As a marketing professional who works with fashion and lifestyle businesses, I know that Instagram is one of the most engaging, fun and profitable channels. So many shoes! So many new brands to discover! In fact, I've found the majority of my new favourite fashion brands on Instagram.
But it's not just what products they're promoting that has me scrolling for far too long in the morning. I'm also drawn to a strong tone of voice, great emoji game and an ability to get to the point, fast. It's definitely a unique skill to hone, and mastering the art of engaging Instagram captions is crucial to getting those click-throughs.
But what's the secret to creating amazing Instagram captions? You know the ones that make you feel like they're talking to you directly? That ask all the right questions, hint at all the right answers, and send you in search of more?
Enter Mackayla Paul. I discovered this Instagram boss earlier in the year, and I've been adoring her posts ever since. Her super power is her ability to make Instagram marketing easy, fun and achievable for small businesses like myself. So naturally, I had to pick her brain to find out how I (and you!) could boost my Instagram caption game.
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Not only is your Instagram visual content absolutely gorgeous and engaging for your particular target audience, your captions are structured and well written. Do you follow a particular formula?
That is a great question! The formula that I follow differs between my short and long captions, however, there is one thing that is the same - the first few words have to be intriguing!
Instagram cuts your captions off when they appear in the newsfeed, usually only displaying the first sentence of your caption. If that first sentence doesn’t make your followers want to read any further… why would they?
I like to think of my Instagram posts as individual, bite-sized blog posts. Make sure they have a beginning, middle, and an end.
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When did you realise that Instagram captions needed a particular format? What purpose does it serve?
When I first started out I was very focused on educational content as I knew I had to show that I knew what I was talking about to prove that I was a good marketer. The only issue is I could talk for hours about marketing, and while I love writing long captions, I needed to make them easy on the eyes so people would actually read them!
I quickly found after some trial and error that I could make my captions appear shorter by utilising correct formatting as well as throwing in some spacing by using emojis or full stops to ensure that there are clear paragraphs in my longer captions.
As a copywriter, I know how important it is to nail your brand’s tone-of-voice. With my own clients, I take them through a process to flesh out their copy personality so that we can weave particular themes through their copy, and concentrate on using particular language that resonates with their audience. Do you do something similar?
Yes! I know that a lot of freelance marketers don’t usually do this, but it is one of my biggest pet peeves. Brand voice is so important to nail, especially if you plan on eventually outsourcing your marketing. All of the big brands that have successful social media marketing campaigns get those results because they know their brand voice, and they know the way their customers want to be spoken to online.
I like to slightly tweak my tone of voice for each channel, as each channel serves a different purpose. For example, my Instagram tone of voice is a bit more cheeky and fun, and of course, the length of my captions are shorter. How else can I optimise my Instagram tone of voice for maximum engagement?
That is very smart! With the clients I work with who have multiple social media platforms on the go, I encourage them to look at the demographics of the people engaging with them on each network and adjusting their marketing strategy accordingly.
For example: one of my clients is a national skincare brand. On Instagram, they are targeting the younger spectrum of their target market, and with their Facebook the more mature. That is why we have chosen to promote certain products (i.e. acne solutions) via Instagram. I have also found that it is easier to sell your entry-level products or services via Instagram, and your higher end services elsewhere online or further down in your sales funnel once they’ve become a loyal customer.
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One thing people always express frustration with is not knowing what to write as a caption! Where would you suggest someone to start if they’re not a natural wordsmith?
I would definitely start by grabbing a copy of my new e-book! (hehe)
Take a moment to consider the different types of captions you could write - Educational, Motivational, Conversational, or Promotional. You never want to get boring with your content so mix it up with your captions!
Many of my clients haven’t dedicated much of their time to Instagram as they feel they’re not witty enough. If someone’s lacking a funny bone, how can they make their instagram captions engaging?
You don’t necessarily have to be humorous to be on Instagram, so don’t worry too much about that! One of the best ways to engage people on Instagram whether you are a personal brand or a business brand is to create conversational content.
A brand that does this really well as an example is Birdsnest Clothing. They ask their followers questions that relate to their interests - they tap into trending TV show finales, start conversations about favourite childhood memories, and they generally know how to get their community excited!
