How to Write Great Instagram Captions

A couple years ago, consumers and followers merely desired for their favorite brands to have a presence on Instagram, in addition to Facebook and Twitter. Now it has become an expectation.

Instagram, with more than 600 million active users, poses a lucrative business opportunity, as well as pressing responsibility, for marketers. According to Statista, Instagram is most popular with teens and millennials, and is even more popular among youth than Facebook and Twitter. Instagram also is better at drumming up user engagement than Twitter. Because of its emphasis on visual information sharing, it can be a powerful social media tool.

As with any tool, however, the real impact is derived from proper use. Since Instagram is designed to be a photo-sharing website, adding a caption that boosts the photo, rather than detracts from it, can be tricky. As you incorporate Instagram into your marketing strategy, here are a few caption-writing tips to guide you.

Pick a style that fits your audience

Every marketing decision you make should be about who you want to attract or retain as clients. That is a central question when developing a brand personality. Once you’ve crafted that personality, own it. One consideration you must make, according to an online article for the Wall Street Journal, is whether you will take a storytelling or minimalist approach on Instagram. In general, most experts advise marketers to keep their captions short and sweet (about 200 characters, or three to four lines). However, some of the top brands on Instagram, like Nike and National Geographic, have found success occasionally applying longer narratives that tell a good story. See the example from NatGeo below. Whichever approach you take, make every word count.

Limit your use of hashtags

Industry experts concur that hashtags should be used sparingly for branded Instagram posts. In this case, sparingly means zero to three times. While hashtags are useful for attracting followers, driving engagement and giving people easy access to enter a discussion on a specific topic, having too many is distracting and amateurish. An alternative option, suggests a post from the InkHouse blog, is to avoid hashtags altogether in a caption — unless they are part of the actual caption or part of a campaign — and instead put several of them in the first comment on the post. Similarly, you should use emojis wisely. According to the Wall Street Journal, these cartoon-like characters can add “a bit of flare to a caption,” but they should be used one at a time, not consecutively. In the post below, Target made good use of one emoji and one hashtag.

Pose a question

You want to find creative ways to get followers to interact with your post. Asking a question is a particularly effective method of doing so. Most people like voicing their opinions — especially about innocuous topics on social media. According to a blog post from Sprout Social, asking questions that prompt answers is a good way to get feedback from your users. It shows you “trust their opinion and you’re willing to listen,” the post states. However, before posing a question, make sure you or someone else from the company can dedicate time to responding and building the conversation. Here is H&M employing the question-asking technique.

Redirect the right way

Unlike with Twitter and Facebook posts, Instagram posts do not allow for embedding hyperlinks. That means you need to find alternative ways to direct followers toward your website or a specific landing page for a campaign or product. According to the AddThis Blog, the only place to include a clickable link is your profile’s bio section. As you only have 150 characters to do so, the post cautions to “choose wisely.” Here is an example of Nike referencing their website in a caption.

Another option is to put a non-clickable link in your post. If you want to try that, it is best to get a Bitly URL for the page, as Starbucks did in the post below. Most bitlinks are about four to six characters and only include numbers and letters, making people more likely to copy and paste the address into a browser.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Finally, as InkHouse points out, there is no universal standard for a perfect Instagram caption, because each brand’s audience is different. While you may want to keep within certain parameters, don’t be afraid to “test different things, spot trends in performance and optimize to create more success,” the blog states. As trends are constantly changing and users are frequently searching for something new and different, creativity and experimentation can help you stay ahead of the curve. The most important thing, according to AddThis, is that you track results and apply what you learn to your next caption.

Originally published at on March 27, 2017.

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