You’ve toiled away on your edits, filters and sound clips on your latest Instagram Reel and are almost ready to hit post… but then you hit the caption field. Time for an existential crisis.
Should you just toss in a couple of hashtags and call it a day? Or is it time to wax poetic with a mini-essay? (Don’t forget your third option: just delete the draft and throw your phone in the ocean.) Suddenly, a fun opportunity to share on social media has become an opportunity to question everything.
When it comes to Instagram Reels captions, it’s hard to know just how much is too much — will a lengthy caption help or hurt your engagement?
Well, if you loved my story on whether long captions work better on Instagram than short ones, consider this the sequel and buckle up.
It’s time to find out the ideal length of an Instagram Reel caption the only way we know how: by spamming my poor, unsuspecting Instagram followers with content and taking some sweet sweet notes.
Let the science begin.
Famed designer Coco Chanel once said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” While pared-down minimalism may be the way to go for fashion, when it comes to Instagram, it sometimes seems like more is more.
At least that was the case for my last caption experiment. Comparing super-short captions and lengthy, detailed ones, we found that longer captions overwhelmingly led to higher engagement on Instagram Posts.
Our hypothesis is that Instagram Reels would be no different. (Need an Instagram Reels crash course? Here! You! Go!) After all, with Instagram Posts, longer captions provided more information, more opportunities to connect with followers, and better SEO.
Presumably, all of those benefits will also be true of Reels. But why presume when I can spend a weekend crafting 10 Instagram Reels and using them as captivating bait to find out the truth? Time to put my caption-craft to the test.
To test out the ideal length for an Instagram Reels post, I posted five videos with longer (125+ words). I also posted five videos with a brief, basic one-line description.
I decided that both the long-caption and short-caption videos should be quite similar in order to ensure that the content itself wasn’t a factor in any engagement.
Because I recently completed an elaborate renovation and am just itching to talk about it for hours at a time with anyone who dares to stand still enough to listen, I decided that before-and-after content was the way to go.
I made a couple videos about my bedroom (one with a long caption, one with a short one), one about the bathroom, and so on.
For each video, I grabbed a different trending sound, just to make sure Instagram didn’t think I was being too spammy.
I also wanted to do this to tap into the power of the Instagram Reels algorithm, which tends to boost videos that include music clips.
Ten videos went out into the world. When I checked back 48 hours later to see how they’d fared, here’s what I found.
TLDR: Instagram Reels with shorter captions received higher engagement and further reach.
While Instagram Posts with longer captions received higher engagement in our last experiment, I was surprised to see that shorter captions were more successful when it came to Instagram Reels.
|Reels with Long Captions
|Reels with Short Captions
I guess I didn’t need to spend all that time composing long captions after all. But while those are minutes I’ll never get back, the lessons of my past become the wisdom of my future. (And I am not upset at all that absolutely incredible inspirational phrase I just coined is likely too long and wordy to ever use as a caption for a Reel.)
What do the results mean?
As with all of these experiments, these results should be taken with a grain of salt. I only left my Reels up for two days, and obviously they were heavily focused on one specific topic.
It’s very possible that another type of Reel with another audience would’ve fared differently. I didn’t even use hashtags here, so that also may have impacted my reach.
But I think there are some key takeaways here — namely that you’re better off spending your time honing your editing skills than composing the perfect bon mot.
Reels are for skimming, Posts are for deep-dives
Reels, like TiKTok, are designed for discovery — so the people viewing them may not be your biggest fans or cousins who feel an obligation to follow you back.
That could be the explanation as to why long-caption Posts did so much better than long-caption Reels. If your audience is just watching your content to consume as part of an endless stream of quick-to-digest video content, a robust caption isn’t going to add much to the experience.
Tell your story with the content, not the caption
With Reels, it seems like it’s best if the caption offers supplementary material, not a full-on backstory.
Make sure your video can stand alone, and makes sense even without the context of a caption: if someone doesn’t read it, they should still feel like they got all the key takeaways. (Looking for some tips for creating stand-out Instagram Reels? We’ve got you covered.)
Tap into the SEO power of captions
Just because captions aren’t the most captivating element of your Reel, doesn’t mean you should just leave that field blank. The caption is an opportunity to plug in a few strong keywords and hashtags, to increase your chance of discoverability. Even if no human being ever reads your caption, the search index sure will.
Of course, everyone’s social media account is a unique and special butterfly, so your mileage may vary. The beautiful thing, though, is that it costs you nothing to experiment for yourself with how captions (or if captions!) work for you and your personal social media goals. Once you’ve poured your heart into crafting the perfect Instagram Reel, a clever caption is really just icing on the cake.
Take the pressure off real-time posting with Reels scheduling from Hootsuite. Schedule, post, and see what’s working and what’s not with easy-to-use analytics that help you activate viral mode.