Compelling visuals may be what Instagram is all about, but an effective Instagram caption will push the engagement needle, getting you more Likes and comments. And engagement, dear readers, is key.
With the recent changes to Instagram’s algorithm, posts now appear in feeds “based on the likelihood [the audience] will be interested in the content.” That means that a photo or video with lots of comments and Likes has a better chance of appearing at, or near the top of your followers’ home stream.
In this guide we’ll show you what goes into a great caption and how to go about crafting your own. We’ll also serve up a collection of Instagram caption ideas and examples from the brands that do them best so you can learn from the pros.
If you need help adding, editing, or deleting the caption of an existing post, check out Instagram’s quick how-to guide.
What makes a good Instagram caption?
A great Instagram caption will add context, show off your brand’s personality, entertain the audience, and prompt your followers to take action. Captions can be up to 2,200 characters in length, include emojis as well as up to 30 hashtags.
Of course that doesn’t mean your captions should be hashtag-ridden essays with lots of distracting emojis. As with any piece of good web copy, your Instagram caption should be attention-grabbing and easy to read. It should also speak to the content and your audience.
12 tips for crafting the perfect Instagram caption
1. Know your audience
Who of Instagram’s 500 million users are your customers and prospects? As explained in our post, The Top Instagram Demographics That Matter to Social Media Marketers, the platform is used by people in all income brackets and is slightly more popular among women than it is with men.
But those are the broad strokes. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to engage them on Instagram.
Because you can’t possibly know every prospect, we recommend building audience personas. These archetypes outline basic details about your target customers, their goals, and their pain points.
Our guide to creating audience personas outlines the questions you need to ask yourself to determine who your customers are. How old are they? Where do they live? What sorts of jobs do they have? What do they do outside of work?
Answering those questions takes a bit of research. Luckily we’ve created a four-step guide to make that process as quick and easy as possible.
Bonus: Download a free guide that reveals how to increase social media engagement with better audience research, sharper customer targeting, and Hootsuite’s easy-to-use social media software.
Once you know who you’re speaking to, you can answer questions such as:
- Will my audience understand this reference?
- Are emojis and netspeak appropriate to use here? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Do I need to add more context to this photo?
Answer those, and you’re well on your way to satisfying tip number two.
2. Identify your brand voice
If you haven’t identified your brand voice as part of a broader social media marketing plan, ask yourself: what are the qualities and values I want my brand to embody? Make a list and use it to shape your voice. You might also try jotting down a few adjectives that describe your brand and use those to refine the voice.
In general, Instagram users don’t expect a formal or serious tone. Of course it depends on the industry and audience, but you should strive to keep things light, use humor where appropriate, and show your personality.
The social media marketing team at Oreo do a great job of this, combining humor and whimsy to tell the brand’s story.
3. Consider length
Remember that most people scroll through their Instagram feeds at a brisk pace. If there’s any doubt as to how long your caption should be, keep it brief. Give context where you need to, but if the post speaks for itself, let it.
That said, if there’s an interesting story to tell behind the photo, then share it. National Geographic’s Instagram account is one of the best at the longer-form caption. As impressive as the magazine’s visuals are, the accompanying text always adds value.
Photo by @BrianSkerry. A rare encounter with a mother and calf Northern Right Whale Dolphin in the waters of Cortes Banks, located 100-miles off of San Diego, California. These elusive dolphins have a stunning black-and-white coloration and also lack a dorsal fin. The rich marine ecosystem here is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including many species of fish and invertebrates living near the sea floor and pelagic animals – like these Dolphins – in the waters above. The unique habitat of kelp forest and surf grass at Cortes Banks, along with the influence of ocean currents, creates an oasis for animals that thrive in these special waters. Coverage from an upcoming story in @NatGeo about special marine ecosystems in US waters. @thephotosociety #cortes #banks #northern #right #whale #dolphin #nature #photography #underwater #california #on #assignment #san #diego #national #geographic
4. Place the most important words at the beginning of your caption
Captions are cut off in users’ feeds after a few lines of text, so you need to convey your key point or call to action right away. Put any @mentions and hashtags (more on those later) at the end.
Also, leading with the most important words is simply good writing practice. Hook the reader in and give her a reason to tap more.
5. Edit and rewrite
Take your time and don’t be afraid to go through several drafts,, especially if your captions are more than a few lines long. Great copy—whether it be humorous or inspirational—always comes on the rewrite.
Make sure every word supports the content and message you’re trying to convey. Cut out words that are clearly unnecessary to keep it as concise as possible.
