How do you determine the ROI of your social media campaigns? 30+ social media marketers weigh in with their expert advice.
| Aug 10
Jessica Malnik on May 20, 2021 (last modified on May 17, 2021) • 11 minute read
A picture is worth a thousand words, or is it?
It is easy to overlook your caption. You spend all your time obsessing over grabbing the perfect photo or reel, making sure the lighting is just right, and it has the right aesthetic. Then, when it is time to post, you write the first thing that comes to mind and hit publish.
But, on Instagram, your caption can make or break your post’s engagement rate.
In this guide, we’re sharing some tips to help you write more engaging Instagram captions. Let’s dive in.
While I suspect this is old news for most of you, if you are brand new to Instagram, an Instagram caption is the text description you can add when you post a photo or reel.
Here is an example from Zillowgonewild, a popular and hilarious Instagram account. 🤣
Did you know your Instagram caption can be up to 2,200 characters long?
However, just because you can write longer captions doesn’t mean you should. According to Later, the best performing Instagram posts have captions around 405 characters. Again, that’s just a best practice.
There are many examples where super short captions – like the example below from best-selling author, Mark Manson, can work extremely well.
Alternatively, a caption that is 2,100 characters may also perform well.
The industry you are in, how many followers you have, and how often you post can all play factors. That’s why it is important to test this for yourself.
Editor’s Note: If you are looking for a simple way to view your Instagram Business Profile’s metrics, check out this Instagram Account Overview Dashboard.
Because follower count has an impact on engagement rates, we’ve curated a bunch of caption writing tips from 44 people based on their Instagram follower count.
The curated tips are divided into the 3 following groups:
Interestingly enough, the Instagram accounts we surveyed that had the most followers also had the highest engagement rates. 60% said their engagement rate was 3% or higher.
They also tended to see better engagement rates with longer captions.
When asked about caption writing tips, here were their three top recommendations.
Asking thought-provoking questions can be a simple way to get more comments and likes.
“My tip for businesses to write more engaging Instagram captions is to include a question,” says Dymphe Mensink of Dymabroad. “This gives people an incentive to respond, besides the regular response you may receive. I’ve seen that posts with a question outperform posts without a question in terms of comments.”
“Utilize the first statement to its full potential,” says Olivia Tan of CocoFax. “Instagram automatically compresses the caption after three or four words, so provide critical information at the start. Just around the first sentence can be used in a user’s feed, so make it persuasive or provocative—and avoid including a call to action at the end. Treat the original copy of your Instagram caption the same way you would any other kind of marketing: lead with a hook! When I start my captions before the line break—that ‘More’ choice Instagram provides to continue reading through the first two lines—and get straight to the meat of the caption, I see an increase in interest.”
Using hashtags improves your reach and discoverability on the platform.
“Use relevant hashtags,” says Louis Swartz of Fio Group. ”Make sure that you mention the important information first, make sure the people know your brand and lastly, ask questions to encourage engagement.”
Interestingly enough, engagement rates go down the fewer followers you have. Whereas, most accounts with 50k+ followers saw engagement rates over 3%. The average engagement rate for accounts with 5k – 25k was between 1-3%.
Similar to larger accounts, longer captions tend to perform better.
When asked about caption writing tips, here were their top three recommendations.
People want to connect with other people on Instagram. Storytelling is a great way to humanize your brand.
Kristen Corral of Little White Dog says, “The most successful IG posts even for businesses are ones that have a personal message. Storytelling on IG gives people the opportunity to see the personality of the business and the business owners. Customers are leaning away from supporting corporate and want to support brands they have similar values with. The biggest mistake I see small businesses making is trying to hide behind their brand instead of showcasing why they created that brand and highlighting the values of the brand.”
Vickie Pierre of CarInsurance101.com adds, “Don’t be afraid to connect with your audience emotionally, even if that means writing a long caption. Bottom line? People love good stories — it’s just part of our nature. And when it comes to sharing stories of triumph, encouragement, and hope, those are the ones that people remember. And as long as you’re trying to increase brand awareness and identity, it will never hurt to be remembered by a powerful, relatable story.
Therefore, any time you have an opportunity to share a great story – go for it! Even if that means writing a longer caption. The key will always be in choosing the right words — don’t be overly wordy, but aim to be conversational. Go right to the heart of the matter and be plain.
