Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Instagram Captions That Drive Engagement 101

Compelling visuals may be what Instagram is all about, but an effective Instagram caption will push the engagement needle, getting you more Likes and comments. And engagement, dear readers, is key.

With the recent changes to Instagram’s algorithm, posts now appear in feeds “based on the likelihood [the audience] will be interested in the content.” That means that a photo or video with lots of comments and Likes has a better chance of appearing at, or near the top of your followers’ home stream.

In this guide we’ll show you what goes into a great caption and how to go about crafting your own. We’ll also serve up a collection of Instagram caption ideas and examples from the brands that do them best so you can learn from the pros.

If you need help adding, editing, or deleting the caption of an existing post, check out Instagram’s quick how-to guide.

What makes a good Instagram caption?

A great Instagram caption will add context, show off your brand’s personality, entertain the audience, and prompt your followers to take action. Captions can be up to 2,200 characters in length, include emojis as well as up to 30 hashtags.

Of course that doesn’t mean your captions should be hashtag-ridden essays with lots of distracting emojis. As with any piece of good web copy, your Instagram caption should be attention-grabbing and easy to read. It should also speak to the content and your audience.

12 tips for crafting the perfect Instagram caption

1. Know your audience

Who of Instagram’s 500 million users are your customers and prospects? As explained in our post, The Top Instagram Demographics That Matter to Social Media Marketers, the platform is used by people in all income brackets and is slightly more popular among women than it is with men.

But those are the broad strokes. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to engage them on Instagram.

Because you can’t possibly know every prospect, we recommend building audience personas. These archetypes outline basic details about your target customers, their goals, and their pain points.

Our guide to creating audience personas outlines the questions you need to ask yourself to determine who your customers are. How old are they? Where do they live? What sorts of jobs do they have? What do they do outside of work?

Answering those questions takes a bit of research. Luckily we’ve created a four-step guide to make that process as quick and easy as possible.

Once you know who you’re speaking to, you can answer questions such as:

Will my audience understand this reference?
Are emojis and netspeak appropriate to use here? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Do I need to add more context to this photo?

Answer those, and you’re well on your way to satisfying tip number two.

2. Identify your brand voice

If you haven’t identified your brand voice as part of a broader social media marketing plan, ask yourself: what are the qualities and values I want my brand to embody? Make a list and use it to shape your voice. You might also try jotting down a few adjectives that describe your brand and use those to refine the voice.

In general, Instagram users don’t expect a formal or serious tone. Of course it depends on the industry and audience, but you should strive to keep things light, use humor where appropriate, and show your personality.

The social media marketing team at Oreo do a great job of this, combining humor and whimsy to tell the brand’s story.

3. Consider length

Remember that most people scroll through their Instagram feeds at a brisk pace. If there’s any doubt as to how long your caption should be, keep it brief. Give context where you need to, but if the post speaks for itself, let it.

That said, if there’s an interesting story to tell behind the photo, then share it. National Geographic’s Instagram account is one of the best at the longer-form caption. As impressive as the magazine’s visuals are, the accompanying text always adds value.

4. Place the most important words at the beginning of your caption

Captions are cut off in users’ feeds after a few lines of text, so you need to convey your key point or call to action right away. Put any @mentions and hashtags (more on those later) at the end.

Also, leading with the most important words is simply good writing practice. Hook the reader in and give her a reason to tap more.

5. Edit and rewrite

Take your time and don’t be afraid to go through several drafts,, especially if your captions are more than a few lines long. Great copy—whether it be humorous or inspirational—always comes on the rewrite.

Make sure every word supports the content and message you’re trying to convey. Cut out words that are clearly unnecessary to keep it as concise as possible.

6. Use hashtags, but use them wisely

Instagram posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6 percent more engagement than those with no hashtags, according to a study by Simply Measured. So use them when they are relevant to your post and target audience—but don’t use so many that they crowd your copy and make it difficult to read.

