The other day, as I was crafting Instagram captions for a client of mine, I stumbled across a sobering, albeit hilarious, quote that we decided to use as one of her social graphics:

“Hell hath no fury like a toddler who has been given toast when they asked for toast.”

First, I chuckled. Then, I stared blankly at my screen for 15 minutes, struck by total social media writer’s block.

Turns out, toddlers and Instagram captions are one and the same.

They’re both downright confusing sometimes.

And at the risk of hitting you over the head with my analogy, let’s say you posted a picture of jammy toast a few months ago, which received a record amount of likes and comments in the history of your business (cue the fist pumps).

Thinking that your audience must love toast, you decide to post another picture of toast (with coffee and eggs this time)…

…and it receives the lowest amount of likes and comments in the history of your business.

“Hell hath no fury like an audience who has been given toast when they asked for toast.”

Um, what gives?

Just as it takes spending every single day with a toddler to finally understand that the word “kain-key” actually means “candy,” the same amount of quality time must be given to navigate the perfect formula for ideal social media engagement.

Unlike Facebook, Instagram is a primarily visual platform based on photos and videos. And while these visuals are meant to capture your attention, a well-crafted caption with a clear message and CTA will drive conversions, while making a significant impact on your Instagram results.

So, how do you create a well-crafted caption with a clear message?

Well, today, I’m going to show you how. Keep reading for the only Instagram caption formula you’ll ever need to improve your audience engagement.

1. Let’s Talk Length

I wish there was a black-and-white answer for this one, but the length of your Instagram caption totally depends on how much you need to say. As a good rule of thumb, it’s best to keep captions as short as possible, if you can make your point in a single paragraph or less. On the contrary, don’t cut your caption short if you need to tell your story in four paragraphs or more.

Yes, it’s true that most people on Instagram would prefer less text, but some accounts have conditioned their audience to expect a sort of “micro-blogging” experience—one that uses long captions to tell a story or share their thoughts.

Example: Simi Botic, Health Coach

At the end of the day, use your best judgement. If something feels deep and meaningful, don’t be afraid to write multiple paragraphs. But if you’re struggling to say anything at all, a quick to-the-point post is more than fine!

2. Focus, Folks

Speaking of getting to the point, decide what your Instagram caption will convey, then do it right away. In other words, don’t leave your audience hanging.

If you’re on your phone right now, head back to Instagram for a minute (I’ll wait). As you scroll through your feed, you’ll notice the captions beneath each post have a little link saying “…more” that cuts off the rest of the caption. The reason Instagram does this is because they want to keep Instagram super visual, as I mentioned above. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure your first sentence is captivating enough to encourage your followers to tap “read more.”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of building up the best part of your caption right until the very end. But unfortunately, most people won’t read that far down to notice. Instead, you’ll want to give your followers more motivation to finish reading the entire caption (psst…try using emojis, questions, or bold claims right at the beginning).

Remember when I told you about the importance of headlines when it comes to anything you write? Think of the first sentence in your social caption as your headline. Cut to the chase and place all of your focus at the beginning.

3. Make a Connection

It doesn’t matter if you’re the most buttoned up, professional business in America—everyone connects with a heartfelt, personal story. Whether you’re taking an opinionated stance on a controversial topic, weaving a hilarious anecdote about something that happened in your HQ office, or putting yourself out there in the open with one of the most vulnerable moments of your life, you’ll want to build a connection with your audience by sharing personal information related to the thing or service you’re selling.

Example: Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LDN

We all want to be respected and thought of as professional. And you should never, ever feel forced to give out personal information you don’t feel comfortable sharing (oh, and there is such a thing as oversharing, too). But remember that you’re a human being on a very personal platform. While it’s easy to remove yourself from the caption, keep in mind that people connect with the story behind your business, and Instagram is the best place to lay it all out there for the world to see.

4. You Talkin’ to Me?

If you haven’t already done this, figure out who your target audience is. If you have to, find your biggest fan and ask them interview questions: Where do you shop most? Do you have a favorite food? Why did you purchase my product or service? How does this fit into your lifestyle?

Are they mostly female, between the ages of 15-18? Maybe your followers are young, millennial moms. Whoever they are, you have to start speaking to your audience’s sensibilities. Use the same emojis, slang, and trends to appeal to your target following.

Your brand should have its own unique style, personality, and tone. And while it may be tempting to speak to everyone, you would be, in fact, speaking to no one. Instead, you should be speaking to a very specific group of people, making them feel included and heard.

Example: Wiley Body

To make this happen, start by using the word “you” more often while writing your captions. Take the spotlight off of what *you* do, and instead, ask yourself what your audience wants, needs, or has a problem with (and how your product/service can help). Just like going out to dinner with a good friend, if you’re constantly talking about yourself the entire time, the other person might as well not even be there—and they’ll start to lose interest.

5. Hey, Break It Up

Remember earlier when we talked about the length of your post? Well, let’s say you have a lot to unpack in your next caption, but you’re afraid the audience will glaze over once they reach the second paragraph.

Bullet points and line breaks make a post way easier to read. They help draw the reader’s eye to different areas of the content, making it feel very manageable to digest. Not to mention, when you divvy out your text into short paragraphs, you’ll help increase the likelihood of your followers clicking through on your CTAs.

Example: Otto Skin Goods

Face it: when it comes to social media—especially Instagram—we’re skimmers. Practically everyone you know is on Instagram, and there’s a lot of content to get through on any given day. That’s why we need to make our captions appealing and eye-catching. The bottom line? Never over-complicate your copy. Use focus words and cute emojis in place of bullets to get to the point faster, versus writing out complete sentences. Your followers will thank you.

6. Okay, So What’s Next?

Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk CTAs, or calls-to-action.

I wrote about CTAs a while ago in my post about blogging, and this example still rings true for social captions:

“Think of it this way: let’s say you’re out to eat with a friend, and she asks you for dating advice. You’ve totally got this. You spend about five to ten minutes giving your friend the run-down—how to find someone who aligns with her interests, how to be themselves, when to tell if the guy is playing you, etc. At the end of your speech, you wouldn’t just flag down the waiter, pay for your check, give your friend the finger guns and walk out of the restaurant without her reaction, would you? Heck no! You’d stay and listen to her feedback, answer any follow-up questions, have some freakin’ cheesecake, for crying out loud.”

Same goes for your social caption. You’ve just given your audience a lot of useful information. Now it’s time to sit back and listen to their questions, comments and feedback. You want your followers to take the next step, by clicking through to your website, reading a recent blog post, listening to your latest podcast, etc. All of this can be achieved by saying “link in bio!” at the end of your caption.

Example: The Wonder Jam

Listen, I get it. It can feel kinda gross to ask people to do something every time you post. And honestly, social media isn’t exactly made for selling a bunch of stuff all the time. So, instead, encourage your users to engage in other ways, too! Maybe it’s creating content for your audience to re-share on an Instagram story. Maybe it’s asking your audience to tag their friends in the comments section. Or, traditionally, you can simply ask them to purchase or read more or sign up using your link in bio. Just remember to ask yourself these two questions: How is this post going to help my audience? and How is this post going to help my business?

So, what did I miss? Have any questions for me? Leave a comment below!