Perfect Instagram Captions, The Ultimate Guide [Tutorial, Best Practices, Hacks, 30+ Examples, 12 Actionable Checklists]

Max
Max
@hustle_cool
Updated: 21/10/2019
Instagram is where the action is
Instagram is where the action is

How to write the perfect Instagram caption

This guide will explain everything there is about Instagram captions.

If you want a quick checklist, head over to it.

But if you want to understand the ins and outs, the best practices, and why we do things the way we do them, read on.

After reading this article, you will be in the top 10% of caption writers on Instagram. Getting better will be even easier.

We will go in depth into every tip, trick, technique and detail there is about writing the perfect Instagram caption. Along the way, we will be looking at examples from masters of the trade.

Let's start with understanding why we need to write perfect captions.

Why write good Instagram captions?

People notice your picture, but they remember your words.

Instagram is a visual platform. But the expert influencers all agree - the caption is critical for delighting your followers.

Instagram caption
make sure the caption is perfect

The caption is the second thing an Instagram user sees after stopping to see the picture. A good caption can make the difference between the user typing up a great comment, or continuing with scrolling.

That's why it's important to spend those extra 3 minutes, making sure you get the caption right.

Ok, so you have an awesome picture. The dimensions and scaling and filters are all set. The location and the hashtags are ready. How do you write the perfect caption for the complete heart-winning post?

The Instagram platform (the context around your caption)

On Instagram, everything starts with the picture. Unlike most other social networks, you can't even have text without the picture.

Which means the picture is the context for your caption.

There are ways that you can ignore this. Every day, people write generic, cliché captions, unrelated to their pictures.

Avoid this. When people are giving you the gift of extra attention by reading your caption, use it to convey your message.

Besides the picture, another thing that gives context to your caption is the goal. There are two main questions that determine the goals for your caption.

● Why are you writing this picture description?
● And who is it for?

Global and local events

Also, there are a few other useful questions to ask yourself to better determine the context.

● What is going on in the world?
● What is going on in the communities you are trying to reach?
● What is trending?
● What is on everyone's mind?
● Are there any holidays or global events today?

Keeping that in mind will force you to write clearer, sharper, more relevant captions. That way, getting people's attention is easier.

Besides the natural context of your caption, there are a few more technical ones you need to be aware of.

Tapping "more" (how to elicit curiosity)

The character limit for the caption is 2200.

But what the user sees initially is the first 100-130 or so characters (usually two lines). And that's counting your username as well (it's on the start of the caption).

Considering smaller devices, the real limit is about 100 characters.

If they are intrigued, they tap or click "more". Only then they can see your entire caption.

the more button
the "more" button

"Just do it". "I'm loving it". "Think different". There is a reason why the most successful companies have short slogans. Writing short captions is a good practice for other reasons too. But for being entirely visible is a great one as well.

Often your caption will be entirely visible to the user. But in some cases, it won't be.

As a rule, you want to start with the most important thing first. Simply put the call to action, the question, or the value proposal first. Adjust the rest of the caption accordingly. That way, even if the user doesn't tap "more", you convey at least a part of your message.

You must consider the 100 characters limit. Use those first 100 characters to captivate, tease, invoke curiosity. You could write "Don't tap more..." followed by a few blank lines. But that's not the point (and it only works the first four times).

The start of the caption

Some of my favorite methods for enticing the "more" tap include:

● Start with the value - "You probably don't even know that you can have total social media management for free..."
● Start an intriguing story - "It would have been another drive to work, but then I saw it... it must have been the most purple dress I've ever seen... that lady was..."
● Make a grandiose claim - "NO! THIS IS NOT HAPPENING! HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?..."
● Some funny warning - "Warning! Long, heartfelt, uplifting story ahead! Proceed only if you are in a location suitable for crying..."

In fact, you can use these tension-building techniques throughout the entire caption. Writing this way makes your content emotionally intense and compelling.

Learning to write shorter captions trains you to become a better writer in general. But the real effect from it is people reading more of your captions. That increases the chance of them engaging with your content and your profile. And that helps with our next point - the all-important Instagram algorithms.

Instagram algorithms (make them work for you)

Instagram themselves have said it - their algorithm favors engagement.

Instagram forms a user's feed by two main criteria:

● the engagement levels of the content up to that point

Primarily, users see content like what they have engaged with so far. But all the content in that category then gets ranked based on engagement and freshness. Posts that get more likes, comments and view time are pushed up in the feed.

The most engaged ones can even end up in user's Explore feed.

Posts that don't get engagement get buried.

You want to keep this in mind the whole time. No matter what your real goal is, engagement should be the other important goal.

This may be a blessing in disguise. Engagement is good both for your post ranking higher, but for connecting your brand to your audience as well. That leaves you no choice but to write engaging captions.

Example: making it to the Explore feed

I don't follow these two accounts. Based on my preferences so far, Instagram knows me well. So they confidently serve me nerd humor. Predictably, I am tempted to follow these accounts now.

Notice the numbers of likes and comments. High engagement gets you to the Explore feed.

How to achieve great engagement?

Get to know your audience

Before even starting to create any type of content, it pays off to get to know your audience.

Not only will you create content that resonates with them more, but you will also use their language.

It may seem like tiny details, but all these things help paint the bigger picture. In a way, that is how huge companies build and grow their brands.

