Don’t let the sea of photographs and videos filling your feed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even LinkedIn fool you: the written word is alive and well.
Companies that want to take advantage of social media services as a marketing channel have recognized that these services have become increasingly visual in nature. This is partly due to the fact that we consume much of our daily content on smartphones, where swiping and scrolling through posts quickly is the norm.
There’s also the fact that, as social media content proliferates, marketers are competing against an increasingly short attention span, which means in some cases, an image or animated clip might get noticed more readily than a lengthy blog post.
Not surprisingly, this has led a lot of brands, including small and medium-sized businesses, to beef up their skills behind a camera, and to work with third parties like agencies and influencers to figure out how to tell their story in a way that appeals to the eye as well as the mind.
A great picture or video on its own won’t do much, though. Great captions are the key.
Much like the legend at the bottom of a treasure map, a caption provides a quick and easy way for those looking at content on social media to understand what it is they’re seeing and why they’re seeing it.
A great caption can do several things for a brand. First, a lot of social media posts are now indexed though search, so the text in a caption helps search engines pick up on keywords or themes that interest your customers.
Second, a caption provides the context that’s often necessary to turn a static image or a video into a message that aligns with your firm’s marketing objectives.
Third — and perhaps the most important — a caption can also give your audience on social something to do other than simply swipe or scroll along to the next thing in their feed.
Of course, writing a caption is a little different than the traditional forms of copywriting a marketer might have done to create an ad, or even more standard content marketing assets like a white paper or a case study. There’s a bit of an art to it.
If you’re new to writing captions for social media posts, or are assigning such tasks to someone else, keep the following tips in mind:
The old writing rule of “show, don’t tell” works great when you’ve got pages to fill. In social media posts you’re often constrained by the number of characters that the service allows (or that your audience will read).
Instead of just describing what’s in the image or video, then, try to focus only on the essential details that will matter.
Great captions can be thought-provoking, funny and conversational, but they should always include words and phrases that touch on customers’ questions or problems.
You may have already gone through an exercise of researching and developing a list of keywords as part of a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy to support other areas of marketing, like your blog. Make sure they’re applied to your social posts, too.
Even if you’re posting on a social media service that doesn’t always seem to show up in public search engine results, bear in mind that people might still be able to find your posts more easily via keywords if they’re using a search tool within the service itself.
In some cases keywords can be woven directly into the text of a caption, but if that’s not doable, you can also think about them when it comes time to choose hashtags. Most services, including Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, encourage the use of many hashtags to help associate your content with similar topics on their platforms.
Companies aren’t always acting on their own. Product and service launches are sometimes done with a partner. Charitable acts are often done with organizations dedicated to social good. Sometimes brands and their customers want to share their success stories together.
Whenever the opportunity arises, you can get more out of your caption by tagging people or organizations who are part of the work you’re doing. This is usually as simple as using the “@“ symbol with their account name next to it, and it can be included organically in the copy of the caption.
This offers a couple of benefits. Those you tag in the post might be inclined to reshare it to their own followers, boosting your reach.
Your audience may also decide to click on the name of the person or organization you’ve tagged, driving more interest their way.
Be sure to use this judiciously, though, because no one wants to read a caption that’s littered with tagged people or companies as a ploy to get attention. Better to clear it with the person or company you’re tagging before your caption goes live.
Use this as your motto: captions should lead to action.
Always think about the next step you want a customer to take. This could be clicking on a link in the post (or within your account’s bio area if you’re on Instagram), offering a comment in order to enter a contest or simply encouraging them to buy a product or service.
Calls to action (CTAs) should be easy to understand and do by anyone reading your caption.
If there are multiple steps involved, make sure your audience knows the easiest way to get in touch to ask questions or deal with problems.
Your social media followers may not remember every word you write in a caption, but in some ways the caption can provide the most direct value in your posts. And if you’re offering value for customers, that ultimately will bring value back to your brand.