6. Use hashtags, but use them wisely
Instagram posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6 percent more engagement than those with no hashtags, according to a study by Simply Measured. So use them when they are relevant to your post and target audience—but don’t use so many that they crowd your copy and make it difficult to read.
As we explain in The Complete Instagram Hashtag Guide for Business, if you don’t want to clutter your captions, there are two ways to “hide” your hashtags:
- Separate your hashtags from the rest of your caption by burying them beneath dots and line breaks. Once you’ve finished composing your caption, tap the 123 key. Select return and then enter a period, dash, or asterisk. Repeat those steps at least five times. Because Instagram caps off captions after three lines, the hashtags won’t be viewable to users unless they tap the more option.
- Don’t put hashtags in your captions at all. Instead, include them in the comment section below your post. Once other people leave a few comments, the hashtags won’t be viewable unless the option to See all is selected.
7. Pose a question
One of the easiest ways to get more comments on your photo is by using the caption to pose a question to your followers.
It could be a yes or no question, a skill-testing question, or an open-ended question.
You could also use the caption to solicit your audience for tips or recommendations.
8. Give a shout-out with an @mention
Does your post feature another Instagram user? Include their handle in the caption so your followers can check out their profile too. By mentioning another user in the caption, you’ll likely compel that user—and possibly some of his followers—to also engage with your content.
9. Encourage engagement with a call to action
Want to drive engagement? Ask for it by inviting people to leave a comment, tag their friends, or weigh in with an opinion.
Of course the content of the post will have to be compelling for them to want to do that—so be sure to put your best foot forward before you put your hand out. It will reflect poorly on your brand if you try to solicit engagement but receive only silence in return.
Alternatively you could make your call to action too good to refuse. Ask your followers to enter a contest to win a prize.
10. Don’t be afraid to use emoji
Are emoji appropriate to use within an Instagram caption? [100 percent emoji]
The adorable animated icons can help draw the reader’s eye in and are a great way to add a bit of personality to your caption.
Emoji can also stand in for entire words, keeping your copy short and fun.
11. Try using quotes
Not the clichéd inspirational variety, but ones that are specific to the post. Maybe it’s a quote from the person who captured the photo, as GoPro often does with their user-generated content.
#GoPro Featured Photographer: @rorykramer "I am often asked how I got to where I am so quickly in my career. A few DJs saw my personal youtube videos and asked me to tour with them. I quit my job on my 30th Birthday and pushed myself every second and every opportunity I got. I went places on stage I wasn't supposed to be, I shot in a perspective that was different yet true to myself, and I always put my content out the very next day. Many of my videos I wasn't asked or hired to shoot, I knew I had to get the content in front of the right eyes so I would just shoot it and see what happened. That resulted in a music video for @avicii , lyric videos for @thechainsmokers , + 2 music videos for Justin Bieber. #Runit" #GoPro #GoProMusic #dvbbs # Settings: Burst Mode set to 30/3, handheld.
Or it could be a sentiment from the subject of the post, as Nike has done with this video featuring Paralympian Scout Bassett.
12. Schedule your Instagram posts for optimal engagement
Once you’ve crafted the perfect caption to go along with your picture-perfect post, it’s time to publish that bad boy. Or is it?
Depending on your audience and region, there might be more optimal times to post on Instagram. As we preach in our guide The Best Time to Post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, consider your target audience and what parts of the day they would most likely be scrolling through their feeds.
What time are they waking up for a first-thing-in-the-morning browse? When do they break for lunch? And when would they be passing time on their commutes home?
With Hootsuite, you can upload an Instagram photo or video, add a caption, and schedule it for publishing later.
Instagram caption ideas from the brands that do them best
Now that you know how to write the perfect caption, let’s look at some of the most effective caption types and how brands use them to engage their audiences.
The follow-the-link CTA caption
Airbnb uses Instagram to preview accommodations and encourages their fans to click the link in their Instagram bio (which is always changing) to be taken to the listing for more information.
“Work from home” takes on a whole new meaning when your office is inside this craftsman gem in Venice, California. Vine covered interior walls coat this cozy back cottage for a day filled with natural light and inspiration. Listing details for this unique, rustic space are in the link in our bio. Photo cred: @whitneyleighmorris
For more tips on how to optimize your Instagram bio for engagement, check out our post Instagram Bio Ideas for Business.
The behind-the-scenes caption
Instagram is a great platform for giving your audience a behind-the-scenes look at your brand. Lush Cosmetics does a great job at this, using their captions to explain how their products are made.
The informative and educational caption
General Electric’s Instagram captions are full of compelling facts about science, nature, and company initiatives.