You could pay for some fancy research here. But better to go in the trenches yourself. Open the profiles of a few target users every day.

● What do they post?
● How do they talk in their posts?
● How do they communicate with family, friends, peers, other companies?
All of that is vital intel.

If you want to get a bit more advanced, you could sketch a few buyer personas as well.

How to create buyer personnas

This is one simple method:

● Go through a few dozen profiles.
● Try to find some patterns.
● See how you could group them by some common properties. Maybe they are all from a same location. Or they work similar positions.
● Age, gender, education, income levels, everything is a parameter here.

The groups you've created are your buyer personas. You can then create content for each one.

That group of users will resonate more with that piece of content.

After you are familiar with your audience, you can start engaging them.

Include your audience

There are a few general ways to engage your audience.

One of the easiest ones is asking a question. You will not be able to (or at least should not) do this in every post. But when you do it, some of your followers will respond.

Questions in captions have other advantages. While engaging your audience, you can learn more about them too. Two birds with one stone.

You can learn a lot about your audience. Their preferences, their opinions, the way the communicate, the market in general. All that is useful to you for your general social media presence.

Example: Gary Vee

Let's look at Gary Vee, one of the great marketing masters. This is one of his most engaged posts, with more than 5.000 comments. With almost 90.000 likes, that's a ratio of 1 comment per 22 likes. That's an excellent ratio.

All he did was ask his audience an exciting, thought-provoking question.

You can try going for commonalities. Ask people if they agree or if they have the same things happen to them. This makes your business more familiar to them. It builds trust. And that brings you better results.

Example: findind the common

@humansofny is one of the best storytelling accounts on Instagram. They know how to connect with their audience. Crafting a heart-warming story is the best way to do that.

The number of likes and comments is one of their highest recently.

Another possibility is to ask for feedback as well. You engage your audience while getting feedback on how to improve your business.

Example: ask for feedback

Author Najwa Zebian does a very simple feedback request. The result is 700 comments.

View this post on Instagram

Short hair or long hair? 😌💃🦋

A post shared by Najwa Zebian (@najwazebian) on

Instead of a question, you can do a direct request. Ask your audience to voice their thoughts in the comments.

Example: do it like a rapper

2chainz doesn't waste any words. His simple request generated almost 1.400 comments.

View this post on Instagram

Caption this

A post shared by 2 Chainz Aka Tity Boi (@2chainz) on

Or even better, ask them to tag some of their friends.

This can be doubly effective if there is value involved. For example, they can tag someone that would have use of your services.

Taking this to the other level is doing giveaways.

Giveaways (how to host the perfect giveaways)

There are several standard ways to do this.

Three parameters:

● The value you offer.
● The request for your followers.
● How you select the winners.

You can offer anything related to your product or service. If it's something easy for you to produce, but it helps your users a lot, you have great leverage.

The actions that your followers need to take have a big range. The common ones:

● Liking
● Commenting (something specific, or anything at all).
● Tagging a friend.
● Following you.

On top of that, you can ask for actions that don't happen on Instagram. Following the link in your bio and registering on your website are good examples.

There are several ways you select winners.

● You can choose them at random.
● You can have a points system, where only a select number of top performers win.
● Or you can reward everyone.

You have unlimited ways to get creative in here.

My favorite: do a giveaway and ask users to take part by commenting and tagging someone. Reward the most funny/innovative/crazy comment.

You can ask your users to post pictures of how they use your product. Reward some or all of them with a discount or a sample.

They act as a mini-influencer for you, exposing your brand to their friends. This kind of user-generated content tied to your profile is helping you with your reach too.

Example: Tai Lopez

People have mixed feelings about Tai Lopez. But this post of his does prove a point.

He offers $100 to the best inspirational comment. That results in almost 1.000 comments.

Example: Tamanna Roashan

Makeup educator Tamanna Roashan goes even deeper. She offers two rewards, worth $400 and $4.000. She asks for follow-backs of an account that is likely paying her for a sponsored post.

The result? 1.400 comments.

Now we have several high-level strategies for starting out. Let's check out the technique of writing a great caption.

Take your time

Getting the filter, contrast, saturation, and the scaling right, is very important And it can take some time.

But that doesn't mean you should rush through the caption.

Picking a caption

This is the easiest way to go for it:

● Try to write at least two entirely different captions.
● Pick the one you like better.
● Then run through it several times, cutting all the fluff.
● Even if you write just one draft, try make it shorter and more impactful.

Ok, so you are about to write one or more drafts. How do you go about the actual writing?

Technique (what we can learn from copywriters)

One of the most powerful yet simple lessons in copywriting is to aim for short sentences. Incidentally, that is how an entire generation of young people communicate on Instagram.

Bank on this intersection more. By learning how to write persuasive captions, your Instagram game will explode.

But at the same time, it will serve you well in other commercial pursuits and fields. And it will enable you to connect better with young generations. The ones with the biggest purchase power ever. Invest in developing a simple, clear way of communication.

What's even better, this goes along great with humor. From one-liners, to dad jokes, to the comics of the ranks of Bill Burr and Louis CK. They all share these traits. They use everyday, down-to-earth language. They either use short sentences, or do something very similar, use a lot of pauses.

Do the same.

And another plus. This will make your captions more actionable. That on its own is a huge benefit. In fact, you should try write for enticing people to take action all the time.