In my own experience, I engage my audience the most (based on analytics) when I chat to them about my background, my business journey, and the lessons i’ve learnt along the way.
Should you speak in first person, or third person?
That is a great question! Again, it depends on what kind of brand you are.
If you’re a personal brand like me, where you are the face of your business and you are technically a #solopreneur, you must use first person.
Some brands like Frank Body use first person, and they do it wonderfully! They have succeeded because they have personified their product and given it a cheeky personality of it’s own.
If you are a team of people you would use third person.
What’s your stance on emojis?
Oh, how I love emojis! However you have to be careful to ensure you use them appropriately.
One time I had to explain in a Facebook Group why the #(eggplantemoji) had been shadowbanned on Instagram…. that was an interesting conversation for sure!
In my business I have chosen about 5 emojis that I consistently use when responding to comments and in captions. I am now known and recognised for using certain emojis that they have become an additional part of my brand.
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How many drafts should a person write before they publish?
I actually use my first draft – always.
When I write I generally edit out words or make word choice changes as I go, and by the end I am pretty chuffed. I also have a typing speed of 90WPM so I am a little bit speedy!
Most of my clients struggle with writing captions the first time around, and that is exactly why I am launching my caption writing e-book in the next week.
As someone who wants to outsource their Instagram marketing themselves, who do you think should write Instagram captions? The client, or the social media manager?
I would definitely say the Social Media Manager - that’s their job! However, you should absolutely be approving of all of the captions before they are uploaded. This needs to be communicated to the manager when you hire them, as all freelancers and agencies have different practices they follow.
When I used to offer management, for the first few months of working with a new client I would send through a Word Document of all the captions for the month for them to be adjusted to ensure the client was happy. I have found this is the best method for quality control and brand voice consistency.
Over time you won’t have to check them as much as the manager should be seeing some similarities in the changes you are making and will start making a conscious effort to eliminate certain words and phrases.
I see a lot of fashion bloggers writing captions that have nothing to do with the visual content. Do you think there needs to be a connection?
I personally am quite particular about ensuring that the imagery and chosen hashtags are in alignment, but with the caption you can be a bit more lenient.
However, as you can see from most of my posts for Social Stylings I often like to let the image lead me to what I want to say rather than the other way around.
Calls-to-action are super hard on Instagram, as you can only supply one link. How do you maximise your links?
Well, I’ve got a hack for that! There’s a great tool called Linktr.ee which allows you to host up to five different links on a mini landing page so that you can direct people to different web pages.
It will save you time and hassle from constantly changing from your blog link to your sales page link to your Facebook page link…. it’s just the best!
Let’s talk hashtags. There’s so much conflicting advice online. Some blogs say 30 hashtags, others say keep it 4. What do you think delivers the best results?
During the writing and research period of my Must-Have Hashtags e-book, I also came across a lot of conflicting advice.
The way I like to look at it is this - you don’t have to pay for Hashtags. Hashtags are completely free, and they allow you to target your ideal customers very easily with minimal effort. Why would you not take every single free opportunity you have to make sales for your business?Because someone might think you look desperate? Those people just don’t get it.
Just make sure to put your Hashtags in the comments section, out of your caption, and out of the way.
Instagram has a crazy stance on banning hashtags. Where would someone go to find the full list of banned tags?
Unfortunately that list doesn’t quite exist. However, my good friend and the founder of my favourite Instagram Scheduling tool PLANN has written an incredible blog post all about it.
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What’s the best length for an instagram hashtag?
That’s an interesting question! There really isn’t a set limit, it is moreso about how many people are actively using and looking at that particular Hashtag.
If you are trying to come up with your own branded Hashtag for your customers to use when sharing your products online, keep it at a maximum of three words.
Did you know that you can also hashtag emojis? It’s so funny!
And finally, how else can someone optimise their Instagram caption?
The best way to make the most out of your Instagram captions is to keep a close eye on the ones that perform well and result in comments from your community.
Use an analytics tool like Iconosquare to analyse your most engaging posts and take a moment to sit down and think about what the similarities are between those top performing captions.
Her mission is to educate and empower female business owners in the Fashion and Beauty industries so that they can stay competitive and stop settling for mediocre marketing results.