As a business owner, it’s impossible to ignore Instagram’s reach. As of 2019, the fast-growing social platform reports more than one billion monthly active users, and that number is expected only to grow.
You may already post stunning photos and videos on your business’ Instagram and IGTV feeds, but if you’re not giving proper attention to your social copy, especially your Instagram captions, you could be losing out on a key opportunity.
Instagram captions can be used to serve your business by increasing your website traffic, your number of Instagram followers, and even your sales. A strong visual on Instagram can make users “slow their scroll” and stay locked on your post, but a carefully thought out caption can do a lot more heavy lifting in terms of marketing and sales.
Table of contents
- What goes into a good Instagram caption?
- Writing strong Instagram captions starts with your campaign goals
- How to write a good Instagram caption
- Examples of brands with great Instagram captions to help generate ideas
- Instagram caption tips, tricks, and answers
- A final note: attracting and repelling
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What goes into a good Instagram caption?
Compelling captions can create more engagement, which is critical when it comes to Instagram’s algorithm. Strong copy in your caption shapes your brand’s story and personality, which in turn helps your followers realize they need what you’re selling. In short: Instagram captions can help elevate your company’s social media success—and that can improve your bottom line.
With the recent updates to Instagram’s algorithm, your posts are more likely to be served (or “seen”) if the platform likes your engagement rates. This metric looks at whether you are receiving a lot of user comments on a post and whether you are responding to these comments. These changes mean that simply having a large number of followers no longer guarantees your posts will be seen—as counterintuitive as that may sound.
Earlier this year, Instagram explained how its algorithm works, saying, “What shows up first in your feed is determined by what posts and accounts you engage with the most, as well as other contributing factors such as the timeliness of posts, how often you use Instagram, how many people you follow, etc.”
What does this mean? For starters, what shows up at the top of an Instagram user’s channel is based on the user’s own activity. So, as a business, you need to entice users to engage with your post, whether that means staying on it for a few seconds, or liking, commenting on, or sharing it. (More on how captions can help achieve these actions coming up.)
I spoke with two Instagram marketing experts to get their insights on how to write Instagram captions that can help improve your sales, reach, and brand affinity.
Meet the experts: Jason Portnoy, president of JPORT Media, a full-service digital marketing and ad agency; and Ashlyn Carter, copywriter and messaging strategist at Ashlyn Writes and founder of the website Ashlyn Writes and the accompanying Ashlyn Writes Shop, powered by Shopify.
Writing strong Instagram captions starts with your campaign goals
Before diving into caption writing, go back to the primary goals of your Instagram strategy and let them guide you. Common overarching goals include:
- Running an awareness campaign to increase your visibility or to increase brand awareness in general (this can mean increasing your reach and number of followers, or driving traffic to your website for awareness purposes)
- Promoting a sale, new product launch, or new collection launch
- Collecting user-generated content with branded Instagram hashtags
If you have an Instagram Business account, you can invest in sponsored posts to ensure your photos are seen by a targeted audience. When putting ad dollars behind a sponsored post (also known as a “promoted post”), it’s worth noting that there are several predetermined calls to action for you to choose from.
Supported call-to-action button options include: Contact Us, Learn More, Book Now, and Download. And thanks to Instagram’s Shop tab and product tagging functionality, Shopify merchants can enable their Instagram accounts to provide users with more about their products with a single tap, and even take users directly to their Shopify store to make a purchase, all within the Instagram app.
If you’re running a purely organic campaign without investing dollars in Instagram ads, then there are two main goals you’ll want your call to action to achieve:
- Driving followers and potential followers to read your caption, head to your profile, and click the link in your bio
- Getting followers to like, comment, or share (by tagging others)
Remember, you can’t place clickable links in organic posts, which means you have to direct users to click the link in your Instagram bio in order to visit your website or product page.
How to write a good Instagram caption
1. Make the most of the first sentence
Instagram shortens your caption after three to four lines, so include important details in the beginning. Only about the first sentence will be seen in a user’s feed, so make sure it’s compelling or asks a question—and don’t put your call to action at the end.
