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I've been called the OG of copywriters for creatives, wink—I hook up women with words as a launch copywriter & brand strategist. Even while raking in more than 7-figures since I've been at it, I believe working from a place of rest (not hustle) IS possible—and I want the same for you.
 
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May 20, 2020

The Secret to GREAT Instagram Captions

Reading time: 11 min.

Does writing Instagram captions take you WAY MORE TIME than you need it too? Not sure what to write on your Instagram captions to engage your audience? I’ve been there WAY more times than I can count🙋🙋, so I started listening up when my IG famous 😉 clients (Jenna Kutcher, Beth Kirby of Local Milk, and Julie Solomon) shared their secrets. I learned a lot from them, and Social Media Marketing World.

I don’t spend hours a day on this app. I don’t even post daily to my feed…*definitely* will skip entire weeks of posting on my feed. BUT I do know a thing or two about writing copy. ✍️

The other week I posted a video a little bit about how my schedule has changed and likely yours too. I have a lot less time to work with everything that’s going on in the world. Now more than ever, when I show up in people’s inboxes or on their Instagram feed, I really want to have something to say.

I’ve been experimenting a lot lately. Even though I’m posting a lot less than I was two years ago, my follower count has gone up. More importantly—my average engagement rate has stayed between 2-3% on average on the platform. I’ll take it. 😉

The metrics that matter has changed a little bit on the app—more on that down below—BUT one thing I’m loving is that the algorithm now lets the content that I am working to put out live longer than ever. It’s putting my videos, my stories, my posts in front of people that actually ~want~ to see what I’m up to. They’re people that are engaging with me anyway.

That said, here are 5 hacks to help you write better Instagram captions. Let’s jump in! 👇👇




No. 1| Hook me before the fold

just mentioned metrics have changed a little bit. I can’t just leave that dangling. This is a big takeaway for me at Social Media Marketing World. Especially as I listened to my friend and Instagram educator, Tyler McCall, whereas follower count, likes and comments, those used to be the end all be all. These days, it’s a little different.

DMs, connection, follower retention in lieu of growth, saves, shares. That is all more important. One thing that hasn’t changed: put out content that stops the scroll. Just like writing a headline copy, a hook, or a blog title is so important, it is for Instagram captions too.

If we don’t see enough to click to open out that Instagram caption and read it, then it didn’t matter what the rest of the caption was about.

SO, what that means for me as a copywriter is I need to treat this real estate like I do any words I’m trying to get someone to read—I need to lead with the hook! This could be totally arbitrary, but at least on my account, when I try to bake in pertinent details before the line break and give enough info to hook them and have them keep reading, I see that people actually read.

Takeaway Tip: Apply any headline copywriting tips you’ve learned to write that first line in your Instagram captions as well. I try to front-load my captions—I think about where that line break is going to be. I anticipate making sure that the most important words are pushed up to the top of that sentence and things that don’t matter as much are pushed after it.

Again, just because some metrics and other things about the platform has changed, this has not. Make sure that you’re really investing some time and making sure that the first part of your caption is going to get somebody’s attention.

Related: How to Write Headlines that Sell on Your Homepage

When I front-load my captions and get to the good stuff first, I see better results (people actually click and read the caption).

 


No.2 | Hook With Story

Before I dig into practical tips for telling story in your Instagram captions, a note on brand voice: I talk about it a lot. I created a whole 9-page freebie printable on it. I made an entire quiz on it.????

But you can’t just skirt by on your brand’s unique voice, and I think sometimes small business owners think that’s all copywriting is.

One of the other elements you need to lace in is storytelling.

Related: The Quick-Start Guide to Story: 24 Ways to Tell Story in Your Small Business

Okay, at this point we all know on this app that some people out there buy followers and that follower count can be a little bit of a vanity metric, but the thing you can’t buy or mimic, that non-vanity metric that really matters, is the relationship.

You can’t go out and buy a relationship. That’s something that you’ve got to invest in like stock. That’s on you. One of the reasons I love teaching copywriting so much is because you have a monopoly on your story and the way you tell it in your voice, nobody can do that like you.

