How to Write Engaging Social Media Captions
You keep posting on social media, but all you hear is crickets. Random weirdos. And bots.
You wonder what the problem is. Other people get tons of meaningful, real comments, so why not you?
Is it that you haven’t found the right people yet?
Is it the algorithm?
Or is it… you?
Before you give up, let’s talk about your social media captions. Are you sure you’re making the most of them?
The thing is, the difference between a post that sparks engagement and the one that keeps people silent usually lies in the caption, not the topic/image/your skills, and it’s easy to fix.
Even if you don’t have a lot of time, don’t know what to write about, and don’t consider yourself a writer, after reading this article, you’ll know how to write better captions for Instagram and Facebook—and get the engagement your awesome content deserves.
Write something meaningful
Anytime you don’t write a meaningful caption and resort to a list of hashtags, a random quote or exclamation (“Happy Monday!”), or no caption at all, you’re losing the opportunity to connect with your people.
You don’t always need to go super long and super deep, but you should always comment on what you’re posting like a human being.
Imagine you’re showing a photo or a magazine article to a friend. You wouldn’t just throw it at them (and shout a few random words), would you? Then again, you wouldn’t spend hours thinking about what to say.
You’d simply tell them something about the photo or article, tell them why you’re sharing it, and ask what they think.
Do the same on social media. Write a meaningful caption even if the post isn’t about the caption:
- You’re posting a link to your or someone else’s blog post (FB)
- You’re posting a quote image
- You’re posting an image that “doesn’t need a caption”
Here’s what you can do with any image/link:
- Say why you’re posting it and why people should care. Try to go beyond “New post!” or “Interesting article” (imagine the situation with a real life friend).
- Tell a related mini-story.
- Share a personal insight.
Talk to one person
And I mean a person, not “a woman between 20 and 45.” The thing is, you can’t imagine and relate to a “persona,” only to a person—even if you make her up.
Besides, you wouldn’t talk in the same way to a 20-year-old and a 45-year-old, right? You’d use different words, jokes, cultural references.
So, choose a person of a certain gender, age, personality, hobbies, family situation, attitudes, problems, changes they’re going through. Let’s call her your Dream Client.
From now on, talk to her and only her.
Because even if your the end reader doesn’t match your Dream Client in all aspects, they’ll still find your writing a lot more relatable and engaging.
Make it a conversation starter
Not knowing what to write about is the #1 problem people have when it comes to social media captions.
But “What do I talk about?” is the wrong question.
Instead, ask yourself: “How can I get people talking?” or, even better, “How can I make my Dream Client talking?”
You need to get to know your audience and find topics that click, but here are some general rules:
1. People love talking about themselves
Research shows that talking about yourself gives your brain as much pleasure as food or money. Isn’t that amazing?
So, let’s adjust the question once more: “How can I make my Dream Client talking about herself?”
Ask yourself this question no matter what you talk about—the subject you teach, your story, your personal insights, your work, your products. There is always a chance to make it about your Dream Client.
“Odds are, if you let the other person talk a lot about themselves, they will think you are fascinating.”
Dr. Samantha Boardman
2. Focus on similarity
Similarities facilitate bonding. So, the question is, how can you make your Dream Client say “OMG, me too?”
The less common these similarities are, the better. As Ori Brafman says in his book Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do, if we both like the Beatles, that’s fine; but if we both like the Tindersticks, that’s a lot better.
In other words, the Beatles will get you a “yeah, me too,” but Tindersticks will get you an “OMG! Me too!”.
Now, when you find this kind of niched, OMG-worthy similarity, people can’t help commenting even if they aren’t natural engagers.
That’s why talking to a person, not a “persona” or “audience” works so much better.
3. Be vulnerable
When you ask for something, you need to give, first. When you play the role of an expert who is above everyone else, you can’t expect people to open up to you.
Talk openly about your feelings, weaknesses, and fears, and people will connect to you and follow your example.
Write a great hook
A good blogger spends as much time coming up with the headline as they spend writing the post. They know that when the headline is not good, no one will read the post anyway.
On social media, and especially on Instagram, the same is true for the first sentence of your post. The thing is, Instagram only shows the first two lines, and if they don’t catch people’s attention, no one will click “read more.”
