Instagram may be known for photo and video content, but that doesn’t mean captions are any less important. Stunning visuals can lead to likes and followers—but a well-crafted caption can capture public interest and help convert user engagement into sales.
While different kinds of posts call for different captions, there are some simple tips you can follow to improve your caption game today. We’ll also look at common misconceptions around factors like caption length and number of hashtags.
As a social media manager, it's my job to write Instagram captions that do just this. In this article, I'll share some of my best tips for writing picture-perfect captions each and every time. We’ll see what kinds of captions go best with what types of Instagram posts, and I’ll also dispel some misconceptions around factors like caption length and the ideal number of hashtags.
What makes a good Instagram post?
A well-written Instagram post should inspire people to take action, whether that’s purchasing your products, sharing your content, or visiting a link in your profile for more information.
To create this impact, you’ll want to engage in storytelling, show your personality, add context, and provide genuine value. People are on Instagram for a reason. Everybody on Instagram wants something, and as a brand, your job is to satisfy that need.
Different kinds of Instagram posts
Before you write your next caption, decide what type of Instagram post you want to create. I’ve outlined the different types below.
Brand awareness campaigns
As the name implies, brand awareness campaigns are designed to increase brand recognition and awareness. Recently rebranded companies and start-ups can benefit the most from these campaigns.
The following campaign ideas can help bring awareness:
- Contest/giveaway: Encouraging people to tag a friend to enter boosts visibility.
- Influencer-sponsored post: Use an influencer’s audience to your advantage.
- Paid Instagram ads: Introduce your brand to new users.
- Collaboration with another brand: Promote your products to that brand’s existing audience.
A sales campaign aims to convert engagement into sales. Its success relies on followers being ready to buy.
This type of campaign might include:
- Demonstration videos and how-to guides: Use these to explain the benefits of a product or service.
- Discount codes and limited offers: Provide incentives that encourage people to shop immediately.
- Sneak previews of upcoming products: Build excitement around your product, leading to more buying interest.
User-generated content (UGC) is content about your brand that others have created and published. This includes reviews, unboxing videos, and products tagged in photos.
UGC helps you to demonstrate that your brand is trustworthy, as it shows that customers are satisfied with their purchases.
Here are some ways to encourage UGC:
- Personalize hashtags: ask your followers to use a specific hashtag when they share images of your brand
- Upload customer content to your brand’s Instagram page and stories (be sure you get permission first).
- Create a campaign that asks people to upload a particular photo or caption when they share your brand. For example, a dog pet food brand can ask customers to post photos of their pets with their treat products, sharing why their dog was given the treat.
Generally, once a post reaches 100,000 likes or views, it is considered viral. This excludes popular Instagram accounts such as Kim Kardashian’s where this type of engagement is already common.
For content to go viral, it has to spread quickly through Instagram by being shared by thousands of users. Researching popular content your target audience interacts with can improve your chances.
For example, you can search for relevant #hashtags using the search bar to find the most popular posts with this tag.
Alternatively, you can do some competitor research and see which of their posts have had the most success. You may want to create a dummy account to see what they are sharing anonymously (it’s also a good way to keep all your research in one place, without cluttering your main account).
Another option is to add a twist to current trending posts. Recreating a viral trend can be an effective way to get noticed, as the relevant hashtags already have a lot of traction and followers. In fact, there are entire websites dedicated to rounding up the most popular trending videos, with instructions on how to recreate them, complete with links to audio.
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Each of these posts may require a different tone of voice. For instance, you may want your sales and brand awareness posts to be educational and friendly, whereas viral posts tend to be more informal, entertaining, or emotive.
Consider how to adapt your brand’s tone of voice in captions based on these different types of Instagram posts.
Finally, keep in mind that industry language and complex words may be suitable for your website, but social media tends to be simpler.
Instagram caption best practices
Instagram is a social sharing app, so people expect to connect with other people. Humanize your content and prioritize authenticity. Use clear, simple, conversational language—as if you were speaking to your audience.
Short paragraphs and the odd emoji (not too many!) can break up text and make your captions easier to read.
Finally, be sure to consider your target audience. What are their pain points, objectives, desires and interests? What problems do they have and what solutions can you offer? Will they respond best to educational content, for instance, or inspirational posts? Are you trying to capture new audiences that aren’t aware of your brand or industry, or are you trying to convert users of some other product or service?
With this in mind, here are some key elements to include:
A strong opening sentence
Your opening sentence must be enticing enough to encourage people to click “more” and read the rest of your caption. The longer someone spends on your post, the more chance of Instagram improving its visibility.
Surprising statistics, a question, an announcement, and an intriguing statement can spark interest.