“Treat the initial copy of your Instagram caption like you do with marketing on any other medium: lead with the hook!” says Carter. “When I front load my captions before the line break—that ‘More’ option Instagram gives you to keep reading past the first two lines—and get to the good stuff first, I see better engagement.”
2. Include a call to action or ask a question
Each post should have a purpose and intention, so lead each one with its specific goal and let that goal dictate the call to action. What do you want followers to do:
- Visit your website?
- Shop for a specific product?
- Share the post with friends?
- Shop a promotion?
- Enter a contest or giveaway?
- Snap photos and share using a specified hashtag? (This is a great way to collect user generated content.)
The key is to encourage engagement in order to create a sense of dialogue and conversation. This is also a way to work around Instagram’s algorithm, which looks at engagement as a metric to serve your posts to followers. Encouraging engagement also increases the likelihood your post will appear in other users’ feeds as a “recommended account” to follow.
Here are some actions you can encourage in your caption:
- Click the link in bio
- Leave a comment, usually as the answer to a question
- Tag a friend (this is a great tactic for growing your reach)
- Post a photo using your branded hashtag
3. Add value
“Offer tips and tricks,” says Portnoy, “or any kind of information to help educate or inform to increase the added value of your Instagram post.” Adding value within your Instagram captions will help the user and make the post more likely to be shared and bookmarked.
Learn more: How to Use Instagram Stories for Marketing (And Why You Should)
4. Write like a human (not a robot)
Authenticity matters most. In content and captions, put your real self out there and write as you speak. You may want to be strategic and intentional, but you also want to come across natural and like a friend to the user.
5. Draft your Instagram captions on a separate platform
You’re more likely to think strategically and distraction free if you write your captions on another platform. “I have a clearer head if I get myself off my phone when drafting Instagram captions for my business,” says Carter. “My go-to is Plann for desktop, so I can batch write a slew of captions, come back and edit them, and schedule them to post. That way, I’m not swallowed up by notifications and comparison. I’m writing with a level head and with my marketing goals in mind.”
Remember, when drafting, keep your campaign and engagement goals at the focal point of your Instagram caption. Try coming up with a few alternative ideas for your captions, as the first one you write won’t necessarily be your best. Let your creativity breath, and have fun with the process.
6. Use storytelling
Avoid being neutral—add personality and spice to your captions. “I try to add in two to three sensory words, phrases, or anecdotes that paint a picture,” Carter says. “So describe touch, taste, sound, sight, emotion, feel. Get specific. Don’t just say ‘Tex-Mex.’ Say ‘salty corn chips dunked in guacamole washed down with tart margaritas.’”
7. Use emojis and have fun with them
Sprinkle in emojis to add some extra flavor and animate your captions. Relevant emojis placed at the end of sentences or paragraphs can also serve as “bookends” and aesthetically break up long strings of copy.
Emojis are also a great way to direct readers to take a certain action, such as clicking the link in bio. But if you use emojis, make sure they jibe with your tone of voice and branding. You don’t want to overdo it with a mixed bag of emojis, especially not in the same caption.
If you are working on your brand identity and tone of voice and outsourcing the Instagram caption writing to a freelancer, determine a set of emojis that make sense for keeping things consistent and on brand.
Need some inspiration on which emojis to use for a link in bio callout or to call attention to important text within a caption? Here are some of my favorites:
👉 👆 💥 🔗 🎯 📌 📍
8. Consider caption length
Like most marketing strategies, the copy in your Instagram caption is about quality over quantity. It can be short and snappy or feature longer, more in-depth text.
According to Portnoy, there’s no right or wrong length when it comes to caption writing. “If your post adds value or is interesting, people will read it,” he says. “However, if you’re in doubt whether a post is too long, you’re better off erring on the short side.”
9. Use hashtags
Instagram hashtags are a key way to make your posts searchable, so be sure you leverage them properly. They function like keywords, as they have tracking and searching capabilities.