Even if they work in the same industry or serve the same niche, you are you and that makes you different. If you can figure out how to translate that into your voice and your storytelling and personality-packed copy, you are going to be on your way.

So at the end of the day, Instagram is a visually-focused app, whether you’re posting images on your feed or in stories that are super curated, or you’re just kind of posting something that you had in your iPhone camera roll, that image’s job is to prime. I love how my friend and client Jenna says that “a photo is a millisecond of a memory”.




Your job in the Instagram caption is to comment on what’s going on in that photo or video, then stretch it out with a story. People naturally love to know the “why” behind things—I want you to be descriptive here, make it fun to read. What I try to do to make captions a little bit more story-focused and giving them a little bit more excitement and spice to read than just something bland. I add between 2-3 phrases, anecdotes, stories, or descriptive pictures that are word pictures so people can feel like they’re there.

I want you to describe things like touch, taste, sight, sound, emotion, and feel. Get specific. For example—don’t just say, “We ate TexMex.” Say, “We had salty corn chips, dunked in guacamole, and washed down with some Tart Margheritas.” Was that longer? Yes. Was it likely more interesting to listen to me read or say? Yes.

Write the Instagram caption that your followers, your readers, your audience wants to read!


No. 3 | Re-think “Call to Action”

I’d been saying it for years, but having a link tree or a link that spiderwebs out to lots of different links for somebody to click on in your bio, isn’t always the best use of space. It, for me, killed my conversion instead of sending someone to just one place when I gave them way too many options to choose from.

Here’s the thing: Instagram was never meant to get you off the platform. Most social media apps aren’t, right? From Facebook to YouTube, the goal of the platform is to keep you there and to keep you engaged.

Read any book about the psychology of social media marketing and you’ll see that this is what the developers, the founders of these companies are after as they created their tools. It makes sense, they’re a business and they want to keep you there.

We need to think about this when we’re writing captions because when people are on Instagram, they want to be on Instagram. I learned from Jenn Herman at Social Media Marketing World, that traffic on Instagram basically has a 0% bounce rate, which is crazy. AND the average engagement rate is around that 2.5%. That is so. much. higher. then most of the other platforms. What does this tell us?

It tells us that this app is out for the individual, for the relationship that the individual has with the app. The app is working so hard to tailor itself for every individual user, which you can see anytime you click open your explore feed and look at what it’s brought up for you, lots of memes, lots of bachelor-related content. 😉

Takeaway tip: Quit pushing people off the platform with your call to action. Instead, start to think when you’re writing that call to action at the end of your caption, how can you keep people on this app, whether you’re pushing them to your stories or asking them to comment below and stay in your feed, or you’re pushing them to your DMs? How can you work to have more of a private conversation with them? I will say here, this is going to take work… But this is key in how the platform has changed. Personally, I’ve struggled with this. I would love to stay in my DMs all day, every day, but I don’t want to be with my phone all the time.

I asked an expert this at Social Media Marketing World, and she said, “Set a timer for 30 minutes every day and answer as many messages as possible and just know that, that may be the best you can do right now.”

If I can focus my call to actions on getting people to have a conversation and then put my time spent on the app into having that conversation, that’s a wise investment of my time.


No.4| Type Out Captions First

I have such a clearer head if I get myself OFF my dang phone when drafting Instagram captions for my business.

I tell my Copywriting for Creative students this, so maybe you’ve heard me say this, don’t write your website copy in a tool, like Showit or Squarespace or WordPress or whatever you’re using. Sometimes the worst thing you could do is pop open that tool and go right in and try to start writing copy, right where it’s going to be showing up.

Instagram to me is the very same. Plus typing on a desktop is how I can check for grammar and context as well. So let me flip the camera around and show you what that looks like.

I don’t really have a super pristine process but I go to the Notes app more often than not because I like just starting with a blank page and just writing and trying to figure out where that pieces in. I always include the topics that I do rotate through. If you are in Primed to Launch, you know I *don’t love* the idea of content bucket rotation. I like undergirding that with a greater launch strategy, but I do try to rotate.

AshlynWrites_MaeMae_Desktop

I just jot down, brainstorm, and bullet out ideas the things that I can talk about or stories that are on my brain inside my Notes App. Then I’m going to go through and type out my captions from these notes.