The simplest way to achieve this? Don't use passive voice.

Passive voice

An example of passive voice is: "The cake was eaten by Matt".

Changing it to active voice would be: "Matt ate the cake." (he did, and it was delicious)

That will create an actionable aura around your content. You will become a no-nonsense business that delivers value.

Example: One more from Gary Vee.

The post is great quote (how ironic, right?). But the caption is an example of spotless copywriting technique. Short, clear, powerful, to the point, actionable.

2.300 well deserved comments.

We could go on (and we will) on the specific techniques on writing captions. These guidelines are enough for starting out on the technical side.

There's one more important thing you must not forget.

Call to action

Writing captions for business pages often comes down to the call to action. There is a goal that you want your customers to achieve. They won't do it unless you ask them. That's why most of your captions will contain a call to action.

Have one call to action at most. This has been proven over and over again. More than one CTA is already ineffective. Customers get confused and don't take any action at all.

Use simple, clear language. Make a request to your customers. It should be as simple as possible.

Try putting your call to action as the first sentence. Instagram users often won't read past it. Better to get your request in front of as many eyes as possible.

Example: keep it clean

A very simple example of a call to action. They request people to tag someone, and about 70 people comply. Not bad.

View this post on Instagram

You monster🧐 tag a monster @mastermemee

A post shared by Meme (@mastermemee) on

In marketing, everything counts, so you can't afford mistakes. Which brings us to our next point - grammar.

Grammar

Talking like the kids do is one thing. Having grammatical errors is another. If the context requires it, you can purposefully use bad grammar. But never do it out of negligence or sloppiness.

Poor grammar has a few negative effects. It makes you seem uneducated. It makes it seem like you don't care about your content. And by extension, about your audience too.

Most importantly though, it may cost you traffic. Think about it.

Say you have an Instagram page about the keto diet. You take an awesome picture of the perfect keto meal. You scale it and choose the perfect filter. But in your caption, instead of 'keto', you write 'kwto'.

Now people searching for 'keto' will never see your post.

So double check your captions for grammar.

Example: Or should we say a counter example.

Nicki Minaj knows her audience, and acts according to her media persona. Whether she knows how to spell is irrelevant here. What matters is that she gets huge numbers of likes and comments by misuse of grammar.

There is a plethora of free ways to do this.

If you are a Windows user, just paste your text into Word. It will underline the errors with the squiggly red line.

But also, you may get some suggestions on improving your writing.

Another great tool I love for this purpose is the Hemingway app.

Besides taking care of grammar, it also pushes you to focus on the way your text looks.

Which is very important. Read on.

Readability (blank lines)

Besides the text, the caption has a body, too.

We already mentioned using short sentences. But you should also use short paragraphs.

Sometimes the text will have to be longer. Don't put it all into a few tightly packed sentences, all crammed next to each other.

Spread it out across several paragraphs. Try to have 2-3 sentences per paragraph at the most.

And leave one blank line between each of them.

Not just a new line, but also one extra blank line.

That makes the caption ten times easier to read and understand.

Example: think about your audience

A solid example of how to write with spaces between the paragraphs. BBC use the dots instead of new lines, which may be even better.

Your followers are mostly using Instagram through their phones. Nobody wants to look at thick walls of text on small screens.

But there are a few ways to cheer up your text, even when it's a bit lengthy.

You guessed it - emojis.

Emojis

You should be mindful with the use of emojis.

As everything on social media, a lot depends on the context.

What is the goal of your post?

If it is to entertain, you can go wild with emojis.

If it is to educate, you can still use some of them. But not so much.

If you are doing a shoppable post, you will want to experiment a lot. Sales conversion is a complicated science. You need to test everything. My initial gut reaction is against using emojis in shoppable posts. At least at the beginning.

Online shopping no longer has that heaviness and air of seriousness around it used to. So adding a touch of lightness might benefit you.

But what matters the most is your audience. No matter the post type, you want to learn from them.

Are they using 20 emojis in every single post? Then try that yourself.

But if none of your followers has ever seen an emoji, it will be weird if you bombard them with dozens of them. Look at your audience and learn.

Example: don't overdo it with emojis

A display of moderate emoji usage. Lego could probably get away with more.

Given their recent marketing success, I would say they know exactly what they're doing.

We will touch on one more way to make your text stand out visually. That is custom fonts.

Fonts (or rather, no fonts)

Custom fonts are worth the effort. You can already confuse your readers with tons of exotic emojis.

I have yet to see a big influencer or a successful business profile heavily use some funky dancing font.

The only exception here is using a bold font. That simple way of emphasizing a part of your caption can be powerful.

How to use a bold font?

The easiest way:

● Head over to a website dedicated for this. I use IGFonts
● Type in your text.
● Copy the bold format you like.
● Paste it in your caption.

Go ahead and experiment.

A/B testing on Instagram

The way you A/B test a concept on Instagram is quite simple.

● Create two accounts.
● Use similar usernames.
● Use identical names, bios, and profile pictures.
● Quickly grow them to about 200-300 followers each with HustleCool. Use the same leads sources and the same filters for both.
● Make them have the same number of followers. If they don't, block a few accounts from the one with more followers.
● You are now ready to A/B test different fonts. Post the same picture from the two accounts. Use the same caption.
● One of them is written in the regular, human font. The other one is written in some flashy, curvy craziness.
● Wait for a day or two.