You don’t need a headline as such, but after you write the whole post, go back to the first sentence and make sure it’s attention-grabbing enough for people to want to take the extra step/click and read the whole caption.
Don’t waste your first line on a hashtag; hashtags are technical information and belong at the bottom.
Write in a conversational tone
On social media, you want to sound like a human, not like a robot or a textbook.
Here’s what to do:
- Write in an active voice instead of passive voice (Mary wrote the article = active, the article was written by Mary = passive)
- Ask a lot of questions
- Use contractions instead of full forms (I don’t vs. I do not)
- Break long sentences into shorter ones
- Avoid complicated and technical words
- Use words typical for speaking, not for (formal) writing (e.g. You know, right?, listen, not nevertheless, furthermore, …)
- Spice it up with emojis—speaking of which…
Spice it up with emojis
Emojis can make your writing more human, fun, and visually appealing, but they can also do the opposite.
Too many emojis are distracting ????, annoying ????, and sometimes even a bit creepy ???? (like a robot ???? that is trying too hard to sound like a human ????).
You don’t have to illustrate each of the points you make with a different emoji and use emojis to tell people how to feel in each paragraph, unless you do it on purpose.
Make it scannable
When you write one long paragraph, most people won’t bother reading it. Both Instagram and Facebook enable you to use paragraphs, so do it.
On the web, paragraphs longer than 3 lines look uninviting. Of course, it’s hard to tell how long your paragraphs will end up being on different devices, so just make sure your sentences don’t go on forever.
On the web, forever means more than 14 words. But feel free to break the rule like I did above. When you overdo short sentences, you may end up sounding like a robot, too.
Add a question or a call to action
If nothing else, remember this point.
When people complain that they keep posting and then only hear crickets, most of the time the reason is simple: They never tell their people what to do.
When you post a grammar tip or even a photo of yourself with a caption along the lines of “Friday feeling!”, you can’t expect a lot of people to talk back to you because they don’t know what to say.
No matter what the caption is about (and now you know it should always be about your Dream Client), include either a question or a call to action. You don’t have to do it all the time, but the more you do it, the more engagement you can expect.
Speaking of questions:
- For both you and your audience, it’s easier to start with easy-to-answer questions (yes or no; agree or disagree; unchallenging, not so personal topics).
- After you train your people to trust you and talk to you, depending on your audience, you can ask deeper, more personal questions.
- How do you train your people? By always talking back to them and showing them that you are actually interested in them. Don’t ask a question and run away.
- When you ask one question per caption, people are more likely to answer than when you ask two or three.
- When you ask a question, any question, people are more likely to react, even if they don’t answer the question and start talking about something else instead. That’s okay. Keep the conversation going.
And what about CTAs?
CTA or call to action means simply that you tell people what to do, for example:
- Click the link
- Share the post
- Read the article (links)
- Comment on the post
- Like if they agree
- And so on
Again, when you tell people what to do, they are much more likely to do it.
- Write a meaningful caption even if you think the image (or link) speaks for itself
- Relax, think about a specific person, and talk to her like a human being and like a friend
- No matter what you’re talking about, make it more about your Dream Client than about anything else
- Don’t ask yourself “What do I write about?” but “How can I make my Dream Client talk (about herself)?”
- Make the first sentence irresistible
- Make the caption easy to scan
- Tell your Dream Client what to do or ask a direct question to make it easy for her to engage
- When someone comments, reply and keep the conversation going
If you implement these tips, you will get more engagement. Just don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen tomorrow. It takes time to find the right people, convince the algorithm that your content is great, and build trust with your community.
In the meantime, you can engage with other people’s content. Engagement doesn’t only mean engagement on your posts, but also your engagement on other people’s posts. The social media algorithm likes it, people like it, and it all builds up.
Inside the DYSF Resource Library, you can find a free workbook of visual content ideas so you always have original and engaging images for your captions.
Writing conversationally: How to write in a conversational tone
Empathizing with your Dream Client: An open letter from your dream client
Writing a great hook: Henneke Duistermaat: How to write a good opening sentence
Conversation topics: Alexandra Franzen: 100 questions to spark conversation & connection
What works for you when writing captions? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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