How to write Instagram captions – is a question I get asked by almost all of my clients. And I love to answer this like a teenager loves selfies. Like Indians love their curries. And Aussies love their barbeques.
One of my clients even cried at the beginning of the call that she finds writing captions so overwhelming. (On that note, I decided to create a whole comprehensive masterclass on how to write captions. Stay tuned!) But I understand the anxiety around it.
Too short? Too long? Too cute? Overly profound? Too kiddish? Not mature enough? Too naive? Too stuffy? Too promotional? Not promotional at all?
These are all the questions that can run through your mind when it comes to writing (bloody!) Instagram captions.
Here is my short answer to your woes. Instagram captions have one overarching job: To connect with your audience.
Sometimes when you’re writing captions for Instagram, you might think you need to just slap up something and not care too much about deep stuff like Connection. Yet, without that one element, your captions may fall flat and leave your audience feeling bland.
Let’s take a look at the psychology of connection and how it drives sales – to drive home the point I want to make here. Then we will dive deep into other elements that will be super useful for you to know when you write captions next time.
What is the psychology behind the feeling of Connection and sales?
A simple orange colour mandarin sitting in front of us on the tall wooden stool. When people start to draw, there can be a lot of apprehensions around making a mark on the paper. I had a set of mine.
I was sitting in an art class, and the teacher said how you feel a connection to the object dictates how you draw. She explained how we look at it with only one sense – eyes. But to draw, you need to feel it with all your senses, experience the texture and smell it.
That sounded crazy to me. To feel connected with the inanimate object can influence what I draw? Really? Similarly, what you write can dictate your connection with your audience and in turn, sales in your business.
As you are reading this, you may think this sounds just as crazy as my art teacher did to me. Captions on Instagram really can’t do that heavy lifting for your business. However, I am here to tell you they can.
People may not feel a direct connection to your message or exact story – but they will probably be able to relate through some other life experience they have had. They might find similarities in your vision, your life, and your philosophy around your life – that’s when they feel connected with you. It’s about connecting people through feelings and emotions they can relate to personally. All too often, we forget about this underlying intention of writing on Instagram.
If your captions can create goosebumps and emotion in your audience when you express your thoughts and stories with passion – they have the power to move them and inspire them to take action.
They might also build connection by inspiring them or telling them things they are interested in.
We are evolutionary beings, and we love to discover what we don’t know. People love to find answers to the unknown. But why? What is it about not knowing something that makes it interesting, and makes us want to explore or discover?
We, as a human species, want to learn and grow and learn more about growing tomato garden, to change different aspects of our life, and learn about the stars and universe and planets. With each discovery and lesson, we add something interesting to our life. And through this shared act, we build a connection with other human beings.
If you offer all this to your audience with your captions, it is likely they will feel connected with you over time and get a real sense of you as a person even before they meet you in person.
But isn’t Instagram about visuals?
You might think, isn’t Instagram a visual platform and isn’t it enough to put up a good photo? Yes it is a visual platform, but when you use it for business purpose, visuals are the first step in creating the relationship and getting their attention. After you capture their attention, you have to tell them who you are, what your brand stands for and your approach to business. That’s where captions come into place.
After you have put the photo, and they pay attention to you, captions have to trigger the senses and stimulate their brain centres to get fascinated by what you do, inform who you are and what your business is about. To create deeper connection with your people and them to get to know you – you need to forge trust and belonging with them and that’s where captions can be immensely helpful.
People want to know how do things work? How can we solve their problems? How can we change their attitudes? How can we help them look at things differently? We want to be intrigued and then follow that chain of fascination. Most people write self -serving, simple photo descriptions on Instagram that doesn’t benefit anyone.
So why short self-serving captions are hurting your business?
In old Instagram days, you would see a pretty photos, click, like, done.
When Instagram started, many people would post a photo of a book and tea and write the caption
“Reading about chamomile while sipping some chamomile. #Chamomile”
That’d be enough. No one would twist their eyes on anything like that.
Few other examples like this:
Mid week trips just got better.
Having a laugh with best joke girl
How dreamy is this spread to eat. About to dig in
Treating myself to the fantastic food in Srilanka
What do you think when you read these captions?
You might think “Awesome” “Great job” “Good for you” or it may even instil the feelings of distrust or simply feeling no affinity for the person or the account.
Because they are simply descriptions of their life, or their photo, which is redundant information. When someone is writing these captions, they are only broadcasting things about their amazing life. They are not thinking about their reader or audience – how this tiny post is helping their audience. That’s the most significant difference.
It is not giving them anything to get interested in except some pretty visual escape. It is not teaching them anything, stimulating their thinking any further after having a look at the photo. So the conversation in their minds, ends there after looking at the photo.
I am not asking you to write long stories or essays, but it is essential to write something meaningful that takes your audience a step further in the journey to know you and trust you .
To think and shift their perspective about tiny things in their life. Even in doing so, you are making a difference in their lives and that goes a long way. No one is all that much interested in your beach life or Hawaiian holidays.
Why are these captions important for your business and sales goals?
I had once read this from someone:
For someone to change their destiny, they have to make a decision. For them to make a decision, they have to change their state.
Taking that a step further – to change their state – you have to speak to their emotions. If you can’t accurately convey a relevant story, then your product or service is not going to appeal to your audience. Writing captions is like breaking your big story and message into a hundred little pieces. Holding your audience hands and leading them to reach their goal and in turn, pay you for that service.
