Instagram Captions: 14 Tips on How to Optimize Them to Boost Engagement

Instagram Captions: 14 Tips on How to Optimize Them to Boost Engagement

The secret to thriving on social media is creating relevant, engaging, and useful content for your target audience. When it comes to a visual social network like Instagram, if your Instagram posts aren’t attracting as many prospects or likes as you’d wish, it doesn’t mean that the quality of your photos or videos is poor. It’s likely because you’re not including the right words to intrigue your followers and new users, whether that means enlisting funny captions, savage captions, or a combination of the two.

Although photos catch your prospects’ attention, the accompanying words are what makes them stay and convert into loyal followers and customers. And, considering that 80 percent of the 1 billion active users follow a brand on Instagram (200 million actively visiting the profile of a business account every day),

it makes sense for you to maximize your business’ marketing presence on this platform.

If you’re looking for the best way to improve your brand’s Instagram account, you should combine top-quality photos with captions that communicate a clear message and drive conversions. So, here’s a list of my top eleven tips on how to optimize your Instagram posts to boost your brand’s success.

A lot of people like to look for a shortcut in how to get more followers on Instagram to meet their Instagram strategy objectives, but very little is said about what to post on Instagram, especially when it comes to captions. Let’s change that!

14 Tips on Optimizing Your Instagram Captions

1) What is Your Brand Voice?

What is Your Brand Voice?

Before you take to your keyboard, take some time to determine what your brand’s preferred voice is. Are you informal? Cool captions are likely to be those that are casual and laid back with your audience. Are you trying to act as an authority on a given subject? A more formal or authoritative tone will be necessary to successfully manage your brand. Before you can begin writing text to accompany your photos, you must identify your brand’s preferred voice or tone. 

After you have determined what your brand’s voice will be, you can move on to creating text for your posts that will inspire followers to engage with clickable links on your profile, or continue following you to glean more of your words of wisdom. 

2) Instagram Captions are an Extension of Your Photos

Instagram Captions are an Extension of Your Photos

The photos you post on Instagram attract a wide range of followers. But don’t stop at that. You can maximize that perfect photo that captures the best angle and lighting by adding an intriguing caption. Without it, users might not know exactly what your intent is or how to interpret the photo and what message you’re trying to communicate.

Your posts should tell the most exciting story behind the picture you’ve posted. You can include an anecdote or explain to your target audience what you’ve learned during the event or experience captured by the photo. Focus on making each word relevant and powerful. It’ll help you assess the impact your caption will have on your following. Don’t add to the noise and don’t bring more fluff; instead, aim to disrupt the norm and improve the lives of your audience.

3) Long Captions? Short Captions?

Long Captions? Short Captions?

When creating the text to go along with your photos, remember some important factors: the app itself does not allow you to use your return key. To create space in your posts, you must construct text elsewhere, then place it into the app. You can avoid the trappings of Instagram limitations by relying on short text, but if you prefer to construct positive captions that utilize more space, consider writing all of your text in a messaging app on your phone, then copying and pasting those texts into your account. 

When determining whether to use long or short text, consider this: when you have conversations with others, the length of your conversations vary. You will have short, truncated conversations, then you will have longer, more intensive conversations. If you want your followers to engage with you consistently, consider varying the length and pacing of your captions to more closely mimic the natural cadence of speech and make your posts more approachable to followers. 

If you are using a call to action in your text, as I encourage a little bit later in this article, opt for longer captions, as longer texts prior to a CTA will make your audience feel less like they are targets of your social media marketing strategy and more like they are trusted friends to colleagues. 

4) Grab Attention at the Beginning

Grab Attention at the Beginning

If you plan on writing a long caption, you should start with the most important part. Don’t bore your audience with a creative intro. You can use up to 2,200 characters in your captions on Instagram, but they get cut off. And users must click the “more” button to read the entire caption.

