I remember when Instagram was yay high. When we were just kids posting filtered photos of street graffiti.
That all changed when I signed on as YOGABODY’S in-house copywriter.
The company’s Facebook game was on point, but we wanted to give it a bigger go at selling our products on Instagram, too.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. You mean to say I can’t just use pictures of fit yoga women and the quote “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” and call it a day?
Not anymore. That’s right… Instagram is straight grown.
Oh, they grow up so fast.
To boot, its users aren’t preteens just handing out those red-hearted likes like candy on Halloween night anymore. They’re also… shopping.
Instagram users spend $65 on average per purchase (more than on Facebook), and the ‘gram has seen a 115% increase in engagement since 2012.
What does that mean for your eCommerce business?
Instagram captions perform better
when they use conversion copy techniques.
The copy is the difference between a follower (who likes your photos) and a customer (who buys your products).
Images may grab the reader’s attention as they endlessly scroll, but according to Instagram’s algorithm, posts that get activity (likes, comments, shares and tags) are seen as valuable and therefore are promoted beyond your feed.
Your Instagram caption—AKA copy (we’ll use these terms interchangeably for this article)—engages your new followers with your brand, which leads to conversions and sales.
Take Glossier for example. Vogue staffer, Emily Weiss, took her lifestyle and beauty blog and spun it into a hugely popular Instagram account where she then launched her beauty line, Glossier. The account now has over 2 million followers and an eCommerce company valued at a billion dollars.
In this in-depth look by Sked Social at Glossier’s Instagram marketing strategy, we see that its posts sometimes hit a 10% engagement rate, immensely overshadowing the average rate of 3%. “They’re knocking it out of the park,” writes Kat Boogard. She says:
“They didn’t fall into the common trap of so many companies where social media was an afterthought—they were proactive about it from the get-go. In fact, Glossier’s account had attracted 13,000 Instagram followers before any products were even launched on the brand’s e-commerce site.”Sked Social’s Kat Boogard
You can still grow your Instagram using great copy even if you don’t have the cult-like following of Emily Weiss.
Let’s look at clever captions that make you likeable.
Instagram gives you 2,200 characters to play with in a caption.
That’s a lot. That’s like a miniature sales page!
While you may have roughly 300 words, not all of them will display in your follower’s feed. Instagram truncates your caption.
That’s why it’s vital to plan those first 2 (mobile) to 3 (desktop) lines with care to not get cut off at an inopportune moment.
Unlike Kanye, Instagram does this with your best interests in mind. They do it to not clog up the feed. Here’s what the max may look like (outlined in red):
Dermstore, which sells professional-strength beauty products online, uses this bite-sized moment to highlight their subscription box service. This is a perfect example of getting your readers to nod their heads in an enthusiastic “yes” to your question. That’s always good copy… even in an Instagram post.
The gold standard: write 125 meaningful characters before the “More…” shows up.
There’s truly so much you can do with that.
Like use it as a way to update your followers about re-stocks.
Mention a sale.
Or use a pop culture reference.
Hey… if Joann Stores (formerly known as Joann Fabrics)—you know, the ones you associate with your elderly neighbor who knit you a scarf that one time for Christmas—can trendy-up, so can you.
Again, Instagram rewards posts with tons of comments and likes by sending them beyond the wall—ahem, beyond your feed. So not EVERY post has to be sale-slash- product-oriented.
But how do I do all that without a big budget?
Glad you asked…
Post user-generated content.
Here’s the thing:
Instagram users love to crowdsource their content.
So how do you take advantage of that?
For starters, you can repost what others have said about you (hello, Voice of Customer data!)—or—this could mean asking influencers and customers to post about YOUR products directly.
For copywriting’s sake, you’ll want to focus on simply reposting user-generated content: show off your customers showing off your products, just like in the GoT example above.
- Someone creates something amazing using your product.
- You see their post.
- You post their post. #repost
It leads to a feel-good trust factor from your fans. And your audience gets to see what your product looks like in a real-life sitch.
Here’s an example from @yogabody. We shared a native post from a Yoga Trapeze user (a YOGABODY product).
I always carve out some time to scour through native posts looking for something I could use—essentially gold-mining.
If the original caption includes a positive comment about our product… YOINK!
This is a golden opportunity to post a customer review directly in your feed, so your audience gets a quick bite of a real review that also feels super genuine.
If your product isn’t talked about (yet), you can #regram someone within your realm.
