The Ultimate Guide to Nailing your Instagram Captions
These days, Instagram is much, much more than just a photo-sharing app. Your beautiful photos are still front and centre, but your captions? They’re now just as important to ensuring people engage with your brand.
“But do people really read them?” you ask. We’re here to tell you yes, abso-freaking-lutely. While your images may be beautiful, it’s the messages that are imparted below them that your audience will remember most.
Thankfully, you don’t need to be the next J.K. Rowling or invest in a copywriting whiz to write a valuable and engaging caption. giving you the lowdown on what it takes to write a great caption.
A good Instagram caption is important: here’s why.
In the time of #selfcare and cleansing one’s feed of accounts that aren’t fulfilling, more and more people are following and investing their time in liking and commenting on Instagram profiles that have snackable, but valuable content that keeps your audience coming back; posts that are interesting, that encourage conversation and discussion, that offer something people can aspire to, and that ultimately inspire.
Sure, you could easily slap together a picture with a caption without putting too much thought into it. Easy peasy. But over time, this won’t work so well – for your mind or your business. The language you use, the tone of voice you create, the post length and information you share – it’s all part of crafting messages that build your brand or small business into something people want to return to again and again.
Now, you may fret that you’re not the best writer. Well, guess what – we’re not best writers either. You don’t need to be the next George R. R. Martin (author of Game of Thrones, for all of you not familiar with its original creator!)
What you do need is a firm understanding of the core values of your business – a series of ideas and themes that encompass what your brand is all about – and a splash of tenacity. This will be the basis for your content; the reference you return back to each time you write your captions to ensure that they align with your business’s ethos.
If you’re yet to start this aspect of your social media journey or have begun but need a bit of help, our Social Media for Small Business workshop is a perfect for learning how to discover and lock in your business’s core values and content pillars, with a side of lunch and champagne to keep your brain juices flowing.
lock down your tone of voice
“Um, a what?” The term might sound foreign, but tone of voice, or “brand voice”, is in every brand, everywhere. It’s in the content you read, the language it’s written in, and the persona it’s coming from. Brand voice is what sets apart one Instagram account from another, and is a crucial element in generating online awareness and engagement.
Think about who and/or what your brand is: is it you? Is it a collective? Or will you create a persona that exemplifies your brand’s values? A quick scan across your favourite Insta accounts will show you that different businesses adopt a variety of different voices to show off their product or service. It’s this voice that people then associate with their brand. And as with your content pillars, your brand voice should be consistent across your social channels and website.
For inspo, start your very own Instagram vision board and fill it with accounts whose brand voices engage and inspire you. From here you can reinvent your favourites and spawn your very own tone of voice.
Now, how to: write a killer Instagram caption
Before we say anything else, we’re going to say this: DON’T FREAK OUT. It seems daunting, we know. And we get it. But we’re here to tell you that there are many, many ways to write an Instagram caption, and we’re going to list a few of them for you, so read on!
Captions can be short for a punchy effect, or long if you’d like to take your followers on an in-depth journey (Instagram give you have 2,200 characters to play with, so it would be rude not to from time to time).
They could be instructional, feature a cool recipe, or simply pose an interesting question.
Just launched a new product or service? Run a competition or giveaway that entices people to win, a great way to gather new followers and re-introduce your brand to the world.
Another cool and fascinating viewer experience for your followers is to show what happens with your brand behind the scenes. Instagram is a beautifully curated world, often regarded as the glamorous and perfect highlight reel of the social media, so giving people a backstage pass and inviting them into your world and how everything comes together – from the creation process to how far you have to go to get your supplies – offers an element of realness that we don’t often see from brands. People love it.
An assortment of emojis to round out your post won’t go astray either 😉👏
As you can see, your caption length and content for every post doesn’t have be identical. Be creative and have fun with it; your followers will see this and respond in kind.
Oh, and another tip: plan ahead. Writing on the fly, while sometimes exhilarating, will likely leave you feeling stressed on the daily as you ponder what to post. Allocate a day to brainstorming and writing content and pairing images; ideas have a tendency to come in waves when we’re in the flow of things. Consider forward planning for the week, the fortnight, or even a full month in advance, as this will not only keep you on top of your IG game, but it will also offer you so much more breathing room to tackle other aspects of your business.
This big and bright planner A3 in size and available in a print-able version or a luxe hard-copy, both perfect for staying organised and jotting down all your ideas in one easy and accessible place – because sometimes you just need to get your notes down by hand.
(even the most digitally savvy of us!)
