By Ana Gotter on 19-Feb-2019 09:57:40
Instagram has always been a photo-first platform. It was created to share pictures-- and later, videos-- with your followers, and the emphasis has always been on vibrant, gorgeous, engaging visuals that captivate your audience.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the visual part of a post is the only part that matters. We know that the right captions will not only provide context to the image but also can generate conversation and have other distinct, marketing benefits. You always need a caption, especially when you’re using Instagram for marketing purposes… but how long exactly should that caption be?
With the focus being on the images and videos you share; many brands and marketers have debated how long their captions should be in order to increase the likelihood of seeing both immediate and long-term results. In this post, we’re going to answer that question, helping you to decide whether or not you should use long or short Instagram captions, and how you can ensure that people are reading and acting based on what you write.
The Purpose of Instagram Captions
The primary purpose of Instagram captions is, of course, first and foremost to add context to the image or video that you’re sharing. It’s what makes the image even more enticing, and for marketers, that can mean the difference between action being taken and users forgetting every word.
We recommend treating any product you want to sell as if it was a delicious dish from a restaurant. A picture of an ice-cream cone is drool-worthy after all but paired with a description of how it’s made with fresh-churned cream, juicy strawberries, and warm, candied pecans will have people running into your shop to order it. If you’re selling clothing, talk about the form-fitting, smooth-as-butter leather; those descriptions are what will drive sales.
And that’s where we get to the secondary purpose of captions for marketers and brands. They also need to be effective enough in the following areas:
- Being optimized for search, so that someone interested and looking for content just like yours can find you. Instagram does have some image recognition technology but adding captions can certainly go a long way to make them more search-friendly.
- Include a CTA. Not every single post you upload needs to have-- or even should have-- a CTA but including calls-to-actions that motivate your audience is important. Even a quick “check out our Story for more details” or “use the link in the bio to learn more” can be essential for marketers, sending traffic to your site, driving sales, or encouraging users to take other specific actions.
It’s the difference between featuring an event you’re hosting and leaving at that or including a “tickets go on sale next week, join our waitlist now through the link in our bio.” One will get actions; the other will keep people waiting for news that might not come.
- Jumpstart conversations. Want to get people talking to and about you? Your captions can give them enough information to do that, replying to your own post with questions and comments.
- Drive actions. Instagram for marketing must be strategic, and eventually it should be used to drive actions. Each caption can be written in a way to encourage engagement, the creation of UGC, sales, event registrations, site traffic, and more.
The Pros & Cons of Short Instagram Captions
Instagram captions for marketers need to accomplish a lot, so should you really be focused on length? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of shorter captions.
There are a lot of clear perks to having shorter, more concise ad captions.
The biggest advantage is pretty straight forward: the shorter the caption, the more likely users are to read it all the way through. We’ve all seen captions that look like enormous, intimidating blocks of text that make us feel a little cross-eyed, and we change our mind about reading all together. Shorter captions can prevent that, making users more likely to get the full message you wanted them to take away and getting to any of those crucial CTAs, too.
In many cases, shorter can also be more effective. It’s easier to write shorter, concise sentences well than it is to write those beautiful long, languid posts. This means that you won’t need an expert copywriter, which more long-form content sometimes requires.
As an aside, shorter Instagram captions can sometimes take less time to write, which is a bonus on the part of the marketer pumping out the content.
Users are on Instagram to see content, not really to read it. Short captions are an excellent choice to keep this priority in place and adapt to what your followers are looking for.
Caption provide context, are meant to be persuasive, should offer value, and can provide direction for what users should do next, so it makes sense that you’d want as much room as possible to try to accomplish all of that as sufficiently at once.
Longer captions give more room to establish value and meaning, explaining why your product, event, or brand is great and why users should act. In some cases, like contest announcement posts, longer captions become vital to providing the instructions needed to keep people engaged.
So, What Should I Use? Short or Long Instagram Captions?
Instagram captions can be up to 2,200 characters long and contain up to thirty hashtags, but that definitely doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be using every single one.
According to Sprout Social, the answer is yes, size does matter, and the ideal size is somewhere around 135-150 characters per caption, which is about three lines on Instagram. This isn’t a ton of space-- Twitter actually allows more character counts now on their Tweets-- so you have to optimize each word and character to get the most out of it.