Dermstore uses an original caption that shows their voice, followed by a quick mention of the user’s photo (for proper cred).
The upside is possibly getting on that special someone’s radar. The downside: it may look as if you can’t create your own content. Use this tactic very sparingly.
Here’s how to #regram:
For photos, you can do this manually.
- Take a screenshot of the photo you want to regram.
- Use the photo editor on your phone to crop everything but the picture.
- Share to Instagram.
- Add a unique caption and @tag the original user in the post.
For videos, you’ll need a reposting app. I recommend SkedSocial.
To emoji or not to emoji?
I won’t keep you waiting…
The answer is…
YES! They’re a quick way to show you’re human. That you’re a clever human. That you’re a trendy, clever human behind the caption. Not at aaaall a copywriter/business person sweating over which emoji to use and where. And what’s this eggplant one and why is it so popular? And oh god how do I emoji?!????
I gotchu. Here’s an app where you can urban dictionary the straight heck out of those little hieroglyphics beforehand just so you don’t make a blunder by accident. Or simply see which emojis are trending so you can have up-to-date lookin’ copy. Because it really matters.
To be honest, emojis are also great for breaking up text, spicing up your copy visually and saying things with fewer words. Here, Glossier uses a down arrow to mean “post your answer in the comments.”
Also, instead of saying “click here,” you could post a pointing finger emoji instead. Here are some ideas of common Instagram copy in emoji form:
☝️ Click the link above / check link in bio
👉 Here’s the link
👇 Check the link below / Leave your comment down below
🙏 We are grateful / We love it!
🔥 Hot sale
🚨 New sale / Important
💣 / ⚠️ time-sensitive sale
💯 The best deal around / We agree!
📷 This photo was taken by: / Photo cred to:
💬 ⬇️ This asks the audience to leave a comment
✔️ Use this to separate new points
But more than that, they actually stimulate a feel-good response from readers which, say it with me folks, creates engagement.
An engaged audience will read a full (300-word) caption.
As people spend less time on desktop reading and an average of 53 minutes per day on Instagram, that means it’s possible to deliver information to them on their favorite social platform.
Here’s how you can do it in a way that makes sense for your business:
Show the benefits of your product.
The Honest Company, founded and run by none other than the Jessica Alba, specializes in ingredient-safe baby products made from renewable resources. They highlight their Organic Belly Balm in this post via photo and loootsss of text.
Tell a story through case studies or other narratives.
You can try in the third person as @honest does here:
Or interview customers and post their story in the first person:
Real human stories like these are 22x more memorable than facts.
Post an update on the company (or other really valuable information).
By now you may be thinking… yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll engage my customers with these excellent tips of yours, Kaleena, (aw shucks) but how do I get more of these Instagrammers-who-shop to follow my account?
Use hashtags so customers can find you easily.
Instagram allows a maximum of 30 hashtags, which is more than enough for the average eCommerce business. These tags are not just some trendy way to play on Instagram but rather a business tool to get people to find your brand.
Think of it as the SEO of Instagram.
Without them, customers will never see your content. You neeeeed to incorporate them into your posts. There are three levels of hashtags you’ll want to brainstorm and use.
They get 79% more engagement and yet, only 5% of posts have ’em!
Essentially, geotags mean you are placed in the geotag page of that city/place. And the better your post natively performs, the more likely Instagram will push it toward the top of the said page.
These tags are great if you also have a brick-and-mortar store or a pop-up like the Glossier example above.
At YOGABODY, we saw a 10% spike in user engagement when we went from a simple #yoga to adding #yogainbarcelona and #yogalosangeles geotags.
TWO: Branded hashtags.
These hashtags should relate to your products, brand name and brand slogan.
For example, if you’re a zodiac-inspired jewelry company called Gemini Jewelry and you sell necklaces on Instagram, your branded hashtags may be #geminijewelry and #whatsyoursign.
Quest Nutrition, which sells protein-rich treats like this White Chocolate Raspberry Quest bar below, sprinkles its branded hashtags #OnaQuest and #Questify into almost every post.
THREE: Niche hashtags.
At YOGABODY, we quickly realized that #yoga is too broad a term —there are around 70 MILLION (!!) posts for that word in the Discover section of Instagram at any given moment. Content gets buried in an instant, only leaving the biggest and baddest of companies to be seen.