The account with the most likes and comments wins.

I recommend testing as much as time allows you to. Besides testing fonts, another element you should test frequently are hashtags. Let's examine the role they play in the caption.

Hashtags

The use of tags deserves a post on its own. Anyhow, we will touch on it here as well.

Aesthetically, it looks best to put your hashtags at the end of your caption. If one of them coincides with a word in your caption, use the hashtag instead of the word. Use two or three blank lines before the hashtags. That way they don't distract the user from your real text.

You can use up to 30 hashtags in your caption. Currently, the consensus is that you should use them all. But that goes mostly for new or small accounts.

If you look at huge influencers with millions of followers, you will often see they don't use hashtags at all.

Many people like to even put 30 extra hashtags in the first comment of their post. But the jury is still out on this one. We don't know if the extra 30 hashtags increase exposure.

My recommendation is to use up to 10 hashtags in your caption. By all means, experiment with the extra hashtags in the comments. I haven't seen drastic improvements myself.

More important than using the biggest number of hashtags is using the right hashtags. Invest the time in hunting down the correct hashtags for your posts.

How to find the perfect hashtags

Start with an influencer. Open up their profile, and see which hashtags they are using in their posts.

You can use some of the hashtags they use. But chances are, you won't have the same number of followers as them. And that is a problem.

Just because you use a hashtag with 20 million posts on it, doesn't mean that everyone searching for that hashtag will see your post. They will likely see the posts of the influencers.

That game is rigged for the influencers, but not for solopreneurs starting out. What you may get is a few fake comments and likes from bots not even following you.

So take a hashtag from an influencer's post, enter it in the search bar, and check out the first three posts. See what other hashtags they have besides the one you started with.

Make a big list, it will have a few dozen hashtags. Check them in the search bar, one by one.

The magic formula here? Look for hashtags that fill these three criteria:

● The total number of posts is between (your followers number) * 0.5 and (your followers number) * 5
● They have at least some recent activity, like 5 posts in the last week
● At least 3 of the top 10 posts are from regular users with less than 10.000 followers

This will take some work, but you will end up with the perfect hashtags for your posts.

The best part? You can keep using these hashtags over and over.

They will be the right hashtags for growing your account for a long time.

Also, keep your eye on rising hashtags. If you spot one getting more and more attention, ride that wave.

Don't worry if you can't find 30 hashtags like this. 10 are already a goldmine.

You can either use other bigger (or smaller) for the other 20.

Or you can use no more at all.

The most important thing to remember here is to keep experimenting. The hashtags that worked last week may no longer work today.

Over time, you should start thinking about branded hashtags. These are original hashtags that you will come up with. They will either contain your brand name, or a phrase that people associate with your brand. Start sprinkling them around your posts. People will form a connection in their minds with your brand, and start using them as well.

Example: solid hashtag use

Swarovski keeping a low hashtag profile, only 4. All are branded hashtags.

While you are typing up your hashtags, don't forget about the location.

Location

The post location is not part of the caption. But it is set in the same screen as the caption. A reminder - err on the side of setting a location instead of not setting one. Unless it makes no sense to have it - set it. That is extra exposure to users near that location. Can't think of any downsides to it right now.

Example: always use location when it makes sense

Smart move by Airbnb. They have a huge Instagram audience. Their brand is a perfect match for Instagram.

This post will show up in the top of the location search results for Bali.

Mentions

The occasional use of mentions in your captions is a good idea. It shows that you are running a real, organic account. And that you have friends on social media.

You know, the whole 'social' part in social media.

But you shouldn't mention random people out of the blue.

You can do shoutouts and partnerships. Or you can include your actual friends. But randomly mentioning users is spam.

Don't risk getting reported or blocked, those things cost you.

The recommendations here are, again, to add value.

Make a joke to your friends.

Mention something internal between you.

It will create an air of fun conspiracy that will intrigue your users.

Congratulate them, glorify them, recommend them.

Not only they love you more, but your audience sees you as a positive, fun presence. You win.

Ok, that is everything you need to know about writing one caption. But you will not write captions in isolation. How do we write captions every day, many times a day?

Narrative (build a legendary brand)

All your pictures should follow one or several themes. Your captions will also reflect that. As your photos tell the story of your business, so do your captions. That way you create the general narrative of your brand. Your story.

Following those themes over time will form your brand's voice. Your storytelling will create a habit in your users' minds, a guide through the story.

That is how your brand will connect with your customers. That is how you write epic works.

Example: the hero's journey continues

Nike stay true to their brand's voice and storyline. They manage to get more than half a million likes and 15.000 comments. By using their immortal slogan in a hashtag, they continue their saga.

View this post on Instagram

Never stop chasing your crazy dream. #justdoit

A post shared by nike (@nike) on

And after writing a few chapters of your epic, you will start seeing some patterns.

Caption types

Generally, there are several groups of captions. Those types can even spawn their own templates later.

First, the post itself is either a picture or a video. Some types are better suited for a picture, some for video.

Next, they can have a call to action, or not. This is what Gary Vee calls jab or cross. You don't want to bother your followers all the time. Sometimes you provide value without asking anything in return for it. That often turns out to be a post without a call to action. When you are after a result, your posts must have a call to action.

Within that framework, a few patterns appear.

