With Instagram’s growing user base, high engagement rate and increased Average Order Value (compared to Facebook), you already know that being present on Instagram is non-negotiable.
You post high quality product images, tag your products for maximum shoppability, post daily stories, have all the right hashtags, dabble in influencer marketing and endlessly fuss over your feed’s aesthetic….
Only then you’re left shaking your fists at the sky and cursing the dreaded algorithm because your post didn’t get much traction.
But when it comes to your Instagram captions, you slap together two to three words, chuck an emoji on the end and call it a day.
So the thing is… it’s not the algorithm’s fault.
Because that caption you barely gave a thought to? It’s the key to increasing your engagement, your reach and, yep, even your sales.
Sure, Instagram might be a visual platform, but your captions will make or break your posts.
As Joanna has pointed out, captions and visuals need to work together:
“…the image may capture attention – but it’s– Joanna Wiebe, Copyhackers.com
the copy that closes people.”
Let’s take a look at the most liked post on Instagram ever:
With over 53 million likes, it’s an EGG (yes, as in the kind you scramble on a Sunday morning).
It’s not even a particularly interesting picture of an egg.
But the caption gives people a reason to like, comment and share. The caption is the reason it went viral. And without that caption, it wouldn’t be a world-record-breaking egg.
The more people that liked, commented on and shared the egg, the more people it reached because:
The Instagram algorithm has heart-eyes 😍 for engagement
When Instagram first introduced the algorithm back in 2016, it seemed like all hope was lost.
Cue the angry hashtags and floods of influencer tears.
But at the risk of sounding crazy, the algorithm is a good thing for your account.
Like most algorithms, it exists to create a positive user experience by showing relevant content (so users stay on the platform longer).
And according to Instagram, what users see is directly tied to which accounts they engage with.
(Call me slightly evil, but that’s something you can use to your advantage.)
And even though The Egg has shown us that the caption is crucial to increasing engagement, many brands still consider captions an afterthought.
But not you.
You’re different. You’re smarter than that. You know that pretty pictures only get you so far.
And from this day forward, you’re going to use your captions to engage your audience, sell your products and increase customer loyalty.Buy 10x Facebook Ads & Save
You in? Then let’s write some scroll-stopping captions
Start by getting their attention, fast
Instagram users are in the habit of scrolling, double tapping and sometimes skimming the first few words of a caption – which means those first few words need to sink a claw into their eyeballs if you have any chance of keeping their attention.
It’s no different than a blog title or email subject line – if you want someone to read more, you need to lead with your most important message upfront.
Pique their curiosity, pick a fight or tease them with what they’re about to learn, and you’ll have them hitting the read more button rather than looking for something more interesting.
You can even throw in an emoji or some all caps to help draw the eye to your first line. However, in the name of all things scrolly, let that first line sit on its own. Give it space to do its thing.
As an added bonus, if you share your post to Stories (which you should, because extra reach 🙌), you can choose to have the first snippet of your caption show there too – enticing people to click through to your post.
Here The Beauty Chef sets up the first two lines of its caption to pique curiosity with an intriguing question that leaves readers wanting to find out more:
Give ’em something to stop for
Users are selective with what they’ll pay attention to, so if they’ve deemed you worthy, then you’d better make it worth their time. The unfollow and mute buttons are only a click away – and they won’t hesitate to use them.
Avoid being ignored, muted or unfollowed by creating content that educates or entertains (ideally both, if you can manage it).
People are also more inclined to share something useful with others:
“People don’t just value practical information, they share it. Offering practical value helps make things contagious.”― Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On
To pull this off, find out what your target audience struggles with (hot tip: try asking them) and create content that teaches them how to solve that problem – just like Go-to Skincare has done in this how-to post:
Format, format, format
If people don’t read every word of a blog, they’re not going to read every word of a lengthy caption.
The truth is that the majority of people are scanners – which is why you need to format your caption in a way that makes it scannable.