This data makes sense, because Instagram has always been a visual-first platform and big chunks of text simply do not read well on Instagram on either desktop or mobile. Shorter captions are more easily digestible, and since they look much less overwhelming, users are significantly more likely to stay engaged long enough to get your point.
What About the Hashtags?
I can already hear you, all the way in the back, taking in that deep breath to ask about hashtags. Hashtags on Instagram are so important for maximizing reach and giving us new ways to connect with potential audience members, and they can even offer signals to our own followers like #instacontest or #letusknowwhatyouthink.
Technically, when we’re talking about short captions, we mean the primary blocks of text itself. If you want to add more than just one or two hashtags and want to go for many, many more (with 30 being the limit), there’s a trick you can use to still reap the benefits of a short caption without sacrificing the advantages of hashtags: separate the two.
You’ve seen this already; plenty of social-savvy brands will separate the main caption from their hashtags with a few lines of space in between. Users are trained to see this and know that they can ignore the block of hashtags and continue on to read the text.
In the future, we might have the option to add hashtags to our posts outside of captions, similar to adding tags to a YouTube video. This is a feature that was reportedly in testing towards the end of last year, so we might see it sometime in 2019 if it ends up going through. We would personally love to see this; it would clear up a lot more room in the captions for brands and keep hashtag usage a bit more confined.
You also have the option to place the hashtags of your choice within the first comment on your post, which gives you potential reach benefits and doesn’t ding you in the algorithm.
6 Tricks to Shorten Up Those Captions
150 characters might sound like a lot until you actually sit down and try to contain a single thought to that small, small limit. Remember that spaces and punctuation fall under that character count, too.
Fortunately, there are a few tricks that you can use to shorten up your captions to keep your audience engaged without losing any value of the content itself. These are my five favourite ways to keep the text short and the quality high.
1. Refer People Elsewhere
Let’s say you create an Instagram post to promote an event you have coming up on your store. You can list out every detail of how to participate, where to get tickets, and every event possible, but it wouldn’t exactly give you that short caption you’re looking for.
Instead, strategically list the key benefit you most want people to know, like what they can learn and the dates, and then tell them that they can learn more through the link in your bio or at a link through your current Instagram Story if you have the 10,000 followers needed to do so. This gives users an action to take, a reason to get to your site (where they’re more likely to now convert), and it keeps your captions brief.
2. Create Shoppable Posts
Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and that can really help keep your caption short. Shoppable posts are worth those thousand words, because users can click on tagged images, see product descriptions, and head right to your product site. You don’t really need to add CTAs or instructions on where to find the products, because the post type does that for you.
3. Toss in Some Emojis
If emojis are well-suited to your brand, use them to spice up your captions and save you a few characters. A sparkly ring emoji is only one character instead of four, so imagine using emojis instead of text for bananas, umbrellas, and “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil.”
4. Incorporate Video into Your Strategy
Video gives you much more room for establishing context and value than 150 characters, so utilising more video in your marketing strategy can give you a new way to get your point across without all the text. We recommend using at least one video for every fifteen image posts, because it gives you a valuable brand-building opportunity.
5. Use. Full. Stops.
The “full stop” strategy is a good one for copy that needs to be kept condensed, where you list different one-word descriptors followed by a period. Think “Rainy. Wet. Cold.” instead of “it was rainy, wet, and cold at nearly 30 degrees outside.” Sometimes shorter is better, and this is a way to get the feeling you’re going for without a lot of words.
6. Prioritize Active Language
Active language is typically shorter than passive language. In active language, the subject is taking charge; see “I’m catching the ball.” Passive language, on the other hand, has something happening to the subject, like “The ball is being caught by me.” If you’re able to focus on the active, it can shorten up a lot of your captions quickly.
The size of the Instagram caption matters, so keeping things on the shorter side is a good strategy for most of the posts you create.
“Most” is the key word here, because there’s really no such thing as a one-size-fits-all golden rule for each post you ever create. Posts that clearly explain the rules of an Instagram contest, for example, will naturally be much longer than that ideal 150, and they should be so that they’re useful and valuable to your audience.
Instead of treating it like an ironclad rule, approach it like a loose guideline, and shoot for those 138-150 characters for the majority of your posts that don’t absolutely need longer captions. You can include hashtags in a separated section below, and always make sure that the most important part of your caption is towards the front and above that “See More” cut off point. Creating engaging content in the most concise way possible will always ensure that the update is read in full, and that’s exactly what you should hope for when it comes to your Instagram captions.