Educational

Most of the content from business profiles today is educational. Information is well transmitted and received through the Internet. Many businesses take advantage of this. They can provide their customers with value and gain their trust.

Video is the better format for this type of post.

The caption can contain a call to action, but it often doesn't.

Or it is a softer call to action, requesting something that is easy for the customer. Like liking or commenting with an emoji.

Either way, the main goal is providing value in the form of useful information.

Example: get your followers interested

General Electric start with a joke. Given that they are talking about wind turbines, which are not known as a fun topic, that is smart. They proceed to give out a brief summary of the information you are about to learn in the video.

Update

This is a solid idea of producing original content. Haven't seen many businesses use this format, and that's why I love it.

You make a post for a new piece of information about your business. A good format I like is doing one weekly post of goals, and another one of reporting on those weekly goals. It helps with user trust and your transparency. And it gives you a consistent look.

The picture itself can have text in it, like a bullet list or a graph or something.

Not quite typical for Instagram. That's why it works so well.

The best format for this is a picture.

It doesn't make too much sense to have a call to action here. The caption only states some new information about your company.

Example: announce it

This is a new product update from H&M. Not quite fitting the goals/reports framework, but still a good example. Great engagement for a post like this.

Fun

This is Instagram, so you gotta keep it fun. If you don't have a funny bone, borrowing some content from the vastness of the Internet works great.

Rather surprisingly to me, a call to action works good here.

Video works better, but pictures are good too.

The caption should be fun, but it doesn't have to be.

Something clever or amusing works.

Short or popular phrases work well too.

Example: have fun

50 Cent being a comedian as usual. Post gets half a million likes and 6.400 comments.

Question

If the caption has a question, it already has a call to action in it.

Questions get good amount of engagement, and that's why they are popular.

Both picture and video could work here. A picture is better, since video already demands too much attention.

Example: ask a question

An engaging question from makeup brand Glossier. None of their recent posts has gathered so many comments.

Meet the team

Often called behind-the-scenes, this is the human version of the update. It shows the real people behind the business, like in a personal profile.

Pictures are ok, but if the team looks good on video, video is much better. Often, this is just you and your team saying hi. But a call to action could work here too.

Quote

Some businesses are well suited to make quote posts. The quote can be:

● The actual text as a picture.
● The text on a cool background.
● Only in the caption accompanying a picture.

You can find tons of cool quotes and quote generators online. Coming up with some witty ones on your own can be even more fun, but productive too. That way you know the quote is original.

While not as popular as a few years ago, motivational posts seem to never go out of fashion. Wise and advisory quotes, or funny ones, work well too.

Picture is the preferred format.

Try a few, quality is not hard to achieve. They may work for your business.

Example: a successful quote post

One of the most successful quote posts of @thegoodquote. They may as well be the biggest quote account on Instagram.

Great engagement here, 170.000 likes and 4.400 comments.

View this post on Instagram

#thegoodquote 🌻

A post shared by Positive & Motivational Quotes (@thegoodquote) on

Call to action

Simply ask for what you want.

If you are doing a contest, ask your followers what they need to do to qualify and win.

If you are doing a shoppable post, tie your call to action with your sales copy.

Any type of collaboration request, giveaway, shoutout, follow for follow, like for like, request to tag... everything goes. It works both as a picture and as a video.

Example: call to action

RayBan have a good call to action in the caption. Their url is simple enough, and many people will enter it in their browsers by hand.

Link in bio

You have probably seen the 'Link in bio' technique.

Instagram doesn't allow clickable links in captions. You can only have one link in your profile, in the Website section.

That's why marketers use these calls to action to drive traffic.

By pointing users to click the link, they get some visits to the website they target.

Not gonna lie here, this is nowhere near as effective as if you could paste a regular link. But it's better than nothing.

So use this technique when you want to drive traffic to a link.

Give a short description of what your users can expect, and end your caption with 'link in bio'.

Since your profile can only have one link at a time, you will have to rotate your links as needed.

Avoid writing too much text before the 'link in bio' call to action. That will result in people not getting to that part, and in effect less traffic.

Example: link in bio, pulled off

Ikea tell a short story first. Then they create some scarcity around their product. The final touch is their request to visit the link in their bio.

Those are the most common caption types. Here's how they play along with the different Instagram post types.

Picture post

Pretty much everything we said so far applies to picture posts. It is, after all, the platform's default. Perfect picture + perfect caption = perfect post.

Where things differ is videos and stories.

Videos

When posting a video as a post, the caption will oftentimes be completely ignored. That doesn't free you from writing a good caption.

The general rule is to provide a short summary of what the video is about. If the video is educational, give a short intro and an overview.

If the video is funny, the caption can be the joke setup or the equivalent of that.

A great tactic to use here is to spark curiosity with the caption. Tease with the caption, provide the value in the video.

I've found emojis to be quite powerful for this building up of tension.

Give a hint of what benefits might the users see in the video if they watch the whole thing. Powerful stuff.

Example: caption for a video

Pandora give a brief summary of what the video will be about. One of the most engaged posts on their profile.

Story

The most powerful and engaging stories use all the features available to them.

Setting your location is better than not setting it. It exposes you to a few extra users in that place. The same goes for the hashtag.

The caption in a story does not get you any extra exposure.

But it still holds huge potential. There is no simpler way of conveying your message.

