Instagram Captions: Mastering a Massive Engagement-Driver

By Olsy Sorokina


Image by Markus Spiske CC BY Markus Spiske /
Image by Markus Spiske CC BY Markus Spiske /

While many people have their Instagram filter choices down to a science, fewer have delved into the details of crafting the perfect caption. Given that Instagram is a photo-sharing app, it makes sense that text takes the backseat. But with Instagram’s rapid growth and introduction of new features focused specifically on captions, there’s no reason not to take this extra step to bring your Instagram game to the next level.

In this post, I will focus on elements involved in composing an Instagram caption that drives maximum engagement, conveys your message in the best possible way, and helps make your Instagram presence the best it can be.

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps an adventure photographer used to grow from 0 to 110,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.

7 ways to craft a perfect Instagram caption

Tell a story

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t enrich your Instagram followers’ experience by telling the story behind your latest photo. After all, Instagram didn’t start out as a channel for professional photographers and iPhoneographers—it was a social network where people shared their life moments, with some funky filters thrown in.

Whether you use Instagram for personal branding, a behind-the-scenes look at workplace culture or as an online catalogue of your products, any photo can benefit from some context. Plus, if your caption text has storytelling value, then any hashtags or emoji you add don’t look quite so distracting.

Ask a question

A while back, Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, published a study in which they have analyzed posts that asked for help from the user’s network. Researchers found that, understandably, posts with requests for help or recommendations have higher engagements than non-question posts with affirmative statements.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 2.19.47 PM.png

Similarly, if you share an Instagram photo that is similar to other photos on the network—say, a picture of your lunch, your feet, or a beautiful sunset in your city—you can make yours stand out by providing some context and asking a question. For example, if you were particularly impressed with the presentation of food at a local restaurant, why not ask your followers if they’ve had similar experiences? After all, the more comments your photo has, the higher the chances of it appearing in other users’ Explore tab.

Think before you link

When it comes to captions, Instagram has made many changes, except for one: clickable hyperlinks still don’t work in Instagram captions. Brands can find ways around this limitation with the new Sponsored posts format, but what about other users? People can work around the hyperlink issue by placing the link in the ‘Website’ section of their bio description and then pointing to it in the photo caption.

As a general rule, it’s best to keep links off Instagram. One of the essential parts of the Instagram experience is how immersive it is. Links take users away from the app, which can in turn take away possible engagement opportunities for your photos.

Optimize captions for cross-platform sharing

Instagram allows users to cross-post their images to five social networks, and tools such as IFTTT can increase that number if you wish to do so. If this is part of your posting routine, consider optimizing your caption for all the networks you select. Not all parts of an Instagram caption will translate on other social networks. For example, if you include an @username on Instagram and cross-post the image to Facebook, the username will show up as plain text and could be seen as distracting. Keep it simple and text-only with captions when you plan to cross-post—or, if you have time, take advantage of the editing feature on individual networks.

Cross-posting can also be advantageous for your visibility on several platforms: If you include hashtags in your Instagram caption, check that these tags are consistently used on all networks where the photo is posted.

Consider the hashtags

Adding hashtags for visibility is not exactly what you’d call an industry secret when it comes to Instagram. And the revamped Explore function makes a well-placed hashtag that much more important for its potential to showcase your business or personal account to the international Instagram community without paying a cent.

However, going overboard with hashtags in your Instagram caption can also be an eyesore for your followers’ feeds: you don’t want the excessive blue text to take away from your photo. One practice that many users have found effective is placing spaces or smaller characters, such as an asterisk or a period, to place the hashtags below the fold in the original caption, or even placing the hashtags in a separate comment, as such:

Even before you consider the placement of hashtags, brush up on the best practices for hashtag use such as the optimal amount of hashtags and context for hashtags you include.

Experiment with emoji hashtags

Emoji have established a permanent presence in our text messages and social media posts, but Instagram decided to take our emoticon habits even further by enabling emoji hashtags on the network. This doesn’t just mean a new fun way to illustrate a girls’ night out with the infamous dancer twins—you can also utilize new emoji flags to indicate locations, show off things you love with the heart emoji, and show your support for important causes with the thumbs-up.

Using emoji in Instagram captions is a good way to take advantage of something you most likely already place in your Instagram posts (according to Instagram, over 50 percent of text on the network is made up of emoji), while also increasing the visibility of your photos. A fun strategy to try is to come up with a unique branded emoji hashtag by using a combination of emoji. Just imagine what would happen if all the brands that chimed in for #NewMeaningsForEmojis Twitter discussion actually used these hashtags on Instagram?

Instagram captions emoji hashtag

However, similar to any other hashtags, the same rules of etiquette apply to emoji: don’t let them take over your Instagram feed, and limit the number of emoji hashtags you include in a single post. Aim for the hashtags that would get you the maximum reach and convey your message in the most straightforward fashion.

To tag… or not to tag?

Another important consideration for your Instagram caption is whether to include tags and @usernames. Tagging is helpful in any situation where you share user-generated content from your online community, give credit to the photographer or mention Instagram users present in the photo.

As with any other blue text, you don’t want the usernames to take over the caption space. If there’s more than one subject in your Instagram photo, use the app’s Tag People function to acknowledge their presence this way (make sure to get their permission first, as tagged photos appear in a separate feed for public accounts). If you’re giving credit to a photographer or the original user who shared the photo on Instagram, include it in the caption. You can spice up the caption by adding the camera emoji, like so:

Instagram captions tag

Do you have any secret recipes for crafting the best Instagram caption? Share your best practices with us in the comments below!

More Resources

how to get more instagram followers Guide: Instagram Master Tactics

how to get more instagram followers How-to: Add Instagram to Your Dashboard

how to get more instagram followers Guide: How to get more Instagram followers

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