And although Instagram limits formatting options, you can still use:
- Line breaks to separate paragraphs
- Emojis to create visual interest (or to create a bullet list)
- Brackets, all caps or *asterisks*
- Strategically placed hashtags (because they show up as a blue link)
So even though your options are limited, there is no excuse for assaulting your audience’s eyes with unreadable walls of text.
Instead, break up your caption by using line breaks, emojis and all caps to create visual interest:
Keep it casual
Instagram isn’t the place for overly formal language, but beware of trying too hard to fit in…
With that in mind, here are a few tips for nailing your voice on Insta:
- Aim for casual language and a conversational tone, keeping in mind how your audience speaks.
- Whatever your voice is, keep it consistent. Nothing screams “identity crisis!” more than a voice that changes from post to post.
- Avoid trust-destroying inconsistency by dialing in your brand voice and (especially if there are multiple people handling your social media) defining it via a brand voice guide.
Above, Il Makiage embraces the same bold, cheeky tone used throughout its copy.
Talk up your product… a bit
With 80% of Instagrammers using the platform to help make purchasing decisions, your caption is the perfect place to talk your product up without having to get too salesy about it.
There are a few ways you can do this:
- Highlight the problem your product solves
- Talk about a lesser known use case for it
- Tell a story around how your product was made or why you picked a certain material or ingredient
- Talk about a specific feature and its benefit in depth
This can be as simple as listing out features and benefits (bonus points for using checkmark emojis to break it up):
Let your followers see the real you
Connection might sound like a warm and fuzzy word, but it has real-life impact – building trust, increasing the amount customers spend and strengthening customer loyalty.
Think higher purchase frequency, higher average order value and higher customer lifetime value – in other words, the metrics you want to focus on to offset customer acquisition costs.
In practice this means letting customers see behind the scenes, featuring team members and simply being present and responsive.
Plus, when prospective customers know there are real humans (that they can put a name and a face to) behind a brand, they may be less inclined to fire off a nasty customer support request. For example, Koala (an Australian mattress company) could easily come across as a faceless big brand, but by adding a bit of fun behind-the-scenes content, they keep it personable.
Go all-in on engagement
If you’ve spent 0.5 seconds on the Copyhackers site, then you already know that having an appropriate call to action is non-negotiable.
And yet, even after crafting a scroll-stopping caption, the CTA is often nowhere to be found – leaving the user with no other option than to move on.
But with the Insta algorithm favoring content that people engage with, your main goal for every post should be this:
to encourage interaction.
This can be as simple as:
- Asking a question (who, what, where, why, how), or
- Prompting action (tap, check out, comment, visit, tell, tag, share or save)
‘Tag a friend’ captions (like tentree’s example above) are everywhere – because they work.
Ok, so now you know how to nail those Insta captions, you’re done, right?
We’re not done yet, because…
Your captions aren’t the only place to include copy
Sure they’re important (see: literally everything above), but here are a few other spots where copy can improve your Instagram game:
Level up your bio. No, really
Don’t let the 150 character limit fool you. Instagram bios may look simple, but there are lots of opportunities to level up your copy here.
Let’s start with the Name field ← because no, your name does not go here.
You really thought you had that one figured out, didn’t you?
But names are a searchable field on Instagram, which means that rather than wasting it on repeating your business name (a version of which should be your @handle), you need to include a keyword or two here instead (or as well) – the same way Dirt has included “Laundry Detergent” in theirs.
That way, when a user is searching for what you offer, you’re more likely to show up in the results.
And once they do find you, it’s your bio that helps them decide whether or not to hit that follow button.
That’s why a good bio is similar to your homepage headline: it needs to tell the reader what you’re offering and why they should care.
Think about including your flagship product (or the two to three you’re known for) in your bio, along with your point(s) of difference, shipping info, sales/discount codes or a branded hashtag if you have one.
Make your bio easy to read by including emojis and line breaks.
(Pro tip: you’ll need to type your bio into the notes app on your phone and then copy and paste it into Instagram to get those sweet line breaks to work.)
