I grew up in a cult. Or, at least, that’s what people on the outside thought it was. My community wasn’t actually a cult, but we did have a lot of inside jokes. Back in the day, I relied on those jokes to earn all of my double-taps on Instagram circa early-10s. Today, I’m going to chat with you about five easy steps to write effective captions for your business on that very same platform. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My earliest traceable Instagram post is from December 16, 2012. It has a total of nine likes and one comment from someone that I was “dating” (AKA texting) at the time. My caption is three words long, and it makes virtually no sense if you weren’t part of my teeny-tiny community.
Now, it’s 2019, and Instagram is a behemoth of a platform. Pour one out for those little black frames and heavy-duty vignette effects. It makes or breaks brands, captivates one billion monthly active viewers, and probably influenced your outfit decision this morning. I wound up making my living off of running Instagram for businesses, and it goes without saying that I no longer write thoughtless, in-group jargon, three-word captions.
I write for tens of thousands of followers. I write for impressions and engagement. I write for brand awareness, brand affinity, campaign success, ROI, SEO, clicks, consideration, conversions, website traffic, and - let’s hear it again - engagement. But what often gets lost when brands take to Instagram, is the very thing that it all starts with: followers. Real people.
Authenticity is not just a buzzword.
Every single person that comes across your post is authentic, and what brands have to do in order to be successful on Instagram is to write for real people. With that being said, let’s jump right in.
Step One: Take a deep breath.
Don’t worry, I feel you. Being a brand on Instagram is scary. The competition is tough, and we haven’t mentioned the A-word yet - algorithm. I see you, I know you, I am you. Everyday, I have the same doubts that you’re having right now, so in light of that, let’s all take a deep breath.
There is no cookie-cutter, get-rich-quick way to find meaningful success on Instagram, and that should be comforting.
One thing to remember is that Instagram needs you, and its algorithm will actually reward you for simply showing up on the platform.
Try it out: Inhale. Exhale. You’re good.
Step Two: Pick your categories.
As the rapper/singer Drake once said, know yourself. Identify your areas of expertise - the things that you could talk for hours about. Insta-pro Jasmine Star recommends 9-12 categories of Instagram captions per brand. Why 9-12? Because your feed only displays the latest nine posts before visitors are required to scroll. With 9 solid categories, your brand will be full represented in one quick glance of your profile.
Try it out: Take out a pen and paper, set your phone timer to three minutes, and write down all the caption categories you can possibly think of for your brand. Once the three minute brainstorm is over, pick nine! Easy as that.
Step Three: Write a killer hook.
Elisa Darma, Instagram Marketing maven, stresses the importance of the first line. Because Instagram only previews the first little bit of your caption, you’ve got to catch your followers’ attention in the first few words.
Notice how I began this article. “I grew up in a cult,” is a pretty provocative statement, and it might have compelled you to keep reading. Elise encourages brands to “bleed in the first line” AKA share something personal, evocative, or emotional. I’ll say it again:
Your followers are real people, and they’ll be more likely to respond to your content if you’re real with them too.
Try it out: Answer these four questions. What is a recent challenge you’ve faced? What is a recent success you’ve had? Who has shown you kindness recently and how? What’s your brand’s origin story? Reword your answers into a short, compelling hook.
Step Four: Teach us something.
Here’s a little algorithm secret: The more time that people spend reading your post, the more Instagram bumps your content up in its algorithm. One way to keep your brand fans on your posts is to teach them something.
An excellent example of a brand keeping our attention by teaching us something is Tastemade’s profile. They’re known to include an entire recipe in their caption, capturing literally millions of views per post.
Try it out: Remember your areas of expertise? You’re holding onto valuable knowledge in those areas that other people want! Revisit one of those categories you identified in Step One, and said in a Jonathan Van Ness voice have your teachable moment, henny. Then, literally copy and paste this call to action into the end of your caption: “Want more tips like this? Visit [your website here].”
Step Five: Start with the caption.
I’m gonna guess that your personal use of Instagram looks a little like this: There’s a cute photo you want to share. You edit the photo. Then, you and your friends throw around caption ideas until one sticks. I’m going to challenge you to flip that process on its head when you’re writing for your brand.
Here’s why: when you start with your caption, you’re able to more clearly communicate your brand message without getting distracted by the photo. It’s tempting to stretch your message in order to write a caption that “fits”, but you’ll end up losing pieces of your mission along the way.
Try it out: Open a word processor and write nine captions at a time, making sure to use the four easy steps above. Do the same thing tomorrow. Rinse. Repeat. Soon enough, you’ll have a month’s worth of authentic, meaningful, and effective Instagram posts for your brand’s profile!