Your story can be a video or a picture. But a short, clear, simple sentence can add a lot of weight to it. Even a word is enough sometimes.

The point is, media is good, but media + text is superior.

You do want to be a little careful though. You don't want to give out the punchline, or water down your message. And you don't want the text to steal the show. You want to support and intensify your media instead.

How to do that?

First, make sure your text is not huge. Then, think of a related word or phrase that gives potency to the original media, but is not visible in it.

Don't go overboard. If you can't come up with anything good, don't risk it. Post without the text.

But remember, media + text > media.

Ok, those are all the techniques for crafting a mesmerizing online presence. But we can't have technique only, we need strategy too.

Goals and strategy

Start with the goal in mind.

● What are you trying to accomplish?
● Who are you trying to reach?
● What are you trying to say to them?
There are several common strategies you could use. They all strive to achieve different outcomes. Let's have a look.

General guidelines

Instagram is the fun, cool platform. About 70% of the captions you write will reflect that fact. And you will take advantage of it.

Millennials and Gen-Z are usually the main, key demographics. They comprise most of Instagram's users. They communicate differently than previous generations. Unless you know what you are doing, keep it light and fun.

When starting out, avoid complicated, deep or potentially offensive sentences. Use short sentences. They have more power.

Your captions can be up to 2200 characters long. But you will rarely write captions that big.

Write shorter captions in general. You don't want people giving up after seeing a wall of text.

Emotional content

One good contrast of short captions is adding emotion to it. Describing emotional and sensory experiences are the exact opposite of short and simple.

The real art lies in delivering powerful emotions with the fewest words possible.

Opt out for more powerful words.

Good becomes best, best becomes perfect.

This will make your captions seem more clickbait-y.

Well, like it or not, that's what works best. Sorry, perfect.

Everyone is overstimulated, the bar for sparking an emotion is higher than ever.

Your best choice is to adapt.

Some light sarcasm is more than welcome. Don't have a sense of sarcasm? Luckily, you have a lifetime to gain it (an example of sarcasm here). At the same time, be careful about offensive content. If you are building a business, leave that to comics and trolls.

Whatever road you take, try to make it fun.

Example: an old school marketer

Seth Godin stays true to his time-proven style. He demonstrates a full example of good writing.

Boost engagement strategy

If you are after likes and positive comments, you must know your audience. From there, you go with the flow.

Use trending topics to your advantage. If you are a frequent social media user, trend tracking will become a sixth sense. Your sense for catching the wave in the right minute will sharpen.

Voice the opinions of your base. If you can add a little twist of yours as well, even better.

What is important is for you to say what everyone else is thinking. Use their language, their phrases.

Don't worry about looking like a try-hard from the start. The Internet has a short memory, it forgets everything fast.

If you don't know how to do this, start simple - paraphrase! See what some influencers are saying on the topic, and repeat it in your own words.

Chances are, you will end up sticking with the general guidelines. That means short, light, fun captions.

That is the language of the masses today. And that is what you need to perfect.

What to do if you don't know your audience? Get to know it. Spend half an hour exploring your influencers and most engaged users. That gets you halfway there. It is a small investment with a big payoff.

Once you are one of the cool kids, everything gets easier. Engagement clicks.

Gain more followers

Writing captions for gaining new followers differs slightly than regular writing. The general approach will usually remain the same - light, short, fun. But some experimentation will be a part of the recipe.

What determines your free audience growth is how well you execute the follow/unfollow strategy. Your captions come in second here. But they are still important.

Think about how you gain a follower.

They see your profile, either somewhere in Explore, or by you following them first.

The first thing they notice is your profile picture and your username.

Only if that makes them think, or laugh, or spot value, do they proceed to examine your profile. But if your pool of leads is well targeted, you will pass this first barrier.

Then comes your content.

Sometimes, only the images will come into play. Remember, Instagram is a visual platform.

But the real potential followers, the ones that will engage with you, will read your captions too.

And this is the final barrier. If they don't like what they read, they will leave and never look back.

There is one behaviour you can make use of here. Even the most promising followers will rarely open more than your last three posts.

This is the part where you can experiment.

When going after audience growth, you can optimize your posts. Prepare them for the new audiences that you expect to gain.

As usual, learn their lingo, the way they express themselves. Use it yourself. This will help you gain those new followers.

Even if you are chasing the same lead sources, don't fear experimentation. Measure everything.

If you post three times a week, measure how many new followers you gain per week.

Try different styles of communications per three posts.

Example: adapt for new audiences

Posts 1, 2 and 3 use one style of communication. See how many followers you gain in the week when they are your last posts. After that, when posts 4, 5 and 6 are your last, change the communication style. See what results you get in the next week. This kind of approach gets you to the optimal way of writing good captions fast.

prepare your feed for new audiences
prepare your feed for new audiences

Attention

What comes before getting likes, comments, or followers? Attention! Sometimes you must start by getting people's attention.

Today even a walk down a busy urban street seems like explosions for all your senses. Getting people's attention is hard. And it only gets harder.

We must delve deeper into what makes people stop and look.

Human psychology suggests there are two main ways to get a person's attention.

That's by being a source of value, or by being a threat.

How can we translate this into Instagram eyeballs?

Value

If you manage to create a caption that offers value early, you will win.

That is not that difficult. You need to be aware of one technique.