But you shouldn’t completely avoid writing long captions. Keep in mind, though, that your followers are likely scrolling through their feed when they see your post. And your captions must grab their attention from the beginning. You’ll find that many Instagram users will ignore captions that start off with a boring introduction. So, hook your audience with the first couple of lines. Convince them to read the full caption.

5) Questions to Entice Engagement

Questions to Entice Engagement

Posts on Instagram are somewhat limited. Because you cannot simply post a link to a store or pop in a quick link to a page, your feed posts have to be creative in how they draw in an audience and utilize marketing strategies. 

One of the most effective ways to invite followers to engage more with your content is to ask questions each time you post a photo. From the perfect selfie with your favorite ice cream shop and asking your followers for their favorite ice cream spots, to posting an image about a local holiday and asking followers what holidays they celebrate, asking questions will make sure that your content remains relevant, and your followers feel seen and heard. 

When creating your text, remember: people love talking about themselves. Whether they are talking about the beautiful paths they have traveled or fondly recalling their own adventures with their children, people want to speak and be heard. You can create a welcoming atmosphere on your profile by regularly asking questions to entice engagement with your followers. 

Posting beautiful photos is important, but any social media marketing strategy worth its salt will focus on creating compelling content apart from photos, as this is what will keep your followers not only coming back, but staying engaged. 

6) Include Geotags

Include Geotags

Although you should tell people where you took a photo which you’ve posted to your Instagram account, you shouldn’t include it in your captions. Many accounts make this mistake and it’s a waste of valuable space. For example, if you’ve taken a photo by the Statue of Liberty you can add a relevant geotag such as New York or the Statue of Liberty itself. You can include other details in your caption such as the launch of your new product or service. If you had included the location in your caption, your main message would have been lost.

Also, you should geotag your posts because they’ll appear next to other posts that use the same geotag. And depending on how many comments or likes your post has, it could appear in the Top Posts on the page of the location you tagged. So, you have a greater chance of increasing brand awareness.

7) Mention and Tag Where Appropriate

Mention and Tag Where Appropriate

Similar to the lines of a geotag, tagging any company, person or location that might have its own official Instagram account is a best practice as it will send a notification to that user that you have tagged them. Sure, you can mention them in your post which will do the same from a notification perspective, but a tag might get you lucky to be featured in the tagged posts of said user should they approve of it (hey, it’s worth a shot!).

Plus, according to one study only 28% of posts tag users . Take advantage of this fact and tag away! You can tag up to 20 users per photo, so what are you waiting for?

8) Include Calls to Action (CTAs)

Include Calls to Action (CTAs)

You may be providing great content on Instagram, but if your followers don’t know what to do, it’s pointless. If you don’t guide your followers, they won’t know what next steps to take. That’s where a Call to Action (CTA) comes in. You can test a variety of CTAs including questions, directing your followers to a link you’ve included in your bio, inviting them to tag your post, and share their opinion about a product or topic. At a minimum, if you have no CTA planned, you should at least ask a question to try to generate a conversation with your followers.

9) Redirect Traffic to Your Site

Redirect Traffic to Your Site

If you own an online store, you should focus on getting as many sales from your target audience on Instagram. However, people can’t purchase directly off the Instagram platform, so you must drive them towards your website. Obviously if your products are already listed in your Facebook Store you can and should directly tag them in your photo. If not, mention in your caption that followers can purchase the items if they click on the link you’ve included in your bio. And, you should aim to streamline the process, otherwise, you’ll risk losing prospects. Also, you should track the sources of your eCommerce store’s traffic. You can create a unique URL and include a tracking code that will help you assess the effectiveness of your Instagram strategy.

10) Hashtags


There has been a lot said about hashtags, but it bears repeating: Use them or lose them!

In short, hashtags are the only way to make your posts more discoverable in Instagram search. Plus there are some who actually follow hashtags, giving you the chance for your photos to be seen in the feeds of those that don’t follow you.

