Good Instagram captions can make or break your Instagram marketing game.
Think about it.
The importance of a well-crafted Instagram caption is threefold:
- They let you show off your personality (allowing you to stand out as a brand);
- They give you an opportunity to include a call-to-action (directing your followers on HOW they should react to your posts);
- They allow you to include hashtags (and thus, increase the likelihood of getting new Instagram followers).
Instagram captions are critical to your success on the platform. And yet, they are often overlooked.
So here’s the deal: if you think “anything goes” in terms of your caption copy on Instagram, it’s time to have a heart-to-heart. Although your captions may not seem like a big deal at a glance, they represent a make-or-break piece of engagement between you and your followers.
If you think you have room to improve your Instagram caption game, you’re probably right. In fact, I’m going to walk you through 7 caption strategies to spruce up your Insta-game and improve your level of follower engagement. Regardless of what your feed is trying to achieve, any combination of these tips can help you out.
So let’s drive right in!
7 Tips to Write Good Instagram Captions
1. Tell your story
“A picture’s worth a thousand words” rings true on Instagram. Every business and their respective photos have stories to tell, don’t they?
Storytelling captions allow businesses to get “real” with their followers. Captions can humanize your brand dramatically, giving it both a face and a voice, if you start telling stories.
Take a look at Canva to see what I mean.
They ran a campaign telling some personal stories of their customers, telling who they are, what their deal is, and how (and why) they use Canva. There’s more storytelling aspect to this, that proves to work very well when you need to engage your followers:
Like humorous captions, storytelling posts likely aren’t something most businesses are going to implement on a regular basis. They’re perhaps most effective when they “interrupt” your regular content. When met with a chunk of text that’s out of the ordinary, followers are much more likely to take notice.
That’s not to say that some brands don’t thrive exclusively on storytelling captions, though. Humans of New York is a great example of how stories can tug at the heartstrings of your followers:
As long as your stories have a positive message at their core and are somehow related to your business, you’re good to go.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask
As the old saying goes, if you want something sometimes it’s best to just ask for it.
Whether you’re strapped for Instagram caption ideas or feel that your followers have grown a bit cold, consider crafting captions that pose questions to them. This keeps you from coming off as overly-promotional AND can help you learn a thing or two about your customers 😉
If nothing else, question-based captions serve as an opportunity to encourage likes and comments on posts that otherwise might not receive much love. Look at this example from Southwest Airlines, which poses a playful trivia-style question to their followers:
A simple question at the end (“Can you name the other?”) increased the number of comments on the post, with people chiming in and participating in the thread.
Remember: people LOVE talking about themselves. So ask them something! What are they up to? What did they do yesterday? What’s their favorite ice cream flavor? The sky’s the limit, honestly. If you don’t know where to start, keep in mind that asking something of your followers shouldn’t necessarily require a long-winded questionnaire or paragraph to be effective. Sometimes, a simple “How are you doing?” is more than enough.
Finally, question-based captions aren’t just a tactic to increase engagement on your Instagram posts. They’re also a way to do user research, learn something new about your followers, and, consequently, improve your Instagram strategy.
3. A sense of humor never hurt nobody
Personality goes a long way for businesses looking to define a brand identity on Instagram.
Rather than consistently take a “suit and tie” or professional approach to your content, consider the benefits of injecting some humor into your feed. Your followers are more than likely bored with spammy, salesy content. Giving them something to laugh at not only helps you stand out from the crowd but also better defines your brand.
Although you don’t need to constantly play a comedian on Instagram, light-hearted posts every now and then are always a nice touch for followers. Check out this silly post from Warby Parker as a prime example:
The post cute, easy to consume, easy to engage with — and the caption is short, sweet, and, as they say, “snackable”, which goes well with the post.
4. Show your followers some love
User-generated content is the bread and butter of today’s Instagrammers, especially considering that UGC generates 6.9x higher engagement than brand content. If you have followers that are happy with your product and are willing to sing your praises, you should mention them in your caption and show some love.
Even massive brands like Starbucks take the time to regram their followers. (Make sure to tag your followers’ accounts accordingly, though, and ask permission before using their content as part of your campaign.)
In terms of caption copy for UGC, most businesses simply say “thanks” or provide a snappy one-liner to couple with their customer photos. However, you can go a bit further than that and tell a story about a user whose post you regrammed (remember Tip 1?).
Either way, a good Instagram caption for a UGC post will require creating a sense of appreciation for those followers that are showing off your products AND encourage them to do the same.
5. Hone in on your hashtags
Plain and simple, Instagram captions featuring hashtags drive more engagement than those without them. Besides, it only takes a few seconds to include a few hashtags in a post.
Choosing the best hashtag for your posts doesn’t have to be rocket science, either. Businesses have a choice between branded and non-branded hashtags, or a combination of both.
For example, big-name brands usually rely on branded hashtags, not only to harvest UGC, but also to strenghen their brand story or a particular campaign.
However, it’s often a smart move to go after non-branded hashtags as well.
While the main purpose of hashtags is to increase the discoverability of your posts and boost those engagement rates, hashtags are also a perfect way to narratively compliment your photo. What I mean is, the hashtag doesn’t need to be too straightforward. It can also be funny, newly invented by you, personalized, and add something extra to your original caption.
Just be creative! And don’t afraid to be different.
6. Take advantage of tagging
Good Instagram captions should not only reward and show love to your current followers, but also work to bring new followers into your feed.
As a result, “tag a friend” posts represent a playful way to encourage your current followers to introduce friends and non-followers to your business. Oftentimes, tag-a-friend posts are coupled with a topical hashtag and provide followers a chance to give someone a shoutout.
Here’s a great example from a post by Alex Andani, which takes advantage of the #BestFriendsDay hashtag and asks followers to tag their besties:
Although tag-a-friend posts aren’t something businesses should use every day, they represent a fun, organic way to engage your followers — and give you some some fresh ideas for Instagram captions.
7. Sometimes less is more
Sometimes it’s okay to let your pictures speak for themselves.
Minimalist captions represent the opposite of storytelling posts, using as few words as possible to highlight a bold or striking image. There’s no secret to crafting minimalist posts, and much like storytelling posts they’re usually used sparingly. Here’s a simple yet effective example from H&M:
Minimalist captions offer yet another stylistic choice for those looking to make an impression on their followers. Check out how Forever21 uses a three-word caption to pack a punch:
And if you don’t feel “creative” enough to craft such a caption yourself, don’t fret. Anything from one-liners to famous quotes and song lyrics is totally fair game if you’re in need of inspiration.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of options for businesses on Instagram when it comes to crafting captions. From mainstays, such as hashtags and UGC, to creative options, like storytelling, businesses have plenty to work with to help their posts stand out in the feeds.
When you plan and schedule your Instagram content, pre-writing your captions ahead of time is always a good idea!
Over to you! Do you always write your Instagram captions? 🤔
This article was originally written on June 28, 2017. Last time updated: July 11, 2018.