Think about your users. That's it.

To most of the content, their reaction is 'meh'. Because it has nothing in it for them.

● Doesn't make them smile.
● Doesn't spark their curiosity.
● Doesn't offer them anything.

They are either busy or bored, or both.

Their attention span is, statistically, not great.

You only have a sentence or two to get your point out.

So start with hitting the nail right in the head. Immediately explain how you will improve their lives. Or make their day better. Or what they will learn.

That is your main point of focus. Providing your users with value. And doing it fast.

Threat

The other side of the attention coin is being a threat.

Of course, this will not have literal meaning here. You will not by any circumstances threaten people on social media.

This is my less favorite way of grabbing people's attention. While it can be more effective, usually it's worth it.

Anyway, you should be aware of how to achieve this if you wish so. Or to recognize when someone is trying to use it on you.

So, you are not making phone calls with voice distorters. But you can spark certain dilemmas in them that will make you the center of attention.

You can cast a shadow of doubt on lots of things. Their thoughts about perceived status. Wealth. Well-being. Ego. Especially) ego. They all work like magic. In fact, I would argue that is the base for the Instagram platform.

Fear-based selling

How to do this? Well, look at all the rappers, UFC fighters, and people famous for no real reason.

● Make extravagant displays of prosperity.
● Challenge, or even diminish, their worldviews and ways of life in a flamboyant way.
● Show arrogant, egotistical sides.
● Be loud, obnoxious, and don't be afraid of being offensive.
● Go against the current. Even against well-established facts sometimes.

Again, do so early, in the first few sentences.

Use sassy, offensive or controversial language.

Call out a person or a group.

Or call out the 'haters' (even if you don't have any).

Wow, writing this as an advice feels very weird... but we can't say it doesn't work. If deciding to try out this route, try it out in very limited, very controlled circumstances.

And get ready to delete posts fast if you don't get the desired results. Or burn your profile all the way.

But know this - lots of people have tried this and only ended up looking like idiots.

Example: create scarcity

Kylie Jenner is not directly threatening her audience. But she is giving them a nudge to hurry up with their orders. Otherwise they won't have the social status that her products bring.

Old school advertising tactics. Still works, still clever.

Bonus - novelty

There is a bonus, third option. Or it may be the general rule encompassing both elements in the value/threat framework.

That is novelty.

People pay more attention to novelty.

They are trying to determine whether it will be a source of value or threat to them.

They already have all the old things labelled as one. But when something unseen comes along, they need to examine it more.

After the examination, one of three results occurs.

● The novelty is perceived as a source of value.
● The novelty is perceived as a threat.
● The novelty is perceived as none of those two.

You want to avoid the third result. It is the only one doing you no favors in growing. It is a waste of time, content, and bandwidth for everyone. So don't do novelty just for the sake of novelty.

That said, understanding this concept can benefit you a lot. Most of the content that goes viral has something novel in it.

How to do this? Well, you need to be creative. Bug forcing inspiration doesn't work. You do get better with practice, but it does take time.

Awakening creativity

There is only one technique that I've found to work.

That is emptying your mind.

The easiest way to do this is by taking a walk.

Or taking a shower.

But whatever you do while doing those activities, you can't think about your caption.

Let other random thoughts occupy your mind.

Then, you will either come up with the brilliant caption, or something crazy will come to mind. And you can morph the crazy to somehow serve you into writing that caption.

Even the crazy thought is a novel, random idea, and it can sometimes spark genius.

With all that said, don't expect miracles just by relying on this approach. Just because something is new, doesn't make it good. Teams of smart people have fruitlessly tried to figure out virality for years. It is still elusive. So if your attempt to introduce something new falls on deaf ears, just get up, dust yourself off, and move on.

Example: going viral

The nemesis of aforementioned Kylie Jenner, the infamous Instagram Egg.

Could someone have predicted its feverish rise to the top? Hardly.

But it is the perfect example of random, unpredictable novelty going viral.

Sell

When your goal is to sell on Instagram, usually with a shoppable post, the caption you write is crucial.

Your main objectives are clarity, brevity, and personalization. Veteran sales experts have said these things long before this post.

Avoid jargon and insider lingo here.

Make it conversational.

Write as you speak.

If you say it out loud and it sounds weird, go at it again.

Simplify it. Cut out the fluff.

Have only one goal, and even have one person in mind.

● For whom do you write the copy?
● Who are you selling to?
● Whose life are you trying to improve?

Picture that person and write for her.

See if you can cut the original version of your caption.

Drop unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. Then, try to make it shorter again.

Iterate until your brain starts to hurt a little.

Don't lose the message entirely. But simplify as much as possible.

And don't forget the call to action. Without it, you're not selling. You are only taking up people's time. All you need is one simple, clear sentence. Instruct your users on what you want them to do now, and do so in a persuasive, inviting way.

These are all tricks of the old masters. Use them, and you will unlock profits untold.

Example: doesn't get more sales-y than this.

Forever 21 telling their users where to shop. Given that the url isn't very mobile-friendly, they could have gone with a "link in bio" here.

With time, you will come up with specific strategies of your own. It is inevitable if you want something that fits your brand perfectly. When you do, you will constantly seek to improve it. That can only be done with... measuring!

Thinking long term (measurement and analysis)

What separates a great marketer from an average one?

The great one measures.

