April 22, 2019 by Alexz Miller
5 Copywriting Hacks to Create Engaging Instagram Captions
We all know that Instagram is a visual medium. As countless articles – many of them on this blog – will tell you, the visual nature of Instagram is one of the biggest reasons for its success.
But Instagram isn’t just about images and videos. There is also a textual component to every Instagram post that often goes ignored.
We’re, of course, talking about Instagram captions – the snippets of text that go underneath each post.
Captions are far more important than you might think. People might see your visuals first, but they will turn to the captions to understand your brand and its story better. Whether they think of your brand as fun, chic, or sophisticated will depend nearly as much on what you write for each image as the image itself.
Writing engaging captions isn’t easy. Not only do you have to keep your brand voice in mind, but you also have to write something that captures your audience’s attention.
Using the copywriting tactics we’ve laid out below can help you create more engaging captions and solidify your brand voice.
Why Captions Matter
Humans are visual learners. Studies show that we process much of our information through visuals. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective as well. Your ancestors didn’t have stacks of books to help them survive in the wild; they just had a pair of eyes.
Given our reliance on visuals, it makes sense to create only visual content, right?
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The truth, however, is that different people process information in different ways. According to the Vark modalities theory, people can be classified into four categories:
- Visual learners who learn largely through images and videos.
- Auditory learners who process information best when it is reinforced by audio
- Kinesthetic learners who learn best through touch or feel.
- Reading/writing learners who rely on reading or writing to process information.
While visual learners represent the vast majority of people, a significant portion also relies heavily on audio or reading to process information.
If you focus exclusively on visuals, you won’t be able to get through as well to these people.
Then there is the idea of dual coding.
In cognitive theory, dual coding is a phenomenon where humans process visual and textual information through separate but related systems. The visual of an object can remind us of the word for it.
At the same time, the word for an object might evoke completely different visuals.
For instance, the word “dog”, one person might think of his childhood pet while another might think of a cartoon dog. At the same time, a picture of a puppy might cause one person to think of the generic term “puppy” while another might think of Rufus, his childhood pet.
This theory plays a crucial role in marketing, especially when you’re dealing with visual-heavy mediums like Instagram.
Every visual you use is going to represent certain words for your audience. As a marketer, your goal is to guide and reinforce these representations to something that aligns with your brand values.
For example, a picture of a beach, by itself, might hold different meanings for different customers. But if you talk about beach vacations and summer in the captions, you can guide what customers think about when they see the image.
This is why captions are so crucial in Instagram marketing. In brief, they:
- Help you reach out to people who rely on text to understand information
- Help you control what people think about when they see your visuals
This brings us to the question: how can you create better captions?
5 Copywriting Hacks for Better Instagram Captions
Copywriting, when it works, can seem like magic.
The best copywriters – the Leo Burnetts and David Ogilvys of the world – can conjure words out of thin air that can move billions of dollars of products.
As inscrutable as copywriting might appear to be, it’s actually a collection of tried and tested tactics. While you might never be able to write like David Ogilvy, by following these tactics, you can at least become competently persuasive.
Below, we’ll share some of these copywriting tactics and how to use them for Instagram captions:
1. Format your Instagram captions for maximum impact
This one is a no-brainer: well-formatted captions are easier to read. Information placed inside bullet points or well-spaced paragraphs is easier to scan and follow.
Copywriters have known this for years. Notice how this classic David Ogilvy Rolls-Royce ad uses numbered lists for every paragraph:
You can use this tactic on Instagram to capture attention better. Use well-spaced paragraphs and line breaks to make your captions easier to read, as in this example from Instagrammer Tyler J Mccall:
2. Position your CTAs better
While making your content easier to scan helps, where you place your CTAs within this content also matters.
People pay attention to the beginning or the end of any piece of content. What happens in the middle often gets ignored.
In psychology, this is called the “Serial Positioning effect”. According to this effect, anything placed near the start or end has maximum recall value.
Take advantage of this phenomenon by placing your CTAs either at the start or end of the caption. Or better still, place them at either end. This will ensure that your audience doesn’t just read your captions but also acts on them.
While you’re at this, make sure to use action-oriented words in your CTAs, i.e. words that visualize an action such as “Click”, “Move”, “Get”, etc. Research shows that action-oriented words lead to higher conversion rates.
3. Use power words
Amazing. Incredible. Mind-blowing.
Have you ever wondered why so many ads are filled with these big, punchy words?
That’s because such words have the capacity to evoke strong emotions in readers. In copywriting, these are called “power words”. Copywriters will pepper them in throughout their copy to get people to feel a certain way – happy, excited, angry, etc.
You don’t have to oversell by using tons of these words in your Instagram, but it doesn’t hurt to sprinkle them into your captions. Don’t use “great”; use “incredible”. Instead of “very good”, use “extraordinary”. And so on.
For inspiration, here is a list of 700+ power words you can start using in your captions. Just be careful not to overuse them. No one likes reading captions that sound like they were written by an infomercial salesman.
This caption from WarbyParker is a great example. Note how many power words it uses to describe these sunglasses.
This lesson is applicable beyond Instagram captions as well. It doesn’t matter what you’re creating – headlines, web copy, or even a client proposal – it helps to use power words. It will help you arrest attention better and evoke the right emotions in your audience.
4. Add some rhymes to your Instagram captions
Rappers and poets have known this for years, but now cognitive studies confirm it as well: rhymes are easier to remember and recall.
A study at Lafayette College showed that when information is presented in rhymes, it is seen as more truthful and persuasive. Another study found that rhyming slogans were judged to be more persuasive and memorable.
It’s not clear why rhymes are seen this way, but psychologists believe it’s due to the way rhymes roll off the tongue and are seen as self-contained sentences. Moreover, rhymes are commonly used in aphorisms, songs, and poems, which can make them appear more “genuine”.
This is why you’ll find that copywriters frequently turn to simple rhymes to emphasize value. This ad for Jaguar is the perfect example.
Be careful to use rhymes very sparingly. Don’t try to be the next Kendrick Lamar. Instead, use rhymes as a crutch to capture attention.
5. Ask feeling-focused rhetorical questions
Rhetorical questions have been a staple of persuasive speech for thousands of years. Not only do they break down the monotony of speech, but they also allow you to propose a problem and offer a solution.
For an even more persuasive impact, try asking rhetorical questions that focus on how people feel.
Take this as an example:
(This question posits a problem – parents who are anxious about cooking with their kids. Then it offers a solution through the content.
Note how the very first word emphasizes an emotion: nervous. This immediately brings readers back to something they likely felt when they tried cooking with their kids.
It also changes the context of the image – instead of just an image of a happy mother-child, it becomes an aspirational vision of a mother who isn’t nervous about cooking with her child.
This is a powerful copywriting tactic that’s also easy to use. Try using similar emotion-rich words – nervous, exhausted, excited, happy, etc. – in your captions framed as rhetorical questions.
Over to You
Copywriting is a vast and challenging discipline that you can spend a lifetime mastering.
By following these tactics, you can bring the impact of skilled copywriters to your Instagram captions.
The result? More persuasive Instagram captions and better marketing performance.
Jeff Sullivan is a marketing manager at Workamajig where he helps agencies scale their growth. When not working with agencies, he can be found fiddling with his guitar or perfecting his surfing technique.
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