When someone says Insta, you say pics – right? Instagram was built as a photographic platform - and, as the third most popular social media network with more than one billion monthly users - strong aesthetics, visual stories and filters have proved a catch. However, as Instagram continues to evolve, brands need to be doing more to stand out within this overly saturated, speedily-scrolled platform. And if you still see captions as an afterthought, you can simply forget being star of the show.
As Ami Williamson says in ‘Instagram Captions for Ecommerce: Why Visuals Are Only Half the Picture’, it’s no longer acceptable “to slap together two or three words, chuck an emoji on the end and call it a day.” Essentially, if you’re aesthetic is bang on with high-quality images, tagged products and perfect hashtags, but you’re still getting no traction - it’s time to turn to words.
As Ami points out, you should approach your first sentence much like you might approach a headline. You need to shine if you’re to stop the constant stream of scrolling. This means leading with your most important message upfront, and making it stand out by piquing the reader’s curiosity, or giving them a taste of what’s to come. You've only got a second or two, so think about what will make your reader click ‘more’, rather than send them further down the Insta-track.
Another point to remember is that getting likes, comments and shares don’t come for free. So, use your expertise, product or story to give your audience content that either educates, inspires or entertains. It all comes down to knowing your audience and what they want, then helping them to find it through you. Just remember to make it relevant to what you offer.
To take it a step further, give your audience reason to reply. It's important to encourage users to engage with your posts, and one way to do this is through questions. It’s also the perfect way to get to know your audience better; see it as free customer feedback.
Instagram simply isn’t the place for overly formal language, but that doesn’t mean you have to ‘get down with the kids’ either. Aim for a human, casual and conversational tone, keeping in mind how your target audience speaks. If you wouldn’t say it in real life, then don’t say it in this space. Otherwise, you’ll be at risk of sounding false. Above all, keep it consistent. Ultimately, although you may have multiple people managing your social media account, a uniform voice breeds brand distinction, authenticity and trust.
Finally, there’s no reason why you can’t play with your words to make them more visual, too. You can attempt to make your caption more scannable with the following tips:
- Break up the lines – Let your first sentence stand alone. Then, in the same way that you’d make the paragraphs of a blog post digestible, do this with your caption. Your Instagram posts are far more likely to be read on a phone screen too, so clunky text simply won’t cut it.
- Emojis – There's a fine line between good emoji use and going emoji overboard, but when sprinkled effectively, they can help to create visual interest and stimulation. You could also use them to break up lists and points. The key is to make it easier, not harder, for the user to take in your message.
- Capitals, asterisks, dashes etc. – The occasional use of capitals and unique punctuation can help to stop your text from blurring into one big blob. See them as markers that refocus attention, but use them sparingly so as not to look nonsensical.
- Hashtags – the rule is to use them only when they’re natural, and work. Use it to connect around a certain theme, but only if it’s relatable to your brand. As with all the advice above, hashtags should enhance, and not detract from, your message.