Create a call to action that inspires your followers to act
Sometimes, even with great content, people need a little push to engage just a little bit more with your content… That’s where a call to action comes in: an enticing directive that makes your followers do something. Not only does it give your captions added punch, it also allows you to gather more info for your business and makes your followers feel just a bit spesh because they feel they’re being invited to be more involved in what you do.
Want to find out what your followers favourite flavour ice-cream is? Encourage them to leave a comment.
Running a competition and want to get as many eyeballs on your brand as possible? Tell people tag their friends.
Want to see your product or service out in the world? Ask people to use your branded hashtag on their pics.
Keen to open up a dialog about a specific topic? Encourage your followers to write their thoughts below your pic.
The most direct way to elicit an active response from your followers in these circumstances is by using words in your caption that invite and encourage action. Think of them as ‘doing’ words. Examples include like “learn”, “discover”, “begin”, “create”, “help” and more.
Another is to pop part of your call to action at the beginning of the caption. While captions have become more important, we still live in a world of scrolling and scanning, so putting the most important part of your call to action at the beginning of your caption – from WAREHOUSE SALE to ✨NEW BLOG POST✨ – will ensure that even if a person glances at your post they’ll still see the main message.
Ultimately, a call to action promotes engagement.
Use strategic hashtags in your Instagram captions
There are approximately a million-bajillion-squillion hashtags to be found on the internet (that’s an estimate, we couldn’t actually find a specific number, probably because they’re being generated literally all the time), but you only get to include a max of 30 hashtags in your Instagram posts (and only 10 for Instagram stories) so how do you choose?
Do your research and find hashtags that are specific to your audience and your brand.
It will be tempting to use ones that are employed regularly (you can see how many times a hashtag has been used by entering it in search field); however, it’s far better to choose hashtags that are a little more niche, have a smaller audience and have an engaging community behind them. This means you’ll tap into users that will show far more interest in your brand than the average person, especially because you can now also follow hashtags.
Once you’ve come up with your list, keep it neat by pasting the remaining hashtags in the first comment below your post. This will hide them from view and maintain a clutter-free caption.
Another way to make your brand stand out with hashtags is creating your own personalised brand hashtag. It’s a great way to build your following and encourage people to engage with your business. Your branded hashtag could be your brand name, a featured product or service, or hone in and focus on a specific campaign. A great example of using a hashtag for a specific campaign is Condé Nast Traveler:
Via their Instagram, @cntraveler, they encouraged their audience to include the hashtag #RoomWithAView on their most beautiful hotel spots with the promise of the potential to be featured on their page. And with a following of 2 million users, that’s substantial exposure to anyone they feature.
Be sure to your followers know about your hashtag, too, so they can use it on their own images. A quick and easy way to do this is to add it to your bio, which makes it immediately visible. Another is to write up a posts about it that fuels everyone’s excitement!
Add mentions, black tags and geotags to your Instagram captions
Another way to expand your reach beyond hashtags is to get stuck into tagging your pics. These are about both acknowledgement and exposure; the former shows your audience that you value the brand/product/service, while the latter will bring you to the attention of the people and/or brands you’ve tagged. There are three tag you can use to do this: mentions, black tags and geotags.
So what’s the difference between the three tags and do you need them all? Let us break it down for you.
Mentions: this is when you tag another Instagram account within your caption. You’ll likely be referencing them directly. It might be to thank someone who’s helped you, when you’re fangirling about a brand you love and/or you’re collaborating with (also great for competitions and giveaways!), sharing your love for a brand you’d like to worth with, and more.
Black tags: a black tag is for tagging directly on the image. These aren’t initially visible; the only indication that they’re being used is if you spot an icon of a little person in the bottom left corner of an image. Tap on this and voila! All those black tags appear. You would use this if you caption features a person or another brand, but your caption does not directly reference them. You don’t have to know them or the brand personally, either. By adding a black tag you’re acknowledging a brand’s presence in your image; you’re also indirectly sharing their profile with your followers, a move that will show said brand that you like what they do and will hopefully result in them reposting your image and tagging you. This then shares your brand with even more people, getting more eyeballs on your profile. Winning!
As an example: you’ve taken a gorgeous snapshot of the skies while flying to another destination and you’ve written about the beauty of dawn. You’ve then tagged with the airline, which you’ve flown with. This now puts you on their radar (see what we did there?) for two reasons: one, because you’ve acknowledged who you’ve flown with to your audience, which shows you value the airline enough to share it; and two, the airline sees you’re invested in them and, if they like what they see, they may repost your image to their wealth of followers – hello, exposure! If you’re really lucky, they might go one step further and follow you!