And given that your bio is the only Insta space that allows an external link (aka: The One Link to Rule Them All), make sure you give people a compelling reason to click that link.
Here’s an example of a concise but powerful Instagram bio that ticks the boxes:
Put copy right into your images
Instagram is a visual platform, and users are conditioned to quickly scan post and story images to decide whether or not the caption is worth reading.
Take advantage of this by adding copy to your image – using it to either get your point across in full or to entice them to read more.
Get a good convo going
The real power behind Instagram is that it gives consumers the opportunity to communicate directly with brands via comments and DMs.
These casual conversations are essential for building relationships and have a positive impact on trust between a brand and consumers (plus there’s a connection between engagement and consumer loyalty).
So whether they’re asking a question about a product via DM, commenting on your post or responding to your Story… potential customers will interact with your brand. (Instagram still has a 1.2% engagement rate, miles ahead of other platforms.) And that’s kinda the whole point.
Beyond customer acquisition and loyalty, these conversations can also serve as a source of voice of customer data, giving you insight into how they describe your product, what they love about it and the outcome they are looking for.
Engaged followers are warm prospects, and if someone is asking a question, then their finger is hovering over the Add To Cart button. But they’re not the only ones who can see that comment and your reply. By answering questions publicly (and adding them to your website and product page FAQs), you can help move multiple prospects toward buying.
On the flipside, nothing raises suspicion (and signals that a brand is either unresponsive or doesn’t care) more than unanswered questions on a post….
Don’t have time to respond to potential customers? Outsource it to your customer service team or hire an engagement manager – just make sure that they’re equipped with the info they’ll need to get the job done.
Give your product descriptions a fresh eye
The introduction of shoppable posts added a whole new area to optimize: your Instagram product descriptions.
Insta is still trialling the in-app checkout feature (and the jury is out on it, given that you can’t upsell and won’t capture customer emails), but in the meantime users can still tap on a product tag in your post to be taken to a in-app product page with a ‘View on Website’ button.
Tagged posts also show up under the shop section of your feed, like this:
So a user can browse all of your products easily without clicking over to your website. And with the addition of the Shop section to the Explore page, and an instant Wishlist created when users save a tagged product, it’s obvious that Instagram is going all in on getting users to shop.
You can import your product descriptions into Instagram (along with the product) straight from your store, but make sure that the formatting doesn’t disappear. Nobody is going to read your blob of text if it’s all smooshed together without formatting.
And with the app still pushing users to your product page, if your description doesn’t cover all the essentials (things like fit, materials, ingredients and shipping), now would be a good time to get on that.
Use copy to encourage post-purchase sharing
People love to share their unboxing experiences (which might be why there are over one million posts under #unboxing).
And while this doesn’t technically fall under Instagram copy, having packaging copy that consumers deem share-worthy can increase social proof, get your brand in front of more people and supply you with a healthy stream of user-generated content (which you can repost to your feed).
Take Go-To Skincare’s Transformazing mask for example, with its bold on-package quotes featured in customer posts and stories consistently since its release.
You can also harness the power of surprise and delight by including Easter egg copy. A line of unexpected copy on the inside of a box or bottom of a package can not only positively impact customer satisfaction, but is just the type of thing that could get someone to share.
But don’t just leave it up to chance. Use product tags and/or transactional emails to ask customers to snap a pic and share using your branded hashtag ← *tada* instant social proof and user-generated content.
SHHHOWERCAP uses the shipping notification email to encourage customers to share and tag:
…And it works, with #SHHHELFIE clocking up over 1,200 posts.
Alright, NOW we’re done (for real this time)
You now know that crafting compelling Instagram captions is just as important as finding the perfect visuals, and you know exactly how to use your social media copy to capture attention, build trust and influence purchase decisions.
Which means it’s time for you to go and sharpen up your Insta captions and copy already and get ready for your post engagement to soar. #whatchuwaitingfor?