And if you need to begin with a draft and make edits, have at it. Does this mean that every single one of your posts needs to be full of emotion, or centered around a strong story? Of course not! But the point is to actively seek out those stories, and when it’s right, showcase them in the best way possible. You might be surprised to find that in doing so, you’re making connections and winning over audiences that you never thought you could connect with before.”
While long captions tend to perform better, that isn’t a universal rule. It is important to run your own experiments.
“Study your audience and carry out testing on your posts,” says Peter Lee of Famlee Digital. “Some are going to work better than others, but from experience, a deep knowledge of the industry carries a lot of weight. If you are in a niche and people follow you, it’s for a reason. We tailor our content for us and for clients in such a way that all of it is based on what the client wants. People follow others to enrich their online lives, tailor your content toward that.”
Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers adds, “To write more engaging Instagram captions, I recommend you write long-form stories. You want to write stories your target audience will relate to. How? Think about a problem your audience is facing, start the caption by speaking about this problem and tell a story of how you were able to find a solution for that problem. By doing this, your message will resonate with your followers and they will start engaging with your posts.”
Don’t be afraid to have fun and tell jokes on Instagram.
“Make use of humor,” says Miklos Zoltan of Privacy Affairs. “You don’t have to be a comedian, but if you’ve ever spent too much time on Instagram laughing at memes, you know that humor can be an effective engagement tool.
Repurposing amusing tweets and posts quote graphics for company pages can be an easy way to inject a little humor into your social media while keeping a consistent brand. In fact, I used this exact strategy for our Instagram account and saw a massive increase in engagement, increasing from 20-30 likes per post to 200-300.
The trick is to find your own voice in this situation. As a tech expert, your sense of humor will undoubtedly vary from that of a motivational speaker, but keep your tone and audience in mind. Simultaneously, don’t overthink it. Experiment to see what happens.”
Smaller Instagram accounts had the lowest average engagement rates.
Coincidentally, they were also the most likely to write shorter captions or not have any process in place for measuring caption length.
When we asked smaller Instagram accounts (less than 5,000 followers), here were their top caption writing recommendations.
In an earlier tip, we mentioned the importance of making your first line count. However, this should extend to the first 65 characters.
“Although one can use Instagram on a desktop, the creators optimized the image-sharing platform for a mobile experience,” says Moss Clement of Moss Media. “It indicates that a user can only see the first 65 characters on their feed before scrolling down to read more. Or he can hit the “More” tab to read the rest of the content. But that depends on the device you’re using. So, since you’re competing for attention with other marketers, it would be best to present vital information first. It helps you catch users’ attention and quickly engage them before they scroll away to other posts. Therefore, to create Instagram captions that get results, outline your most essential information first. Also, ensure that your captions are between 125/150 characters.”
Another key is to make it clear what you want your followers to do next.
“If you want more engagement with your Instagram captions, you need to give people the opportunity to engage with you,” says Nikola Roza of Nikola Roza- SEO for the Poor and Determined. “What does it mean? It means that every caption should be capped off with a strong CTA telling them exactly what to do.
Remember, these are not some lukewarm followers. These folks watching your Instagram stories are very warm to you and your brand and they want to click and engage if you tell them how and make it easy by providing a link. So do it, and don’t feel bad about having a link with every story. Folks that want to click, will do. Followers that don’t want, won’t. And no hard feelings on your or their part:)”
Mia de Villa of Genbook adds, “Don’t write fluff in your captions and be straight to the point with what you want your audience to do. Businesses can include a call-to-action in every post caption that is not a hard sell. It can be: tag a person, drop an emoji or save this post as a reminder. However, err on the side of brevity and simplicity. A mistake would include too many call-to-actions in an Instagram caption that your audience won’t know what to do. If you confuse your audience, you’ll lose them.”
Editor’s note: Use this free Instagram Business (Audience Overview) dashboard template to gain insights about your audience and followers’ growth. This dashboard will help you understand your user base better and drive more ideas about post strategies and CTAs.
Finally, make sure to format your captions so that they are easy to scan.
“While the content you include in your caption is detrimental, it’s important to also think about the structure,” says Jordania Nelson of Divining Point. “Whether your brand creates short captions or microblogs, formatting is key. Here a few tips for structuring Instagram captions:
If you want to crack the code and amass a huge following on Instagram, it is important to give just as much thought to the copy as well as your photo or reel.
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