How to Write Great Instagram Captions That Drive Engagement
By Michael Aynsley
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.
Bonus: Download a free guide that reveals how to increase social media engagement with better audience research, sharper customer targeting, and Hootsuite’s easy-to-use social media software.
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.