Instagram is for images, but your captions can make or break a post. As a content marketing consultant, I've written more Instagram captions than I can count, both for myself and my clients, and I've seen firsthand how powerful they can be. A snazzy picture or funny Reel might stop your followers' scroll, but it's the caption that can draw them in and help them learn more about you, your business, and the value you provide.
The formula for writing a business Instagram caption
So how do you make the most of this valuable piece of social media real estate?
The first step is understanding which types of captions drive different actions. Some are great for increasing engagement on your account, while others are better at generating leads and getting people to your website—you need a healthy balance of both.
There are also some hard rules you should follow. For example, the Instagram caption limit is 2,200 characters, and Instagram shortens your caption after three to four lines, so your first sentence should act as a headline to encourage your audience to read the whole caption.
Copywriter Alex Cattoni explains that Instagram captions need to follow the "ABC's of copywriting":
Attention: Grab attention with an intriguing question or an emotional sentence.
Benefit: Provide a benefit in the form of education, entertainment, or inspiration.
Close: Close your caption with a clear and concise call-to-action.
5 types of Instagram captions for businesses
Alex outlines five different types of Instagram captions that are particularly effective at driving crucial engagement actions such as likes, saves, shares, comments, and website clicks:
These work so well because of the "know, like, trust" factor: your customers need to know, like, and trust you before they'll buy from you.
Telling a relatable story helps your audience get to know you.
Posting funny memes or interesting questions will get them to like you.
And sharing helpful tips, tools, and resources will help them trust you as someone who can solve their problems.
To bring this all together, I'll illustrate how these caption types, coupled with the ABC caption formula, work—using examples from my own business Instagram account.
1. Tell a relatable story
Share real stories—ones that your audience might relate to or see themselves in. The point of this type of post is to help your audience get to know you beyond your service or product, so don't be afraid to get personal.
This is one of my most-liked Instagram posts. The caption is about authenticity and why I felt I had to be someone I wasn't when I started my business. The image is pretty simple, but the caption really resonated with my audience.
The first sentence ("When I started my business, I felt like I had to be someone I wasn't.") hooks people in with a vulnerable yet relatable confession. The rest of the caption then provides value by sharing how I learned to become more comfortable being myself. While I'll admit the post doesn't have a strong close, as you can see by the level of engagement, it was still effective in building a deeper connection with my audience.
2. Share helpful tips and tools
Short, educational lists are a great way to build trust with your audience by giving them helpful advice or resources that they can apply to their lives. It offers potential customers a taste of the value you provide and will help them be more receptive to your paid offers.
One of my most saved posts was this one I made about my company values. Again, you can see the ABC formula at work. There's the headline-style first sentence ("Let's chat about values, shall we? 🗣"). The body of the caption provides more details about why I've created my company values (the slideshow post shows them). And the caption ends with a question CTA ("What are your brand values? Do you have a company brand guide? Let me know in the comments.") This post works well because it shows people what I stand for and provides a framework for people who might be interested in creating their company values.
3. Post thought-provoking memes or quotes
Memes and quotes are popular post formats because they're super engaging, digestible, and shareable. They instantly elicit an emotional response, and because they're so quick to consume, most people don't think twice about sharing these kinds of posts.
The quote or meme you post should speak for itself, but you can add more value with a caption that provides context, whether that's a story or helpful advice that relates to the meme or quote.
My most shared post of all time is this Twitter screenshot around name pronunciation.
While the quote here grabbed people's attention, I used the caption to add context. The caption starts with an intriguing headline ("So this little tweet went viral last month…"). The body of the caption goes into what I've learned since the post went viral, and I ended the caption with a strong CTA around asking people how they pronounce their names and why it's important.
4. Ask simple questions
As the saying goes, you don't get what you don't ask for. The same goes for Instagram post engagement: if you want people to comment more on your posts, ask them a question, and tell them to post their replies in the comments.
Just make sure it's a simple question that your followers can answer quickly—a yes/no question or even a multiple-choice question. Lots of folks will elaborate on their answers anyway, but you want to keep the barrier to entry low.
One of my posts with the most comments was this Twitter screenshot where I asked a straightforward question: "Is anybody else finding that it takes them super long to do basically anything at this point?"
This post was inspired by the pandemic fatigue I was feeling at the time, and given the level of response, my audience was feeling the same.
Even though the caption is just one sentence, it follows the ABC formula. It grabs attention, provides a benefit by showing my followers that they're not alone, and includes a CTA to put a "hands up" emoji in the comments if they relate.
5. Provide valuable resources
Since Instagram currently prohibits users from putting hyperlinks in their captions, it can be challenging for business owners to drive their followers to their website. While Instagram Shopping has made this a little easier, most business owners have to get their followers to go to their profiles and click the link in their bio if they want them to visit their website.
Since this can be a bit of a process for your followers, you need to make it worth their while. That's why the best way to generate leads from Instagram is to give them a highly valuable and relevant resource that will fulfill an urgent need or solve a pressing problem.
In addition to my content marketing consultancy, I'm also a freelance coach. I offer a variety of tools, courses, and services to help new and aspiring freelance creatives launch and grow their businesses.
One of the top freelancing questions I get is, "How do I set my rates?" So I created a tool to help my audience do just that. The Instagram caption for the post leads with a headline that addresses my audience's pain point ("'How much should I charge for my freelance services?!' 😣"). Then, I describe the tool and its benefits and end with a strong CTA to download the tool. Because the tool solves a pressing problem for my audience, it's no surprise that this post drove the most website clicks of all time.
The key to writing winning Instagram captions
Whether you're posting a relatable story, a funny meme, or a helpful tool, always ask yourself: "What can my audience gain from this?" Writing thoughtful Instagram captions that have your audience's needs and wants in mind will help you build a deep connection between you and your followers that will keep them coming back for more.