Also, the principle of reciprocity means that when someone gives us something, we feel compelled to give something back in return. That’s simply human nature. And Hindu philosophy of Karma too. When someone serves us with a generous heart – we feel it and our biological nature is to give back to that person.
Have you ever taken a taster in a super market stall and ended up with an unplanned ready to cook meal purchase because you felt an obligation to buy after you tried a free sample?
That was simply the principle of reciprocity in action. Similarly, your audience notices if you are trying to make a difference in their lives long before they are ready to pay you.
The best way to make captions meaningful is to give very caption a clear purpose so that you don’t fall into the traps of writing self-serving captions which are either too short or overly promotional.
How to establish a clear purpose for your captions?
There are 4 things to keep in mind when you are writing captions with a purpose:
1. Leading with value
2. Contribute to your audience’s life
3. Change their day
4. Give them an escape or entertains them
Before you write you can think of these factors as your filters to determine if it’s valuable for other people or not. Does your caption fulfil any of these criteria? This could be your test for not writing self-serving promotional captions or captions that don’t serve or add any value to your audience.
For example, you could tell them a solution to a small problem they have. Or a simple anecdote or a story from your day that could inspire your audience. You could tell them something entertaining or inspiration they could take away with them for the rest of the day. This brings up the question how do you write captions that go straight for the heart?
How to write captions that speak to the heart of your followers?
Your captions must speak to your audience and their preferences. If they like beautiful poetry, it could be just that or a snippet of the lesson you have learned the hard way. Pay attention to what your audience wants from you.
For example – My audience doesn’t like overly girl bossy hype or fashion stuff or constant show off of life or material possessions. They prefer mellow, thought-provoking, intellectual and adventurous content. And that suits my personality as well. So it’s a great match. To start, think about what kind of people you feel connected with. A specific profession and the type of work they do and write for them.
Your audience is there to get a peek in your life, your philosophy, your way of thinking and expertise as well. So don’t let the thought of “what they want from me” cloud your own self-expression. Trust what you express and share about your life in a meaningful way, will ultimately attract the right people to you and your brand.
How can you express your true personality in your Instagram captions that connect you with your audience?
Here are my four suggestions to do that:
Connection to the moment in your life:
In the earlier sections, I discussed how Connection is the key to action. To write captions that evoke emotion – you have to feel the Connection first. Look for moments in your day when you felt pleasurable when you felt in integrity with your self and your values. Did you find something that reminded of childhood? Your mother’s old dress that reminded you of her wedding? What were things happening in your life at that time? Who is in the photo – family member? What is happening, and what did it mean to you?
All of these questions can act as prompts for you to write engaging captions.
Dig Deep for the details:
Once you have got the idea to write the caption, then dig for further information in the moment. If you noticed pretty red rose – don’t leave it there “Pretty red rose.” Dig deep for what you noticed about the flower, why it mattered, what was the moment like? What details did you notice in flower? Mention all those things. Details are the fodder that fuels connection in your audience’s mind. It helps them to see how you think and what your worldview is like.
Tell a story about it:
Telling a story is a great way to build that connection with your audience. Have a beginning, middle and end.
Three ways to open your captions are my 3-T framework:
Trigger: You can write something that’s not popular or is controversial. Or simply grabs attention. Make sure to deliver on your point; otherwise, your audience can feel cheated. For ex-
Marketers are all liars.
Why I spent $1500 on this bag?
Can you believe this is happening?
Take: Start with your take or your opinion on the subject.
For ex – I don’t believe captions have to be frivolous.
I am tired of seeing the same things.
Something annoys me more than kids’ crying in an aeroplane.
Topic: Start with your topic or title of the post.
Here is why I don’t believe action is the answer.
I believe that business is more than money.
Here is my weekly plan:
Once you have got your beginning, give your viewpoint and content. Something that helps me not to sound too stuffy is to imagine I am talking to my favourite clients sitting in front of me around the campfire and what would they like to listen to.
Find the right tone for your brand and stick with it:
Imagine a battleship in the sea in bad weather with its captain on the bridge. It is sailing in a foggy night and needs to make decisions on its course to the destination. Whether it needs to stay steady or change directions, the ship looks out for the light from the lighthouse for the signal. Lighthouse is the source that keeps on the course and warns boats of dangerous areas.
Similarly finding your tone and voice acts like a Lighthouse in your business that keeps you grounded. When you are grounded in who you are, and how you want to show up in your business, how you want to communicate your ideas and in what tone, it creates confidence in your audience’s minds. They learn to trust you and open up to receiving your message more.
If you are a funny and gregarious type of a person in real life, keep that similar tone in your captions as well. If you are a pensive, thoughtful person, then follow that kind of voice in your captions. Like my tone is more of a thought-provoking, wise friend on side sprinkled with some satirical humour. That’s how I am in real life as well. Whatever you choose, keep it consistent. If you waver from your voice and tone every day, you are likely to confuse your audience.
There you have it.
Writing good captions require a little bit of scratching the paper, making some squeaky noise, changing a few pens – just kidding. I mean practice.
Remember what I said before: Make it worth their while. Make it matter to them. Make it matter to yourself first. Because words on the screen aren’t just words. If you use them right, they can be weapon for your business. And changing hearts. And if that needs a little bit of practice – I don’t think you are one of those who is scared to put in the work.
Go now scratch some paper. Or screen. No. Not the screen please.