Geotags: These give your followers the location your image was taken. This feature works similarly to a regular hashtag, because images can be searched by location under Places. By tagging the location, you’re adding that image to a collection of images of that place. Often, finding the location of that gorgeous little cafe, fascinating installation or idyllic beach spot is half the battle. Geotags, quite literally, puts a business on the map. By geo-tagging your location, you’re making your business (and others) more visible to the Instagram community (it also saves you an abundance of time answering questions about where the picture was snapped!)
Best of all? Using all of these tags together pleases the Instagram Algorithm Gods. The more you implement Instagrams features, the more people will see your content (this goes for Stories and new IG features too)
Stay relevant to and on point with your brand
Just because Instagram provides you 2,200 characters to play with and both Stories and IG TV to make vids does not mean you should be unleashing your tirade about your bad day or sharing your love affair with dog videos on your small business accounts. Is it interesting? Absolutely. Is it relevant? Probs not.
It is so, so important to stay relevant and on point when it comes to posting content about your brand, because it sends a consistent message to your audience and the greater online world about your business. If one post is about the wonderful benefits of your brand, the next is about how someone cut you off in traffic, and then it’s on to drinks with your mates, before finally getting back to your product…
Do you see what we did there? It’s confusing. There’s not a whole lot tying each of those things together. And it will result in people unfollowing because they’re not invested, and they’re not invested because you’re not sending a consistent message #socialmediatruths
We’re not saying you shouldn’t get personal – offering content that’s personable and relatable is one of the biggest drivers of engagement on Instagram. Your content simply has to tie back into your brand. For instance, those topics we sort of forbade you from sharing earlier, like your bad day and your love affair with dog videos, could be woven into a social media caption… if you can make them relevant to your small business.
Example: @kayla_itsines. Australian fitness mogul Kayla Itsines has grown her Instagram to 11.1 million followers, in part, thanks to her 12-week Bikini Body Guides and Sweat app. We say “in part” because her success doesn’t come just from her exercise programs; it’s her honesty, relatability and transparency that makes her so appealing to people. Despite her fame in the fitness world and her busy schedule, Itsines runs her own Instagram account. She talks about her everyday life, from her beloved dogs and her need to clean her house, to the announcement of her engagement and her pregnancy – all of which tie into her core brand values and content pillars and are therefore relevant to her business. This has allowed her to maintain a strong connection with her audience, something she’s then been able to use to grow her brand and her business. She’s so beloved by her followers that they spawned a community based on her workouts: #BBGgirls. Most of all, her posts don’t feel like they tie into some larger business strategy – you can sense that she genuinely cares about her audience.
Are you creating sponsored posts? tell your followers.
Transparency is bigger than ever on Instagram. It’s another facet of the platforms’s trend towards personable and relatable content.
Sponsored posts are also a large facet of Instagram. Businesses will send off their product to another person or business with a significant following and an audience that aligns well with their brand (usually influencers), in exchange for social media coverage. It’s a great tactic to employ to get your brand and your product or service seen by more people – so long as you disclose it to your followers.
The reason why this is so important is that your followers are following you: your brand, your ethos, your business. If you keep waxing lyrical about a person, product or service in your captions without telling them why – especially if it seems somewhat out of the blue – your audience may feel like they’re being pushed into making a purchase and they will call you out on it. Because they’re not following you for that. So if you are working with another business to promote their products you need to be clear and transparent with your audience from the very beginning.
Here are some easy tips on how to do it:
Specifically state that you’ve teamed up with BRAND X to talk about BRAND X’S PRODUCT
Put an #ad hashtag in the main caption where it’s visible
Trust us when we say that your audience will respect you so much for this.
Love the product, wax lyrical about it, but you’re NOT working with them to create sponsored posts? Tell your audience they’re not sponsored posts, you just love the product. You obviously mean well, otherwise you wouldn’t be raving about whatever it is you’re featuring (and that business will be LOVING you for said raving), but you don’t want to give off the I’m-trying-sell-stuff vibe. In fact, they could be even more disposed to you because you’re not being paid to advertise it – you’re simply sharing a great tip, and people love that.
Stuck for motivation? Try a 30-day prompt pack.
You’ve made it to the end of this #deepdiveTheSocialSchoolBlog post – well bloody done! It’s big and it’s meaty and you absolutely deserve a pat on the back for being so hungry for knowledge and devouring it all.
Now we anticipated that your brain might be bulging with all this fantastic new info, so to make easing into Instagram Caption Land even easier we have created something special for you: a 30-Day Prompt Pack. It features 30 writing prompts that are perfect for shaping your content and jogging your brain into spewing forth epic Instagram captions. Time to kiss those “What the hell do I write today?” vibes goodbye.