We’ve all seen them—those social media captions that are more annoying than engaging.
Case in point: the ‘vaguebook’ caption. The humble brag. The never-ending travelogue description. Not to mention the truly boring caption that was copied and pasted from someone else’s feed.
On the business side, hard-sell captions seem to be everywhere, along with trite anecdotes and captions that contain way too many hashtags.
What’s to be done?
In this post, we’ll show you how to ditch the boring captions and write something a whole lot better.
What Makes a Boring Caption
The list of ‘groaner’ captions is a long one.
How about the inside jokes that customers don’t understand? Or, a caption that doesn’t relate to your photo?
Sometimes, even well-meaning businesses are guilty of writing captions that beg customers to like their post. If you’re smart, you’ll avoid that approach—just as you’ll steer clear of the ubiquitous click-bait caption.
We could go on, but you get the idea.
Meanwhile, let’s consider the top three captioning sins:
Captions that are too long
It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to explain all. the. things. in a caption. But take our advice and resist the urge. Don’t write more than a couple of lines unless you’re telling an incredibly interesting story.
Case in point—this Instagram biography:
This caption is so long that it can’t be fully shown in this photo. Not shown is a long list of hashtags, links, and more details about the author.
Here’s the problem – Because Instagram fans tend to skim quickly through their feed, they’re less inclined to read an extensive biopic like this one.
Short and engaging captions are always a better goal.
Captions that are too literal
We get it—sometimes when you’re busy or not feeling creative, your caption repeats key information from your photo:
What’s going on – This caption was probably created at the last second, which can happen to anyone. Our suggestion? Riff off the ad’s wording with something like, “Feeling hairy? Call us to smooth out the situation.”
Also, if your business is likely to post similar ads each month, compile a list of possible captions ahead of time when you’re feeling less rushed.
Captions that are too spammy
What makes a caption spammy? How about tons of hashtags, salesy content, and misspelled words?
Here’s a sample advertisement that mimics what you might see in a spammy caption:
Why it’s bad – For starters, notice the spelling and grammar mistakes (e.g., “your” in place of “you’re”—and “get” instead of “getting”).
What’s more, there’s a whole raft of exclamation points and words in ALL CAPS. Another spammy detail? The invitation to pay $3.99 for supposedly “free” stuff.
In short, tactics like these can turn a boring caption into an offensive one.
If we wanted to make the whole thing worse, we’d add 20 hashtags, a string of random emoji, and several more misspelled words (in which case, maybe it’s time for Grammarly or another grammar/spelling checker).
No one wants to see a caption—or a post—like this.
What Makes a Great Social Media Caption
So, what does a non-boring caption look like? That partly depends on the social platform you’re using. But in general, your caption should do three basic things:
- Add insight (context) to the story within the photo.
- Show personality in a unique way (hook).
- Motivate followers to do something (call to action).
Here’s an example of a caption that does all three of these things:
If the alligator photo isn’t enough to grab your attention, how about that great hook: “Don’t mess with Nana”?
This Growing Bolder caption definitely adds context to the photo and its accompanying headline. And because readers will automatically want to know more about how Nana killed the gator, there’s no need to write out a formal call to action like “read more below.”
Really, the whole thing is so engaging that we can forgive the typo (e.g., “a few years go” instead of “a few years ago“).
By contrast, the following caption needs some work:
Ho-hum. The relation to Kevin Bacon and the “six degrees of separation” feels forced in this caption, as do the first two hashtags. There’s also no call to action, written or implied.
Instead, we could have used this photo to introduce a poll caption: “Which do you prefer during your meetings: 1) Sitting in a circle, 2) Sitting in rows?”
This scenario proves that even a photo of a work meeting can be more engaging with the right caption. It also proves that at Banyan, we’re always learning to practice what we preach!
“Your image or video should be telling the story while your caption is providing context. Finding a middle ground between showing and telling with your (social) posts could be the key to converting users.” – Sprout Social
To decide what type of caption is right for your post, always ask yourself what you want customers to do.
For example, if you want specific feedback in your comments, try asking an intriguing question in your caption. If you want more shares, you could ask for them in a giveaway-style caption.
NOTE – An engaging caption always depends on context (see above) and your unique brand voice. But for variety, try the following ideas:
The informational caption
Some businesses are great at balancing engagement with information. Take a look at this example from General Electric’s Facebook page:
The story within a caption
Every photo has a story to tell. The trick is saying it in a short, but memorable, way. Airbnb is fantastic at this:
The contest caption
In the following example, Southwest Airlines does a great job linking to a current, trending event (e.g., Shark Week) in their sweepstakes caption:
The ‘shoutout’ caption
A shoutout caption is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a caption that calls out someone else on social media. In the case of this Banyan post, we were featuring one of our clients, Synergy Dental—so our caption is all about them:
The ‘fill-in-the-blank’ caption
If you have a decent amount of followers, a fill-in-the-blank caption can be a fun way to get even more comments on a post. Here’s how Chili’s did it:
The company culture caption
As mentioned earlier, successful captions include a hook. If you’re sharing content about your company culture, a feel-good story is the ultimate hook. Here’s how Walgreen’s wrote a caption about one of their employees:
Captions—by Social Platform
The more you post on social media, the more you know that captions tend to vary by platform. For example, your caption (and post) on LinkedIn will look a little different than a caption on Instagram.
