Strategic DigitaLab

5 tips to write captions that are remarkable, inspire action and not cliché-ish.

SO, THIS HAPPENED: we woke up one day with everyone on Instagram having the same backdrops, the same poses, the same colours, the same VSCO filters, and even the exact same image captions. A photo of a glimmering turquoise ocean is labelled “Vitamin Sea.” A snapshot of friends throwing their arms up, “squad goals.” And for just about anything, “I’ll just leave this here.”

Influencer language is “killing Instagram,” at least according to Esquire, which pointed out this pattern of “empty phrases” making appearances on the image-sharing platform. These, according to the article, “have become so ubiquitous to a point that all the amber sunrises and flatlays of tea and toast…feel suspiciously like ads even when they’re not.”

On any given day, there are 500 million people using Instagram. When brands and influencers begin to sound like everyone else, they set themselves up for failure. Not only is copy-pasting a template a terrible technique SEO-wise, it is also an easy way to replace otherwise positive brand vibes with impressions of being unremarkable or lazy, and a quick way to lose potential revenue. Some tips:

1. Front-load the important details.

The caption is a title tag, not a meta description. As soon as you hit “post,” Instagram uses the caption you posted to create a title tag, which is composed of your name + “on Instagram”, followed by a colon and your caption in quotes.

Thus, as in SEO best practices, make your caption focused and keyword rich, keeping in mind to front-load the important details before the title tag gets cut off.

Beyond the search engine results page, Instagram captions also get trimmed in users’ feeds after about three lines of texts or 125 characters, and then they’d have to “click more.” Thus, using the first lines to entice them to click more is best, leaving @mentions or #hashtags or credits for the end of the post.

2. Use a light-hearted, sincere and personable voice.

Companies need to humanise their online persona to stand out in a network already saturated with contrived imagery.

While copy-pasting templates is a no-no, it still helps to mix in a few recognisable terms, but used to your advantage. For example, instead of settling for a one-word caption like “Mood,” drop the brand name or a product name and say it’s “such a mood.”

Be creative and draft multiple versions before finalising the copy. It helps, too, to add useful insights on the subject of the photo. When in doubt, use puns. People always lap up something witty.

Also, use emojis. They’re a shortcut to literally expressing a plethora of emotions beyond mere letters.

3. Keep it brief.

While Instagram imposes a 2,200-character limit, it doesn’t mean you’ll use up all the space in that small tiny box. Given the limited amount of attention that audiences have on social media, you might end up losing users instead of keeping them glued to your message until the end, which is ideally a call-to-action.

Social media management platform Sprout Social pegs the ideal number at 138 to 150 characters that provide great context and compels users to engage.

4. Pull the reins on the hashtags.

Normal: For hashtags, there is a limit of 30, but the magic number is 24, or even less. Avoid stuffing posts with hashtags so you don’t look spammy.

Moreover, there is a thing called shadowbanning, a rather controversial action that social networks are said to be doing in order to hush accounts that seem to act in bad faith. The Economist describes it as follows:

A shadowban, in theory, curtails the ways in which that attention may be earned without blocking a user’s ability to post new messages or carry out typical actions on a network. Shadowbanned users are not told that they have been affected. They can continue to post messages, add new followers and comment on or reply to other posts. But their messages may not appear in the feed, their replies may be suppressed and they may not show up in searches for their usernames. The only hint that such a thing is happening would be a dip in likes, favourites or retweets—or an ally alerting them to their disappearance.

To be safe, stick to fewer hashtags and vary them from time to time.

5. Add a call-to-action.

As in any kind of writing, action verbs make copy that is strong and alive. Likewise for posts, words that encourage users to do something will engage them and involve them with your brand.

It could be as simple as asking for a double-tap if they could relate to a post, or dream of the scenery in the photo. Users can also be encouraged to tag a friend they think should see the content. Questions could invite users to share a story in the comments. Running a contest and inviting users to join is also a proven way to increase following and engagement because who doesn’t love free stuff? Or, it could also be as simple as tap link in bio, and transporting users from the platform straight to your site or online store.

In the end, Instagram captions are the cherry on top: the sweet finish to a perfectly staged image meant to attract the attention of your target audience.

Still, everything else that appears on your Instagram channel must be likewise equally polished: from the name, handle, bio, and the content. Our agency provides consultancy for a variety of social media marketing needs to turn digital efforts into measurable results.

All that said, I’ll just leave this here—Talk to us