The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” might have been crafted for the age of Instagram. Visual content has helped Instagram to become one of the largest and most successful social media networks in history. Over 700 million people use the platform, and this year Instagram is expected to generate $2 billion in advertising revenue.
But the adage does not mean that words are useless on Instagram. In fact, creating a compelling Instagram caption is a great way to boost engagement and build a memorable brand presence.
As with Instagram content, there are a number of different approaches that can work well on the platform. This article will walk readers through 10 tips to follow when trying to create a compelling Instagram caption to complement your visual content.
1. Develop a clear brand voice.
Slack is a brand known for its clear voice and identity. The company recently shared an article about how they found their social media brand voice. In it, they outlined their company philosophy: “We don’t say, ‘We’ve been working so hard’ in announcements. No one cares. Of course we have. So never mind that: this thing we’re telling people about, what does it do for them?! Put the user at the center of every story.”
Slack set out to develop a clear brand voice across all of their social media channels. While they are by no means unique in developing a clear brand voice, their brand voice is unique, which is why the company has been able to amass so many dedicated social media followers.
The first step to writing a compelling Instagram caption is to understand what you want your followers to know about your brand. It will then be easier to write content that fulfills this vision.
2. Tell a story.
A great way to engage followers is to share the story behind the content in the Instagram caption. Climber and photographer Jimmy Chin is an expert at sharing the story behind a piece of content.
In the example below, Chin reviewed the years of training that took place before his friend Alex Honnold was able to successfully scale El Capitan (a 2,000-foot rock face in Yosemite) without using ropes. The caption served as a perfect complement to the photo, and the post attracted over 81,000 likes.
3. Use hashtags that are branded and non-branded.
Simply Measured found that posts with at least one hashtag received over 12% more engagement than posts without a hashtag. They also found that nearly 80% of all hashtags are branded.
Hashtags help Instagram users to discover content, since many users use hashtags via Instagram search. Instagram also features trending hashtags on the Explore page of the app. Sharing content that uses a trending hashtag can be a great way to make it to the Explore page while also making it easier for potential followers to find your account.
While it is a good idea to use appropriate hashtags, it is not a good idea to overdo it. Relying on hashtag spamming hurts the look and feel of your content, and can result in what’s known as a “shadowban,” in which Instagram reduces the reach of your posts.
4. Tweak captions based on the data.
Use Owlmetrics to understand how caption content impacts engagement and follower growth. If you notice that a particular type of caption tends to perform better than others, consider using that caption type more often.
A good way to test this is to create a controlled experiment. Share two pieces of similar content at the same time on the same day. The only thing that should be meaningfully different is the caption. Measure both pieces of content to determine which type of caption is more effective. Continue to repeat these tests until you have identified the best combination of content and caption.
5. Learn the art of great copywriting.
Instagram caption writing can be a lot like copywriting for website or ad content. Consider learning how to be a great copywriter. Books like Made to Stick and Ogilvy on Advertising are helpful and inspiring reads for anyone interested in creating more compelling copy.
6. Crowdsource captions with user-generated content.
Apple only recently joined Instagram. As part of their Instagram launch they shared user-generated content (UGC). Specifically, Apple created multiple Instagram posts featuring images customers created with iPhones. As part of this push to share UGC, Apple also shared quotes from customers about the photos they captured.
In the example above, an Apple customer says, “I’m not really good at words so photography is my way of telling stories. It is my language.” Apple also included a branded hashtag in all of the UGC posts in order to encourage other iPhone users to share their photos.
Even though Apple’s account is in its infancy, the post received nearly 75,000 likes. This is thanks in part to Apple’s strong brand, and also because the post was well designed, from photo to hashtag to caption.
7. Experiment with the form to learn what resonates.
Some Instagram followers prefer content that tells a story; others are primarily interested in consuming visual content and are less interested in reading a caption of any sort. While followers of Jimmy Chin or National Geographic probably enjoy reading the lengthy captions that accompany content, others certainly will not.
As with recommendation number 4, it is important to adapt content to suit the desires of your target audience. One way to do this is to encourage multiple people to write captions for Instagram. Each person will have a unique voice, all of which may be on-brand. Providing followers with a variety of caption styles to consume can help satisfy the desires of many different followers in the long run.
8. Pick up best practices from popular Instagram accounts.
As has been shown already in this article, there are a number of successful Instagram accounts marketers can learn from and be inspired by.
While Apple has a content strategy focused on UGC, brands like Outside Magazine prefer telling lengthy stories about the subject of the image or video. Spend some time looking at various brands on Instagram, and try to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
9. Include a call to action.
Instagram can be a powerful marketing channel, but you need to put it to work properly. One way to do this is by including a clear call to action in the caption of most, if not all, posts. A call to action encourages followers to take the next step, whatever that might be.
A typical call to action used on many Instagram accounts is “click the link in bio,” which encourages followers to visit a brand’s website. Effective calls to action usually give followers a good reason to take a next step. Offering a discount, exclusive content or a chance to win a prize are all good reasons for followers to take the next step.
10. Partner with an influencer to keep content fresh.
Nearly 95% of marketers who engage in some sort of influencer marketing believe that it is effective. A great way to give Instagram captions variety, and one that can in itself improve engagement, is to partner with an influencer to produce a series of unique content pieces.
Based on the data, you can then determine if this style of content and captions is effective. If it is, you can choose to adopt it yourself or continue to work with the influencer.
Strong Instagram captions have the ability to improve reach and engagement. While there is no “one size fits all” approach to creating effective Instagram captions, there are a few principles that should be followed.
These include understanding what your audience enjoys, testing content and measuring the results, keeping content fresh by partnering with influencers, incorporating a call to action and analyzing successful Instagram accounts to pick up best practices.