This week, #GE is going under the microscope to celebrate the #lifesciences and feature some cool #nanograms. Here, we can see a low-magnification image of the upper body region of a common fruit fly, which can carry serious diseases and destroy crops. But they can also be useful: housefly larvae feed on a wide range of decaying matter and waste. Research suggests that this adaptation could be used to combat ever-increasing amounts of waste and trash. Does that make them a friend or a foe? #biology #instascience #cellimaging #GEcellfies
The instructional caption
Tasty, BuzzFeed’s food channel, pairs step-by-step cooking videos with the recipe itself. Simple + useful = a great caption.
Roasted Garlic Parmesan Potatoes Servings: 4 – 6 INGREDIENTS 3 russet potatoes, sliced 4 tablespoons olive oil Salt, to taste Pepper, to taste 2 teaspoons garlic powder 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning 1 teaspoon paprika ½ cup parmesan cheese, shredded Parsley, chopped PREPARATION 1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F / 200˚C. 2. Place the potatoes in a large bowl. Drizzle olive oil and toss to coat. 3. In a small bowl, mix salt, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and paprika. Sprinkle seasoning on potatoes and toss to coat. 4. Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, remove from the oven, sprinkle with parmesan and pepper, then bake for an additional 20 minutes. 5. Sprinkle potatoes with fresh parsley and serve while hot. 6. Enjoy!
The contest or giveaway caption
There are few things on Instagram more appealing than the promise of free stuff. If you’re running an Instagram contest, promote it in the caption by explaining to the audience how to enter and what they can win.
Introducing a new take on Secret Santa 🙊🎅. Twelve Instagrammers plus all of you. Here's how it works. 1. We'll reveal each Instagrammer's Secret Santa on our feed 2. You tag a friend that you want to surprise in the comments (tell us a little about them) 3. We'll pick one person in each post to receive a gift ————————— To start things off our dear friend @kimathomas got @katewinsy our Cotton Tank and a pair of Leather Street Shoes. Congratulations to @white_lux, your Secret Santa is @carrielondon.
The cross-platform promotion caption
If there’s more to the story than what you’re able to post on Instagram, encourage the audience to check out one of your other social profiles for a closer look. Mercedes Benz used this tactic to promote their behind-the-scenes Snapchat strategy.
That moment when you travel on the #Transalpina through #Romania and get stopped by a group of donkeys.🐴 That's what actually happened today on our #ChasingStars tour with the new #GLC #Coupé! 🚙😂 For more live impressions make sure to check out 👻mercedesbenz on #snapchat! #iaaa #stoppedbydonkeys #MercedesBenz #MBcar #RoadTrip #GLCCoupe #SUV #Mercedes #Benz #4MATIC
The storyteller caption
As we noted in tip number three, if your post calls for context then by all means take advantage of Instagram’s generous character count.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find any brand or publisher on Instagram who consistently publishes more impactful captions than Humans of New York, which of course are always stories from the subjects of the images.
“I’ve always lived off my artwork all my life. I’ve lived all over the world. I’ve had fourteen common law wives. I’ve never needed money because I’m talented. Talent is better than money because it’s always with you. Let me give you an example. Back in 1970 I was getting dinner with a Japanese model at the Sao Paulo Hilton in Brazil. This guy from Texas was sitting at the table next to me, and he’s trying to order a steak, but he keeps sending it back to the kitchen. He keeps saying: ‘The steaks are better in Texas.’ After the second time he sends it back, the master chef comes out, and I hear him say in Portuguese: ‘I’m going to kill this man!’ Now being a Galician myself, I know the character of the Latin American people. If a French person says he’s going to kill you, you don’t have to worry. The French are lovers and all lovers are cowards. Trust me—several of my former wives are French. I know this. But when a Latin American tells you that he’s going to kill you, it’s time to leave. So I walked over to the man’s table and bought him a bottle of wine, and I talked with him about Texas. I knew all about Texas because I competed in fishing tournaments there. After a few minutes of talking, I tell the man: ‘If you order one more steak, you’re going to get killed with a machete.’ So he took my advice and he left. The entire restaurant staff came out and started singing to me with tambourines. They brought out free wine and a full spread. They said, ‘Your money is no good here.’ The Japanese model was so impressed. See what I mean? Talent.”
The minimalist caption
We’ve already stated it in this post, but it bears repeating: if your content is attention-grabbing and speaks for itself, a short—or even no caption—is best.
Now that you’ve mastered the caption, you’re ready to start driving engagement on Instagram with Hootsuite. From within the dashboard you can upload a photo or video, add a caption, and schedule it for publishing later.