A competition post could open with “Giveaway Alert”, while an educational post might share a statistic such as “UK coffee drinkers make around 95 million cups of coffee a day”.
If you’ve launched a new product, such as a pink lipstick range for Valentine’s Day, your opening sentence could be a statement such as “Red is out and pink is in.” These short opening sentences are great for creating interest.
Storytelling helps sell your brand without sounding salesy. Rather than just listing the benefits of a product or service, focus on emotive language and story-telling. Allow your audience to connect with the subject of the Instagram photo.
For example, suppose you’re advertising a hotel in a hot country. Your caption might be, “Visit our apartment to enjoy delicious food, great views, and a warm climate”.
But a better caption would be: “Come enjoy views of the glistening sea from your bedroom apartment or head downstairs to soak in the sun on one of our relaxing sun loungers. Just as the sun brightens the sky, head to the bar for a continental breakfast of light pastries served with freshly squeezed juice”.
The second example paints a picture and encourages the reader to visualize themselves experiencing the photo fully. The goal is to excite them and create a sense of desire or longing.
Another effective storytelling method is to use the PAS (Problem-Agitate-Solution) approach. Describe a problem faced by your followers or target audience, further agitate them by connecting it to some negative emotion or experience, and then offer a solution (typically, a product or service you offer).
For example: “Many people struggle when it comes to writing Instagram captions. But it’s an essential part of the user’s experience, which means you have to get it right. Fortunately, we’ve put together a list of six simple tips for doing just that, every time.”
Length - is longer or shorter better?
Providing real value to your audience is more important than a specific length. That being said, research by social media-focused marketing company Fohr and social media management platform Hootsuite both suggest that longer captions result in higher engagement. Other sources say that 138 to 150 characters is a good sweet spot, while SproutSocial’s research suggests captions shorter than 50 characters do best.
Clearly, there’s no consensus. Focus on providing concise value to your readers. Educational and informative posts may work best with more said about them. But a short, punchy, clever caption can speak volumes, too.
Your best bet is to test out what works for your brand. Try different lengths and see which posts do well, and then use that to guide your decisions.
Call to action
A call to action (CTA) is a prompt that encourages people to perform a specific action.
For instance, “Like this post if you agree” or “Tag your friends who need to read this”.
Your CTA should relate to your type of Instagram post.
For example, a brand awareness campaign could ask people to click on your website link. To boost UGC, you could ask people to upload content of themselves using your product. Finally, a sales campaign could ask people to use a discount code before it runs out, while a viral trend post could ask people to share.
Emojis can help you show off your personality. They also make your captions more aesthetically pleasing.
Placing them around your opening sentence helps capture your readers’ attention.
For example: “🚨Last Chance to Enter Giveaway🚨”
Placing them at the end of a call to action can help direct readers.
For example: “Head to the link in our bio now ⬆️🔗”
You can also use emojis to express humor. If your image has a relatable quote such as:
Today’s the first day of August.
Still trying to start my New Year Resolutions.
You might start your caption with: “Guilty 👀👀”
Just bear in mind that adding too many emojis can make your caption look unprofessional. Keep it to around three.
Using the right Instagram hashtags can help potential customers find your content. One study found that between seven and 30 hashtags create the best engagement rate, while Instagram itself recommends three to five hashtags per post.
While evidence is not conclusive on the number of hashtags (and so may require some testing), thirty is the maximum number you can add per post.
As with caption length, when it comes to hashtags: think quality over quantity. Relevant hashtags that relate to the theme of your content and ones that your customers already use and follow can help your content reach your target audience.
The most popular hashtags tend to be the most generic, such as #love and #fun. Because so many other people use them, it can be hard to get noticed. That is, your target audience may struggle to find you. Instead, focus on a mixture of popular and niche hashtags.
As an example, the hashtag #weddingphotoshoot has just less than 1 million posts. A photographer could use this as well as #weddingphotographeruk, which has fewer than 100,000 posts.
In addition to mixing up hashtags, don’t hesitate to create your own! Having a personalized hashtag can turn your customers into a community. The clothing company Sweaty Betty created the hashtag #iamasweatybetty, encouraging customers to post pictures of themselves exercising in their clothes.
Place your branded hashtags and the most relevant ones next to your caption and then add space or a line of bullets to separate your other hashtags.
Use this handy caption checklist to make sure your captions fit your purpose:
The key to success
Adding an engaging caption to an interesting photo allows you to reveal more about your brand, provide greater value to your followers, and capture new audiences.
The key to success is to focus on your target audience. How can your tone of voice and storytelling attract them to your posts? Use descriptive language, start with an intriguing opening, and don't forget to always mention a CTA.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.