The most underrated element of social media posts are captions.
As social media has become an increasingly visual medium with nearly every post featuring a photo, video, or GIF, the captions that accompany those posts are often an afterthought.
That’s a mistake.
Because captions may be the single biggest factor in determining the success or failure of a post.
Here are two things you can do in your captions to get yourself more Likes and shares regardless of how good the image you post is (or isn’t)…
1. Explain why the image matters instead of what it is.
When you set out to caption an image on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, what do you do?
If you’re like most people, you describe what’s in the image.
Unfortunately that leads to boring, repetitive, and obvious captions.
It may seem logical to explain what’s featured in the picture, but it’s not often effective because it misses an opportunity to ADD to the picture.
Use your caption to give people an additional reason to like, share or comment on your post — don’t just double down on the content of the picture itself.
Tell your audience something they can’t see in the picture. Share a backstory, lesson, or explanation of why you’re posting it in the first place.
Don’t just tell your audience why the image matters to you, explain why it should matter to THEM.
Aim to create captions strong enough to generate engagement on their own — regardless of the quality of the image they’re associated with.
Here’s an example of how to do that:
Let’s say you run an Instagram account for a widget company and you’re posting an image of the widgets being manufactured.
The obvious thing to write in the caption is something about how the widgets are made and maybe even a stat about how many you produce a year or how long it takes to make one.
That caption’s fine, but you can do better.
A better way to approach the caption would be to tell a story about the manufacturing of your widgets that offers a larger lesson or inspirational message your audience can take from it.
Maybe you tell a story about how the company founder first figured out how to manufacture these widgets. How she spent years experimenting with different processes and overcame multiple failures until she found the one that worked.
With this approach, the same simple photo of widgets being made becomes about something more meaningful and universal. It becomes more likely to resonate and resonance drives engagement.
This version of a caption turns it into an illustration of the importance of experimentation and what’s possible when you put in the time and effort to find a better way and overcome failure.
It can inspire people and be more likely to generate engagement from your fans as a result.
2. Don’t lead with the punchline.
Stories work well in captions, but they work best if you tell them in the right order.
TV shows and movies typically start with an opening scene that grabs the audience and makes them curious to know more — you want to do the same thing with your captions.
Don’t lead with a spoiler to your story.
When you tell a story in a caption, start with a simple line that grabs your audience’s attention and sparks curiosity.
The best story in the world is worthless if you can’t get people to read it, so your job is to hook them in the opening line.
But when you write that opening line, don’t lead with the punchline to your story — you want build up to a big reveal at the end.
Doing so draws people in to read your caption and then (assuming you’ve told a decent story), your story will have more impact and generate more engagement.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say I was captioning a post about legendary comedian Mel Brooks and wanted to tell a story about how he got his start.
Here’s a poor version of how I could write that caption:
Did you know Mel Brooks decided he wanted to work in Hollywood after his uncle got free tickets to a Broadway show and took Mel to see it?
Interesting tidbit, but poorly presented because it leads with the reveal and doesn’t build any interest or tension.
It’s a story, but a poorly told one.
Now, here’s how I wrote the story when it appeared on my For The Interested Instagram account.
You’ll notice I withheld the key bit of information (the “punchline”) until the end to draw people in and for maximum impact.
In 1935, a poor New York taxi driver offered some Broadway doormen a free ride home.
In gratitude, they gave him free tickets to the play “Anything Goes” and he took his 9-year-old nephew to see the show.
The boy was blown away.
He told his uncle he now knew what he wanted to do with his life — work in show business.
And that’s exactly what Mel Brooks did.
Totally different approach. Way more interesting (and effective).
When you use compelling story structure in your captions and don’t tip your hand too early in the story, you’ll find you get a lot more engagement from your fans.
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