As we explain in The Complete Instagram Hashtag Guide for Business, if you don’t want to clutter your captions, there are two ways to “hide” your hashtags:
Separate your hashtags from the rest of your caption by burying them beneath dots and line breaks. Once you’ve finished composing your caption, tap the 123 key. Select return and then enter a period, dash, or asterisk. Repeat those steps at least five times. Because Instagram caps off captions after three lines, the hashtags won’t be viewable to users unless they tap the more option.
Don’t put hashtags in your captions at all. Instead, include them in the comment section below your post. Once other people leave a few comments, the hashtags won’t be viewable unless the option to See all is selected.

7. Pose a question

One of the easiest ways to get more comments on your photo is by using the caption to pose a question to your followers.

It could be a yes or no question, a skill-testing question, or an open-ended question.

You could also use the caption to solicit your audience for tips or recommendations.

8. Give a shout-out with an @mention

Does your post feature another Instagram user? Include their handle in the caption so your followers can check out their profile too. By mentioning another user in the caption, you’ll likely compel that user—and possibly some of his followers—to also engage with your content.

9. Encourage engagement with a call to action

Want to drive engagement? Ask for it by inviting people to leave a comment, tag their friends, or weigh in with an opinion.

Of course the content of the post will have to be compelling for them to want to do that—so be sure to put your best foot forward before you put your hand out. It will reflect poorly on your brand if you try to solicit engagement but receive only silence in return.

Alternatively you could make your call to action too good to refuse. Ask your followers to enter a contest to win a prize.

10. Don’t be afraid to use emoji

Are emoji appropriate to use within an Instagram caption? [100 percent emoji]

The adorable animated icons can help draw the reader’s eye in and are a great way to add a bit of personality to your caption.

Emoji can also stand in for entire words, keeping your copy short and fun.

11. Try using quotes

Not the clichéd inspirational variety, but ones that are specific to the post. Maybe it’s a quote from the person who captured the photo, as GoPro often does with their user-generated content.

Or it could be a sentiment from the subject of the post, as Nike has done with this video featuring Paralympian Scout Bassett.

12. Schedule your Instagram posts for optimal engagement

Once you’ve crafted the perfect caption to go along with your picture-perfect post, it’s time to publish that bad boy. Or is it?

Depending on your audience and region, there might be more optimal times to post on Instagram. As we preach in our guide The Best Time to Post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, consider your target audience and what parts of the day they would most likely be scrolling through their feeds.

What time are they waking up for a first-thing-in-the-morning browse? When do they break for lunch? And when would they be passing time on their commutes home?

Instagram caption ideas from the brands that do them best

Now that you know how to write the perfect caption, let’s look at some of the most effective caption types and how brands use them to engage their audiences.

The follow-the-link CTA caption

Airbnb uses Instagram to preview accommodations and encourages their fans to click the link in their Instagram bio (which is always changing) to be taken to the listing for more information.

For more tips on how to optimize your Instagram bio for engagement, check out our post Instagram Bio Ideas for Business.
The behind-the-scenes caption

Instagram is a great platform for giving your audience a behind-the-scenes look at your brand. Lush Cosmetics does a great job at this, using their captions to explain how their products are made.

The informative and educational caption

General Electric’s Instagram captions are full of compelling facts about science, nature, and company initiatives.

The instructional caption

Tasty, BuzzFeed’s food channel, pairs step-by-step cooking videos with the recipe itself. Simple + useful = a great caption.

The contest or giveaway caption

There are few things on Instagram more appealing than the promise of free stuff. If you’re running an Instagram contest, promote it in the caption by explaining to the audience how to enter and what they can win.

The cross-platform promotion caption

If there’s more to the story than what you’re able to post on Instagram, encourage the audience to check out one of your other social profiles for a closer look. Mercedes Benz used this tactic to promote their behind-the-scenes Snapchat strategy.

The storyteller caption

As we noted in tip number three, if your post calls for context then by all means take advantage of Instagram’s generous character count.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find any brand or publisher on Instagram who consistently publishes more impactful captions than Humans of New York, which of course are always stories from the subjects of the images.

The minimalist caption

We’ve already stated it in this post, but it bears repeating: if your content is attention-grabbing and speaks for itself, a short—or even no caption—is best.

Now that you’ve mastered the caption, you’re ready to start driving engagement on Instagram with Hootsuite. From within the dashboard you can upload a photo or video, add a caption, and schedule it for publishing later.

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