You may have noticed brands grouping hashtags at the end of a caption or below the “More” tag to keep things looking clean. Some even add several lines of space with periods to set apart the hashtags and really tuck them away from the description space. This is acceptable, but be open to sprinkling some hashtags within the caption to give it dimension.
So how do you know which hashtags to use? Aim for a mix of branded (a signature hashtag you create for your brand), community (used by people in the same industry as you, or used by the influencers you are attempting to attract), product, and other relevant trending hashtags.
Inform your content by taking note of the hashtags used by your competitors, your audience, influencers, and industry leaders.
Examples of brands with great Instagram captions to help generate ideas
1. The Sill and how to use short Instagram captions
Short and sweet Instagram captions are useful when the photo can say it all. Take this example from The Sill, a business that ships beautiful house plants straight to your door. It uses a photo that shows off how people are decorating their homes with the houseplants they order.
What is The Sill doing well with its Instagram caption?
- A short Instagram caption accompanying a beautiful photo encourages people to tag their friends or leave a comment
- Credits and tags the interior artist and their rental space, further increasing reach of their post
2. Soko Glam and how to use long Instagram captions
Long Instagram captions are useful to add context about the image, like with educating or storytelling to further engage readers. Take this example from Soko Glam, a store specializing in Korean beauty products. It would be easy for Soko Glam to simply post announcing its number one product in the cleanser category, but that’s not its method. Instead, it’s shared the use case of its product and how this cleanser tackles customer pain points.
In fact, Soko Glam has prided itself on going against the grain with lengthy but informative Instagram captions—so much so that it has caught the attention of Instagram and been used as an example for other businesses.
What is Soko Glam doing well with its Instagram caption?
- The caption gives detailed steps on exactly how the brand’s top product helps buyers
- It’s integrating its product with trending topics with hashtags, ensuring it’s dialed in, relevant, and part of the conversation
- It’s featuring a clear call to action by telling followers to use the link in bio to receive 15% off of all Soko Glam’s number one rated products
Learn More: How to make money on Instagram
3. Adam J. Kurtz and how to use sassy instagram captions
Bold and occasionally brassy Instagram captions can be used when the tone resonates with your audience, brand, and products. Adam J. Kurtz is an artist and author whose illustrative work is rooted in honesty and a little dark humor, so as you can imagine, his Instagram captions look to push boundaries. But he doesn’t infuse attitude into his Instagram captions for the sake of writing them that way—it’s consistent with his branding across all of his products, down to the slides in his public speaking.
What is Adam J. Kurtz doing well with his Instagram caption?
- The caption is consistent with his branding, from the copy on the photo to the caption itself
- The sassy and funny nature of his caption encourages users to tag friends
4. A Shop of Things and how to use funny Instagram captions
Funny Instagram captions are useful if your product or service has humor inherently injected into it. That’s certainly the case for A Shop of Things, a store that’s filled with cute prints, funny embroideries, awesome pins, and must-have patches. Anyone living in a big city knows first-hand that the sum of their rent doesn’t always equal the quality of their apartment, so A Shop of Things uses funny captions to match its funny products related to the subject.
What is A Shop of Things doing well with its Instagram caption?
- It relates to a specific audience with a funny caption that encourages comments or people to tag their friends
5. Letterfolk and Vaute Couture: how to use seasonal Instagram captions
Writing a seasonal caption is a smart way to mix up your Instagram marketing by taking a break from the usual programming with something timely. Let’s look at a couple of examples for summer and winter Instagram captions.
Instagram captions for summer
Letterfolk is extremely talented at placing its products alongside photos that capture the essence of everyday life. In this example, it capitalizes on knowing that someone always has a friend who can’t wait for summer to be over so they can start enjoying the fall comforts of sweaters, pumpkin-spice lattes, and colorful trees.
What is Letterfolk doing well with its Instagram caption?
