However, bear in mind that your perfect caption needs to be optimised for all the media you use simultaneously. For example, don’t use Instagram usernames when cross-posting to Facebook – they won’t link back to the Instagram users and therefore become redundant.
Filling your captions with wall-to-wall blue text can turn a good post into an eyesore, so cut down on unnecessary spam hashtags. If you still have a long list of relevant hashtags (it happens), consider separating your tags from the rest of your text. A great way to do this is to place them in a separate comment, leaving your caption free to be a small, easily legible slice of black text.
A word to the wise – unless your company already has a large following and has hosted many successful events, don’t fall into the trap of using event-specific hashtags. By definition, they can’t tap into any broader Instagram trend or be easily found through broader searches.
As well as thinking about hashtag use in your Instagram captions, remember that over 50% of the text on Instagram contains emojis: they’re everywhere. It helps that a wider variety of emojis than the basic smiles and frowns are now more widely used – you can take advantage of this to summarise more complex ideas.
For example, you can use emoji hashtags as an effective way to summarise the mood and tone of your post whilst keeping the perfect caption as short as possible. The post shown below has over 4,000 likes, a really good example of how an emoji hashtag is more effective than ‘#heart’ or ‘#love’ at getting across the upbeat message of generally loving life.
Instagram captions point #4: Tell a Story with Signature Style, Humour and Gimmicks
This means that telling the story behind a photo can make it far more engaging. A user can become far more engaged with an image – taking time to stop, consider and enjoy it – because the caption showed them why they are looking at something special. Think about how music fans enjoy ‘rockumentaries’ showing how their favourite album was made (‘Funky Monks’ for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, anyone?), or director’s commentary for famous films.
If you decide to tell the story behind a post and multiply its value, you should do so using a signature style of some kind. Gimmicks, in-jokes, whatever you want to call them: having repeated structures gives you parameters to work with when writing captions.
Wits and puns are a good way to get such a signature style started and draw in new users with a caption. Someone once said that ‘cleverness is next to godliness on social media’. What were they referring to? Mainly the use of puns, word-play and general wittiness to gain attention online, and this is a technique which works brilliantly to create short, memorable Instagram captions.
Take this example from Innocent smoothies talking about spooning bananas:
They use a signature style of humour in their captions. This helps break down barriers and it can work for you too, relaxing your Instagram followers and warming them to the product you’re showing them. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that Innocent have included a good CTA in their caption, and all users are more likely to share a post with puns and general wit.
If you’re struggling for ideas, think of your caption like a tabloid newspaper headline and use that to help you create something short and memorable. Developing your own unique style or repeated gimmick will both appeal to followers and make this a lot easier for you to repeat. Innocent, for example, don’t just use this silly, joking tone on this post’s caption – they do it all the time as a trademark brand of humour.
Instagram captions point #5: Ask a Rhetorical or Leading Question
Asking questions when creating the perfect caption is a tried-and-tested way to engage with your users, and it rarely fails. Don’t just ask any old question: use leading or rhetorical questions to both engage your follower’s attention and give them an opportunity for dialogue with you.
This technique works especially well if you already have a strong, highly engaged fan-base, where you can ask your Instagram followers for help or advice. Everyone loves to share their two cents and many will comment with an opinion! An open-ended question which is personal to your followers like Newcastle University’s example below is always a winner for user engagement.
Combine this point with your research from Point 1 to make sure your question is relevant and you have a winning formula for the perfect caption (just don’t overuse it).
Instagram captions point #6: Check your Grammar and Tone – No Fake ‘Edginess’
It may not be the first thing you think about when it comes to Instagram, but correct spelling, punctuation and grammar have an important part to play in good caption-making. Slang and abbreviations can be a good option when used sparingly and with a relevant target group. They can help keep your caption short and accessible, but make sure your caption is also legible, simple and easy to understand.
Just don’t take any attempts at slang, local customs or being ‘edgy’ too far. We can all think of marketing campaigns which backfired because marketers tried to hard to take advantage of the zeitgiest, such asAmerican Apparel’s tasteless 20% ‘Hurricane Sandy’ sale, promoted on social mediato abbreviate everything and sound like a texting teenager is a sure-fire way to make Instagram users roll their eyes and pass on by your caption.
If a quality image makes someone stop and think, the perfect caption would offer them more, and it needs to be well-checked for spelling and grammar in order to do so.
All ok on those 6 points for the perfect Instagram captions?
When creating the perfect caption on Instagram for your company, just remember to go over these points. Once you’ve researched what your followers want to see, create something short and sweet to avoid losing the user’s attention: under 40 characters if you can manage it.
Make sure to consider how your caption looks on other social media if cross-posting and be careful with how many hashtags you use (if you don’t put them separately in the comments). While we’re talking about hashtags, tasteful combinations of emojis are often a good idea. Use these tools to tell a story in your caption and/or ask an open-ended question to increase engagement.
If you can also manage a little wordplay and some witty puns (all spell-checked and appropriate, of course), then you’re set to have the perfect caption for each image with room for a little eye-catching controversy if need be.
All of these points are a great way to engage with your users, but remember: a clear call to action is what will make them, well, take action. A great way to drive users to your business page is to add the link to your website in your Instagram bio, and ask followers to visit. If you have an eCommerce business, you should definitely check out Photoslurp’s Shoppable Instagram, a tool that helps brands drive sales directly from Instagram.
What do you think of our perfect caption strategies for Instagram? Share this with anyone else looking to improve their caption game, and head over to the Photoslurp websitefor more tips and advice, or to let us know how you could use these ideas for your business. Comments are always welcome!
About the Author
Harry Brennan writes analytical content for Photoslurp. He also shares a name with Harry Potter and lives in the same country.