Writing captions

When I was interviewed for the Sunday Times Style podcast Scarlett Russell, the host, said that I was known for my long captions. Until then, I’d never really thought about the length; I just wrote as much as I felt I needed to.

Now, I notice other people’s caption length.

Some people go in for the strong image and just a line as a caption.

Others, like me, write a story or a ‘micro blog’.

You can experiment with caption length. But I’d say that if you are able to write a bit more, the likelihood is that it will get more engagement.

That said, with something like an amazing image of food that looks so delicious – a one-liner might be all that’s required. (The Meringue Girls do this well).

So it will depend on your industry, and what you’re trying to evoke in people.

I want people to go to The Robora on Instagram and think: this is really useful advice for my online business.

You might want people to look at your grid and think:

Yum.

Or laugh.

Or perhaps yours is an aspiration lifestyle brand, so you want them to feel inspired.

Or educational, so they should be learning something new.

People are often engaged by honest, raw, real posts. You don’t have to reveal your deepest secrets, but if you feel comfortable opening up about a challenge – usually, others will have experienced something similar. This makes it relatable. And so they start to trust you more, as an honest founder/brand.

An example: when designers share that their work has been ripped off by a big business – we all try to support them. And in the end, it becomes a brand-building exercise for them.

They have been brave enough to share; we support them by sharing the story so that everyone knows it was their idea originally.

And they will often get a huge influx of followers off the back of it. It’s not the intention, but it’s often what happens.

Telling a story

There’s so much talk about ‘telling a story’ through your marketing and if you’re not a writer, you might find this hard to do.

So, let’s strip it back.

A story, as you know, has a beginning, a middle and an end.

If you look at the traditional fairytale structure, it starts by setting the scene:

Once upon a time, there was this princess. She wasn’t like other princesses. She had a shaved head and only wore wellies. And while her parents, the king and queen, thought this was disgraceful – there was this prince who thought it was wild and wonderful.

The middle will be about something happening – a challenge:

The problem was that the king and queen wanted their daughter to marry a different prince. One who was more traditional. A prince who liked his princess in flouncy dresses. And so, knowing that her parents were going to start introducing her to suitors, she decided to run away.

The end is the resolution:

She hid in the woods for a week, drinking water from a stream and eating just blackberries. And she started to feel really hungry. So she decided to go back to see her parents. When she got home, they were so happy she’d returned, they didn’t even mention all the princes who they’d had to turn away. And she realised that sometimes, actions speak louder than words.

I went into more detail than I planned there. But I wanted to give an idea of the traditional story format. Because that’s what your captions should have, too.

Here’s an example of a ‘story’ I told on Instagram…

The caption reads:

When this photo was taken, in 2015, I had plans to build a business empire.⠀

But at the time, I was barely earning enough to cover my half of the bills.

I’d launched The Early Hour, and it was growing fast in terms of readers – but not in terms of finances.

And so paying to have a professional headshot made me feel like a massive imposter.

Who was I to be posing like this, as if I mattered? As if my ‘business’ mattered?

But having this headshot meant I could pitch for press coverage for The Early Hour and look more legit.

As I started being asked to do Q&As for small blogs, these photos were circulating and made me look professional.

So people treated me like I was a business owner, not a content-producer making hardly any money.

I got more interview requests. The Guardian contacted me to write an article. And it all started to take off.

Now, I’m not saying all you need is a headshot to streamline you to success.

But when you start to treat yourself like the entrepreneur that you want to be – others do, too.

And then you start to be offered opportunities.

And then you start to make money.

And then, a few years later, you may find yourself exactly where you hoped you would be when you started out.

When you were posing in your kitchen, feeling like a fraud.

Respect yourself. Invest in your business. And if there are no available funds, arrange a skillswap.

———–

The ‘beginning’ sets the scene.

The ‘middle’ shares a challenge (feeling like an imposter)

The end (the resolution) was realising that when you act the part, people start to treat you like you are succeeding.

———–

Captions and confidence

I often hear women say that they spend so long mulling over the caption, they end up not posting anything. They’re worried that it won’t sound right, or interesting enough.

Low confidence can’t be combatted by me saying: JUST DO IT. But… that’s really what it takes: trying, tweaking, doing better next time, looking, listening.

It’s okay to have a post that no one ‘likes’. And to delete it. Or to have less likes than normal and think: ‘oh. I thought it was good’. And leave it there.

There are no real rules. But it’s always important to remember that NO ONE else gives your Instagram feed as much thought as you do.

So if you put out a post that doesn’t do well, move on. Unless it’s incredibly offensive, no one will think about it ever again after they’ve scrolled on.

Over time, you’ll develop your caption-writing style.

TOP TIP: If you want to write a few lines, and have a space in between, you need to make sure that after the first line, there’s no space before you hit ‘return’. If you add a space after the fullstop, Instagram will bring the next line back up to join it. But if you end your first sentence, then hit ‘return’ twice – you’ll end up with a line between each of those lines.