While the debate rages on about whether you put hashtags inside the caption or immediately after posting in the first comment, as well as how many hashtags to use, I am a believer in using the functionality that social networks gives us to the maximum. For this reason, I always strive to post the maximum 30 hashtags. Because I share my Instagram posts to my Facebook Page – and for cosmetic reasons – I currently post hashtags in the first comment, but I might place a few strategic ones inside the caption itself.

11) The Power of Emojis

The Power of Emojis

Although most people only use emojis when they’re sending a message, you should also use them in your Instagram captions. It’s an effective way to grab users’ attention without adding more written content. And, to spice things up a bit, you can use arrows or other signals to indicate any promo codes, discounts or links. Emojis will help you keep the message short and sweet. It’s also a great thing to put in-between sentences or paragraphs when you want to create white space inside your caption to make it easier on the eyes.

12) Organize a Contest

Organize a Contest

Hardly anything compares to the chance of winning something for free. And you can maximize the high potential of Instagram contests to attract more prospects. But you’ll only achieve excellent results if you write an exciting caption. To understand what a successful contest looks like on Instagram, you can check out Starbuck’s #WhiteCupContest. The contest required Starbucks’ followers to submit their unique designs on cups. Users had to post the photos of the cups and include the #WhiteCupContest hashtag. This method enabled Starbucks to increase brand awareness and attract new followers who saw the posts in their feed.

13) Edit Your Instagram Captions – and Then Edit Them Again!

Edit Your Instagram Captions - and Then Edit Them Again!

Most users on Instagram make the mistake of not giving enough attention to their captions. And they’ll likely take around 25 photos of the same object and then edit, add filters, change the colors, exposure, saturation or contrast. But when it comes to captions, they’ll write the first thing that comes to their mind and post it. It’s the wrong approach because a caption is the extension of your photo. For example, bloggers who put out quality content will edit a piece up to three times before posting it. That’s what you should do with your posts’ captions.

Write as many drafts as needed and focus on providing quality content. Although you can still edit your captions after posting, the damage may already have been done, especially if you try to tinker with the caption shortly after publication, potentially sending Instagram’s algorithm the wrong message.

14) A Good Experiment for Instagram Ads

A Good Experiment for Instagram Ads

At some point, you or your brand will probably consider advertising on Instagram. As algorithms change and ad prices fluctuate, you might find Instagram ads to be an attractive complement to your organic Instagram activities at some point. When that happens, you’ll want to make sure you have experimented with enough captions and checked your analytics data to improve the chance that you will have effective Instagram ads once you start on them.

The Bottom Line on Instagram Captions

Adding relevant and captivating captions to your posts on Instagram is a surefire way to improve your engagement rates and your business’ sales. You could be posting amazing photos on your account, but users pass right by them because they don’t have a story and they’re not communicating any message. So, to prevent losing prospects you should take your time to create exciting captions. You’ll grab your followers’ attention and convince them to act according to the CTAs included in your posts. You’ll boost your brand awareness and engagement rates, which will strengthen your business’ online presence and increase your sales.

You might even pick up some new followers to boot if you follow all of the tips above.

Any other Instagram captions advice to add?

Hero photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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  1. Thanks, Neal for clarifying that using both short and long-form captions work on Instagram. Now, to tagging, don’t you or others find it annoying if someone tags you all the time and it’s not related to your business? I’ve seen some of those and did not understand why the tags. Very curious! Thank you for the info on this one.

    • That is in appropriate to tag people when it is irrelevant – I would be tempted to block those people outright!

  2. This may be off-topic but I love using IG to market my brand and I just wanted to share something interesting to you. Instagram is known for driving more engaged traffic to businesses compared to any other platform. Studies have actually shown that when it comes to time onsite from different social media channels, Instagram is on top–dominating other big names like Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, Pinterest, etc. If you have an IG account, you might be looking to boost your likes and views. [website recommendation removed by editor]

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