But before discussing these differences, take a look at the following data from Sprout Social:
As you can see in this graphic, honesty counts. Your customers also like to see captions that are friendly, helpful, and humorous.
Next, let’s talk about how to optimize your captions on the most popular social platforms.
According to social marketing expert Mari Smith, most people come to Facebook to be “edutained.” So, it follows that your caption will complement your photo or video by offering that blend of information and entertainment.
“The tone of … Facebook (content) tends to be more polished. Generally, posts should come accompanied (by) one or two sentences that compel the reader to like, comment, or share. The news feed hides captions that are too long, though, so any more is overkill. Use hashtags sparingly.” – Soldsie
Expect interactions to drop when your Facebook caption is too long. To provoke interest, Buzz Sumo recommends captions that are 50 characters or fewer.
Remember to pair your caption with a dynamite image, video, or article for the most engagement. Hashtags are best kept to a minimum of one or two (and don’t include them in every post you publish).
In this Facebook post, a potentially boring subject (i.e., credit scores) can be made fun not only with an engaging video of a snail but with a pithy caption that relates both to the snail and to Discover’s services.
The video itself is the hook. The caption adds context to that video. And the “Learn More” button is the call to action. All the ingredients are in place!
On Instagram, you’ll get the most traction with short and sparkling captions. After all, the real focus is on those high-res photos.
In general, the tone on Instagram is a bit more relaxed than it would be on Facebook or LinkedIn since everything happens “in the moment” on this platform.
According to AdEspresso, here’s the ideal recipe for a great Instagram caption:
- The caption should tell a story or sell a lifestyle.
- The caption should be concise (unless your story is unusually compelling).
- The caption should ask questions from time to time.
- The caption should ‘play’ with emoji but still be easy to read.
- The caption should use hashtags (but not so many that the post looks spammy).
- The caption should mention other pages/Instagram accounts where appropriate.
- The caption should include a call to action, either spoken or implied.
Remember the Instagram bio we showed you earlier? Contrast that long (and ultra boring) caption with the one State Farm uses below:
Let’s face it, Instagram can be a challenging platform for those businesses whose products or services aren’t naturally ‘visual.’
But State Farm’s post is universally appealing, helped by a caption that tells a story about keeping loved ones safe with a working smoke detector.
Note that the caption also includes an emoji, a couple of relevant hashtags, and even a link to an article about smoke detector safety tips.
Think of LinkedIn as a social platform that lets you build your network and connections.
Most businesses use LinkedIn to connect to thought leaders in their industry, but it’s also a great place to connect with employees, prospects, and customers.
So, what should you share in your LinkedIn status update? It could be a video from your YouTube channel or a great article you think your customers and employees would like.
Your caption should still offer context, brand personality, and some sort of call to action.
Hashtags on LinkedIn: It’s fine to include a couple of hashtags on your LinkedIn status update, but only if those hashtags are truly relevant to the article you share or to your company mission.
Uber has garnered a large following on LinkedIn, partly because of the value and interest it offers in posts like this one.
In the caption, Uber quotes directly from the employee shown in the photo, which is a great way to personalize the update while offering context.
This caption inspires and motivates job seekers, entrepreneurs, and customers alike. And it’s perfect for LinkedIn.
Anyone familiar with Twitter knows it’s a great place to ask questions, conduct a Twitter poll, chat about the latest trends, and follow thought leaders.
Since a tweet is basically an extended caption, take your cue from those you already follow on Twitter. If you like the length and flow of their tweets, feel free to try a similar style.
NOTE: Twitter users will move past anything that smacks of salesy, so be sure you ditch the hard-sell boring caption (i.e., tweet) and try something more creative instead.
Case in point: Arby’s is a fast-food maven and social media connoisseur that clearly understands how to win on social media. Here’s just one of Arby’s creative tweets:
It’s true that Arby’s sizeable marketing budget means it can go wild on creative social media campaigns.
Even more important, Arby’s knows its audience and understands what will appeal to its followers. This tweet is the perfect example of connecting with others on Twitter and keeping the conversation going.
If you really know your audience, you’ll know what appeals to them. And your caption can reflect that.
Writing a Great Caption: The Takeaway
As you can see, writing a good caption takes a little thought and planning. By contrast, a boring caption is all too easy to write.
Still, writing an engaging caption doesn’t have to be a pain.
Anyone can write a good caption by following our recommendations:
- Offer context, a hook to grab viewers’ attention, and a call to action.
- Just say NO to long captions and captions that are too literal or spammy.
- Be purposeful (not undisciplined) in your use of emoji and hashtags.
- Vary your content with informational captions, captions that tell a story, and other caption types.
- Match the purposes of each social platform by crafting captions that serve those purposes.
Ready to ditch your boring caption and engage your customers on social media? You’re just one cool caption away!