Michael Aynsley exemplifies this further in his 2019 guide for hashtags:
“Let’s say you’re a social media manager for a travel agency. There are a ton of hashtags that are popular with jet-setters: #welltravelled, #justbackfrom, #whatsinmybag, and #passportexpress—to name a few. Tag your posts with any number of these and you will likely get a few extra likes.”
But don’t do any guesswork here.
You’ll want to play with different Instagram keyword tools to find a handful of hashtags to begin with, then check Instagram analytics after some time to see what’s working and what’s not.
But just like SEO keywords in a blog post, many Instagrammers see too many hashtags as spammy.
To avoid this, intertwine brand-related hashtags into captions because these are the ones that get a good response and add voice to the copy.
Leave geotags and niche keywords in the first comment of the post.
They’ve found you, followed you, interacted with you and seen your products… Now what?
Let Instagrammers know what they should do next with simple calls to action (CTAs). You can ask them to buy your product, shop your store, or share with a friend.
To choose your CTAs, you’ll need to think about what’s your company goal. Are you interested in building a community? Brand awareness? Product awareness?
On other platforms, CTAs typically include a link so that the next step is as easy as pie. However, Instagram removes clickability within captions to improve user experience (and let’s be real, keep you on their platform for as long as possible).
That’s why the most common CTA you’ll find on Instagram is “Click the link in bio!”
Here, Reformation, a sustainable fashion company, uses this tactic nicely. Mind you they’ve gone beyond writing a simple “link in bio” because that’s so 2018.
Like above, CTAs belong at the end of the caption, after you’ve already warmed up the ‘grammer with why they should care and what’s in it for them.
Humans love to talk about themselves. So, get them talking!
Not only does it start a conversation, but it may also get you some juicy voice of customer data.
(BTW—you can create graphics like that in under 5 minutes using Canva.)
Here are some other CTAs you can use:
- Head to our stories to shop!
- Join our affiliate network
- Download the full guide
- Tell us your favorite!
- Tag someone who’d look good in this (emoji)
- Share your (insert on-brand related term) down below
Take a Gary Vee “jab, jab, jab, right hook” approach by asking followers some easy asks like “enjoy!” “comment!” “check the link!” before bigger asks like “shop”, “share”, or “buy.”
Your bio: The elevator pitch of Instagram.
You have ~10 words to sell yourself.
What do you have to say? This will make or break you!
Just kidding. It’s actually totally changeable at any moment.
As Allie Decker writes in this great article about Instagram copy:
“Brainstorm a few key terms that people might be looking for in relation to your brand, products, or industry. Add these to your bio where relevant. Using Foundr as an example, you’ll see words like epic instead of awesome and the word startup, knowing that our audience responds positively to terms like these.”Allie Decker
If and when you do have a branded hashtag you want to encourage followers to use, it’s good practice to list it in your Instagram bio for ease of reference—just like Joann does.
Your bio is still the only place where you can post a live link. But you do not have to keep it static.
In fact, I’d recommend you constantly change yours. Perhaps as often as you change the bedsheets. I know it’s a hassle, but it should be done weekly.
Why? That link is a chance to increase traffic to your promoted content.
Play around with your entire Instagram bio according to the product or sale you want to highlight or drive traffic to partner accounts such as a blog, podcast, eCommerce shop, or other business.
Since the majority of Instagram users are on mobile, you’ll either want your link to direct traffic to a landing page or use a bitly link pointing to your shop.
If you have sooo many things you need people to see, and you’re not about that ever-changing bio life, try an app like Link.tree or tap.bio which house all the links you’d need followers to be driven to. This is what that looks like:
How to write Instagram copy that won’t be overshadowed by a badass Insta-photo
- Be punchy within the first 125 characters (that’s what the audience first sees)
- Feature customers and how your brand helped them with a struggle through storytelling
- Use emojis related to the post and your brand; use emojis to break up text and point the readers in the right direction
- Post user-generated content to get your audience involved and feeling like rockstars
- Let readers find you through the following hashtag types:
- Geotags like #yogalosangeles.
- Brand-related like #geminijewelry #whatsyoursign
- Niche terms like #yogaeverydamnday
- Scatter a few on-brand hashtags within the caption if you wish, all others belong in the first comment of the post
- Use CTAs at the end of your post with action verbs like share, comment, shop, go, tag, check, buy, or tell
A picture is not worth a thousand words—choose yours carefully and #shineon.