- The caption is short and snappy copy that allows folks to quickly tag that friend who loves fall
- It uses its branded hashtag where customers share their own Letterfolk boards to increase post reach and encourage more comments
Instagram captions for winter
In this example, Vaute Couture, a worldwide clothing brand that specializes in vegan apparel and animal friendly designs, collaborates with popular vegan chef Chole Coscarelli to model a winter coat at the time of year people typically start to invest in winter apparel. It’s worth highlighting how it has aligned the brand’s mission and marketing messages with an influencer that shares the same vision and mission. This is the pinnacle of Instagram influencer marketing.
What is Vaute Couture doing well with its Instagram caption?
- The caption gives credit to the influencer modeling the coat, which further extends the post’s reach
- It promotes a discount that will help drive sales
- It features a clear call to action at the end, directing users to click the link in bio to shop
6. Verameat and using Instagram captions for selfies
If you’re a merchant like Verameat, a brand that crafts jewelry, it doesn’t always make sense to use professional photography to showcase bespoke pieces. In this case, Verameat has opted to use a selfie to show off its new Halloween-themed jewelry collection.
What is Verameat doing well with its Instagram caption?
- The caption copy isn’t too long and still clearly announces a Halloween collection
- Its use of emojis is just right and on brand
- It features a clear call to action at the end, directing users to comment and enter a contest
Instagram caption tips, tricks, and answers
Before you get back into caption creativity mode, consider these final pointers to help maximize your brand exposure, captivate your audience, and start achieving your campaign goals.
How to add spaces in Instagram captions
The easiest and fastest option for adding spaces in Instagram captions is by using symbols. Using spaces is particularly useful for keeping hashtags under the “More” tag. Follow these steps to add space in your Instagram caption:
- Write your caption in the caption area on Instagram
- To add a line break, tap on the Enter or Return key
- Add one symbol on the next line. People typically use the period (.) or hyphen (-)
- Tap Enter or Return again, then start typing your next paragraph
- To add more spaces between paragraphs in your Instagram caption, repeat these steps until you have a complete Instagram post
How long can an Instagram caption be?
Instagram captions can be as long as 2,200 characters and can contain up to 30 hashtags. To write engaging Instagram captions, be sure to follow our best practices. To add more insight or more hashtags, use the comment option where you can add a further 2,200 characters and up to 30 more hashtags.
A checklist for posting the best Instagram captions
Before finalizing your captions, consider the following questions (you may want to bookmark this and keep it handy):
- Is your caption informative? Does it provide information or details about your product, a promotion, or your company in general?
- Is your caption on brand? Can a user tell that it follows your company’s tone of voice and overall style?
- Is your caption encouraging an action? Is there a clear call to action at the end of the text telling users to do something?
- Is your caption clean? Does the caption look aesthetically pleasing or is it cluttered with text, emojis, and/or hashtags?
- Is your caption inspiring or adding value? Will the user get something out of the post? Whether it’s new information, a chance to enter a giveaway, an opportunity to connect with other followers by commenting on the post, or a dose of inspiration, your caption should add something to the user’s life. Make an effort to be intentional with your posts and avoid posting for the sake of posting. A user will sooner unfollow your account because they feel your posts aren’t adding value than because you aren’t posting daily.
A final note: attracting and repelling
When it comes to branding, there’s a useful principle to consider known as attracting and repelling, popularized by photographer and strategist Jasmine Star. Essentially, having your brand identity locked down will guide the words and tone you use. And since you can’t be everything to everyone, your branding likely will attract the right clients and repel the wrong ones. That said, focus on your potential customer and how to attract them. This will help keep your eyes on the prize and guide how you’re writing your Instagram captions.
While being strategic is key, this is also an opportunity to show off your brand personality. So make sure you’re combining your brand’s unique point of view with Instagram’s more lighthearted tone. The message is the medium, after all.
Free Webinar: How to Grow and Monetize Your Instagram Account
A free workshop with field-tested Instagram marketing tips. Learn how to grow your Instagram audience and monetize it with an online store.
This article originally appeared in the Shopify blog and has been published here with permission.