This is Marketing 101 - you can't improve what you don't measure.

Measuring success on social media is not an easy task. It deserves an entire article on its own.

You can start simple though.

Social media analysis

Say you want to test two approaches to writing captions.

There is a semi-simple way to do it that is not crazy inaccurate.

● Pick three days of the week. Let's say Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
● In week 1, test the first approach.
● Do two or three posts each day.
● Just remember the time of day when you post.
● Note the results you get in terms of likes and comments.
● Meaningful comments from obviously real profiles are worth the most.
● In week 2, do the same number of posts, at the same times of day, using the second approach.
● Again note the results using the same point system.
● Compare the results.

While not the cleanest way to test, it is a great start.

For more advanced tests and measurements, you should use HustleCool.

Inspiration (influencers, other platforms and sources)

With all these guidelines, writing great captions for your Instagram posts becomes easy. Follow the steps, and you will get there.

Yet, at times, we all face the writer's block. No matter what you do, that seed of a good idea never comes.

So it is helpful to have a set of resources you can rely on for inspiration. Let's take a look at a few different channels for this.

Influencers and accounts

The simplest way to write good captions is to see what the experts do.

Copying them word for word is not recommended. It is, after all, plagiarism. And it may actually get you into trouble. Not cool, right?

Paraphrasing is ok though. Just retelling what they've said with your own words can be good enough.

Adding your own twist to it is even better. Often, just seeing an expert's caption can inspire you to write your own. It may or may not be similar, but you will do a good job with their help.

Finally, one of the most powerful things you can do is disagree. It helps a lot to have a valid reason for it. But even if it's based on a hunch, you can try and roll with it.

Contradicting an influencer is like starting a beef in rap. Usually the less famous rapper starts it (us, in this case).

If the more famous rapper doesn't notice or ignores you, no harm done.
If the more famous rapper engages and retaliates, you get exposure.
As the old adage says - no such thing as bad publicity. You can't lose.

So which are some of the best caption masters in the Instasphere? Let's take a look:

Twitter

Twitter influencers are even better writers than Instagram influencers. They were writing short, witty bits years before anyone had heard about Instagram.

The best part is that it's a different platform. You have a choice. You can give credit to the Twitter user in some way. Or you can, khm, borrow their content. I wouldn't recommend blatant stealing.

That said, I don't think the consequences would ever emerge. In fact, I often notice great tweets being used as Instagram captions a few days later. You can use Twitter as a source of good captions. My recommendation is to give some sort of credit if using the exact same text.

These are some of my favorite Twitter people:

Reddit

Certain subreddits are made for inspiration. This is crossing platforms, you can choose to copy and paste, or acknowledge the author. I recommend giving it your own twist, or to get inspired by it.

Reddit itself offers you a few ways to choose what type of content you want.

Reddit sort options
Reddit sort options

If you are after proven hits, sort by Hot, and look for posts with many upvotes.

If you want to bet on an emerging trend, sort by New, and look for posts that you consider good.

Even if you want to go with controversial captions, Reddit has you covered. Just sort by Controversial.

Anyway, the best subreddits that generate short, light, funny bits are:

Text-based subreddits are better. But I like looking at the picture and video subreddits for inspiration too:

Quotes websites

There are tons of pages that offer readymade quotes.

Most of their stuff is kinda lame.

Or beaten to death by overuse, especially on Instagram.

Don't expect to find James Joyce's lost pearls of wisdom there. That said, if you hunt around long enough, you will find some diamonds in the dirt.

Many of these pages offer you features to sort by topic. That can be pretty useful.

You can bet that you won't be neither the first, nor the only Instagrammer with that caption. Still, it may serve some purpose every now and then.

I recommend going after quotes of famous people (or wrongfully attributed to them). When you specify who said the quote, it gives it social proof. Many people will believe something more if you tell them that Nikola Tesla said it.

Here are a few good quote websites:

Final checklist, putting it all together

It's not as complicated as it seems. Go over this article one more time in one week. You will then be among the cream of Instagram caption writers. Just take a look at all the terrible captions people use. That should be enough proof.

Here's a quick checklist of all that we went through:

● always keep context in mind, both around the picture and your target audience
● always keep your goal in mind, what are you trying to achieve with your caption
● unless needed otherwise, keep it clear, short, light and fun
● write several drafts, choose the best one
● go over it several times, make it shorter and more impactful
● to have the greatest engagement, write fun, trendy captions
● to get new followers, examine the language of your target audience and use it
● the best way to get attention is to present yourself as a source of value
● creatively use novelty in your captions, experiment with random and seemingly crazy ideas
● use proper grammar unless otherwise needed
● use short paragraphs with blank lines between them
● use emojis as needed
● use 3 to 30 hashtags, the more well-researched each one is the better
● occasionally mention your friends, try to engage them
● occasionally do a contest or a giveaway
● unless you know what you're doing, avoid excessive use of fonts
● when posting a video, write short summaries or teasers
● when posting a story, write very short phrases that intensify your message
● when facing a writer's block, use other accounts' captions, Twitter, Reddit and quotes pages to get inspired, to borrow, or to contradict

That should cement your knowledge. Revise this checklist before writing your next caption. You will produce a gem.

There we go. Nothing is omitted. Or is it? Have I missed something valuable about writing Instagram captions? Let me know in the comments!

Be strategic about your Instagram content