With more than 500 million active users, Instagram is the second most popular social media network in the world. And its influence in the world of social media marketing is growing fast. In 2017, the number of brands advertising on Instagram more than doubled, thanks to the platform’s reputation for driving user engagement better than Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. What makes Instagram so engaging to potential customers and how can marketers take advantage of that engagement? Visuals are, of course, king on Instagram. But recent research has found that the captions on an Instagram photo may be almost as important as the image.
Below are 4 key steps to writing the kind of Instagram captions that hold viewers’ attention and drive engagement.
1. Keep It Short
There is no character on Instagram captions, but after 140 characters, the reader has to click MORE to continue reading the caption. Captions should therefore be brief — 20 words at most.
2. Limit Hashtags
Have you ever tried to read an Instagram caption that has every other word hash tagged? Hashtags within the caption can be distracting and downright annoying, so keep these to a minimum. One or two hashtags within the caption should be your absolute limit. Save the rest for after the caption or put all of your hashtags in a comment. The exception to this rule is when you are insert a hashtag mid-sentence to be clever or humorous.
3. Clarity is Key
Fashion designer Coco Chanel famously advised that after getting dressed, women should look in the mirror and take one accessory off. In striving for clear Instagram captions that will grab your audience’s attention right away, you can use the same principle. Read what you’ve written and see if any words can be eliminated.
It goes without saying that spelling and grammar matter in Instagram captions. Because you only have a few words to get your point across, make sure they’re actually understandable! Using slang is fine, but make sure you use spellcheck function on your phone before you post.
4. Be Yourself
A key element of branding is finding a unique voice for a service or product. Think of the advertisements that grab your attention: they’re often arresting because they say something in a unique way.
Instagram captions are not just for explaining what’s happening in the photograph. They can be tools for showing off a unique writing style, sense of humor or point of view. Authenticity is key and clever quips work well. If you’re out of original caption ideas, quotes or song lyrics also work well. Referencing current events and pop culture can also work well.
As more and more brands compete for attention on Instagram, finding a way to differentiate your brand from competitors is critical. Even industries or products that don’t necessarily lend themselves to visual content can and that have struggled with making use of Instagram for marketing can harness the power of the platform. Get in on the Instagram engagement boom by carefully crafting the right captions.
E.T. Carlton is a New York-based freelance writer and social media consultant who specializes in Instagram engagement.