Since its creation, Instagram has always been a visual platform. That is something that will never change. The photos and videos we post take priority. How they look matters a lot depending on how serious you take your profile. For instance, I don’t go out in public dressed in my pajamas and bathrobe, with my hair a mess and my teeth unbrushed. I treat my Instagram in a similar fashion. I always edit my photos before they are posted and I very rarely snap a photo without some thoughts behind it. I still take photos that are purely for myself and reflect what I felt in that moment, but lately my photos are taken to please my audience and deliver them the content that I represent. The work doesn’t end once I have my photo ready. From there I must write a caption. Captions regardless of what anyone says matter. They are your way to give your visual content a voice, and show a little bit of who you are through your work.
Lately, I find myself asking, but does what I write really make a difference? Does anyone even read it? It’s hard because I don’t read every caption to the photos I ‘like’. When I’m in a rush I simply scroll and double tap allowing the visuals to do their job.
What makes me stop and read a caption?
And it comes down to is this: I read the captions from the individuals who work hard to tell a story with their brand and content.
The ones that set a scene and draw me in with short compelling copy. Yet, researching what the perfect caption is and what people want to read on Instagram is very hard because there is so much variation in what people are interested in. Some people want short, snappy, and punny copy, others want heartfelt stories that reach the character limit, and still some don’t even care about the caption. Whether people prefer long v.s. short, or funny v.s. serious, or quote v.s. emojis doesn’t matter. You must first decide who you are and what you want to bring to the Instagram community. Don’t worry this is where it gets fun. So what should we do?
Know your audience:
The people who follow you are the key. Know what they expect from you and what you have essentially promised them through your work. Is your profile pictures of food? Try captioning with links to recipes in your blog, or food emojis, or quick one liners for food. What you say and how you say it is all going to depend on how in depth your profile goes.
We’re all trying to sell ourselves online. We create this story and we want people to believe it. I recently read, “Seducing Strangers” by Josh Weltman, co-producer of Mad Men and while the whole book opened up my mind to advertising and gave me a lot of perspective there was one particular part that changed the way I caption my Instagrams.
Weltmen discusses how we can recognize good ideas, and he defines a good idea as being one that grabs an audience’s attention and has the power to open their minds. The big question is, how do we generate such a good idea? The answer is simple you hook people. And you do this by first causing a disruption and then providing an explanation. Doing this focuses on the relationship between adrenaline and dopamine and what they do together to the human nervous system. Essentially they make an impression. Weltman’s formula for causing adrenaline and dopamine spikes is straightforward. He claims, “If the picture confuses, the headline explains. If the headline confuses, the picture explains.” Genius! All I needed to do was substitute headline for caption and I was ready to apply this to Instagram.
For example I have a photo of myself on Instagram running away from the camera through a forest of fall leaves. The caption reads, “All I want to do is chase fall around the world.” Without that caption people would have no idea what the photo was trying to convey. My caption allowed my followers to see an image and read the thoughts behind it so that they were effectively pulled in.
Identify your voice and stick with it
My Instagram captions tend to be inspirational and serious. Sometimes I try to craft a story, but never do I post clever captions, or even jokes. This would throw my audience off. The point is to be consistent. As humans we all crave this and in an ever-changing social media world your followers will thank you by being loyal and ‘liking” all those photos the more you stay the same.
There are countless websites out there telling you how to best caption your photos and they all say different things and give a wide range of advice. There is only one thing that all of the websites and research supports.
Keep it brief
Everyone is busy. No one wants to put in the effort to read three paragraphs of writing that accompanies your post. Trust me I’ve tried it. If you do this then make sure the photo speaks for itself, because if not people will simply be scrolling and not double tapping.
Here are a few tips for brief, successful copy:
Things to try:
- Descriptive writing: incorporating your senses in the caption really draws a person it and can make them feel like they are experiencing the moment you captured along with you. Click here to see a photo on Instagram with a descriptive caption.
- Storytelling: It’s exactly what it sounds like. Tell a story. It doesn’t matter if it’s your own or one you heard from someone else. Write it and bring that photo to life. Fellow Hub member Carlaannne has lots of wonderful stories. Here’s one of my best story captions.
- Inspiring quotes and phrases: This sometimes can be a cop out. So if you plan to use quotes or be inspirational be sure to do your research and find something that will strike your audience. Kelly Calvillo is really great at this and she puts a lot of effort into her captions because her goal is to inspire others everyday. I think my favorite quote and one that a lot of people responded to was this one. It not only is from a popular movie, but it perfectly explains the photo.
- Call to action: This is fun! Ask a question, give your answer. Challenge others to think of theirs. Doing this brings a level of credibility to you page and makes your audience think. It’s also easy because it can be about something you truly care about. Mine goes like this. Dare people to step out of their comfort zones and help them to feel like they aren’t alone.
*Bonus* I also love lists. Coming up with three words or sentences that go well with an image is like solving a puzzle for me and I tend to find myself using this a lot.
Without further ado, get writing! Good luck and remember what you say matters so say it the best way you know how. Most importantly keep it short, sweet, and real.