I also really like the Plan app. I have totally used this before to plot out 30 days in advance, although I tend to write captions a little bit closer to time of publication. However, if I’m going into a launch mode and I want to figure some things out, it’s been nice to plan out my feed a little bit more there. I also like that you can open up your comments and reply to them using your fingers on this instead of your thumbs, which is super helpful as well.

One more quick note about desktop: Instagram DMs are now available to answer on the desktop, which is so much more helpful than typing out everything with your thumbs. So in case you weren’t aware of that, make sure you look. You can do it on Instagram or integrate your business page on Facebook with your Instagram accounts and it is sooooo much easier.


No. 5| Break Up Your Text

I get twitches when I look at a caption that I want to read and my eyes start to swim and cross between line after line of copy.

And then I get tired and just keep scrolling.

People DO read long things online.

They read them if they’re digestible and easy to consume.

“The person who says ‘I would never read all that copy’ makes the mistake of

thinking that they’re the customer. And they’re not.”

– Dan Kennedy

If you’re comfortable with (a) knowing you’ll have some skimmers and (b) having a bit of a narrative in your caption, then a long caption works JUST fine …

… as long as you break it up.

People will read online, people will read long things, but they will not read if it is boring. If it’s digestible and easy to consume, they will read it. This is why when I talk about sales pages, those sub-headlines are *so* important.

This is another reason I like writing desktop because it’s easier to do the line break. Then when I copy and paste it over to Instagram or pull it from my Plan app, it’s already broken up. When it comes to how you’re breaking up your Instagram caption, you can use emojis, lines, whatever. Just make it skimmable.



As far as length, I have found that 1-3 paragraphs are good. I have found what makes that easiest for me is to highlight it all, copy it, open up a text message to my best friend, paste it there and then see, does it look too long. If it does, maybe I need to tighten it up. As is the theme of this video, sometimes quality over quantity and less is more.

Bonus tip: when you’re posting videos to your stories, make sure that you’re always giving a little bit of copy that says what that video is about— about 80% of people on Instagram do not watch stories with sound on! You need to make sure that you’re helping them out with some copy that’s very clear about what you’re talking about.


Like I said, I am NOT an Instagram expert or teacher—I’m a marketing writing teacher an expert. A lot of what I’ve learned about Instagram comes from two women, my friends and clients Jenna Kutcher and Beth Kirby of Local Milk.

They both teach beautifully about how to connect and sell on the app as a small business owner, but what I like about their perspectives is that they don’t let the buzz of Instagram get to their head or over take their lives. They have a super healthy perspective on it, which is why I like learning from them.

If you need help on how to structure your captions or any of the copy that you’re writing, make sure you watch this video where I’m talking you through how on earth to figure out which copywriting formula you need to be using when and where.

Want a bit more support when it comes to your captions? I created a FREE caption copywriting guide for you:


Other resources I like when I need Insta-help:
Plann, the tool I use to plan out my photos in advance

SC Stockshop’s Social Squares

Tyler J. McCall

Sue B. Zimmerman


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how to write instagram captions copywriting tips from Ashlyn Carter

Freshly sharpened pencil bouquet ready, I'm here to make sure your words sell. I help women like you steward your story well, so you can work from a place of rest—not hustle.

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comments

  1. Meggie Francisco says:

    Thank you for sharing a proactive and positive way to work with this change!

  2. Rebecca Trumbull says:

    This is very helpful! Thanks for the tips!

  3. Abigail Hoppen Albers says:

    Good info! I have to admit it gave me a bit of anxiety! Do you think there will be a shift now to other modes of social media? SnapChat, Periscope etc..

  4. Megan Carty says:

    This is so helpful! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  5. SO many helpful tips, this blog is a goldmine!

    • Thanks so much for those kind words, Mackayla! While Ash’s on maternity leave, we’re replying to all of our friends online, but we’ll make sure she hears how much you’re loving the blog. xo. Team AW

  6. This post was really helpful and I got some new tips to use when I post on Instagram! Thanks so much!

  7. jorly says:

    Very informative. Awesome tips!

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