It’s funny, but when you do something quite naturally it can be difficult to explain how you do it. Scratch that, writing doesn’t come naturally to me, it’s just that I learnt a bit about it years ago. Before Instagram.
After university and before kids I was a journalist working for BBC news. That’s where I learnt to write short (hopefully) interesting and engaging copy for the radio. It’s really much the same as writing for social media. You want to make your point clearly, to encourage your reader to stick with you and come back for more (because you understand them, and what they are interested in).
Here are a few rules that I write by.
Talk to one person, not a crowd
When you write an Instagram caption it’s easy to imagine that you are sending a message to everyone at once. To tens, hundreds or thousands of people. But when your words reach a follower, the connection is just happening between you and them, one person holding their phone. Write to just them (the same applies whether you are writing or speaking to the camera for Instagram Stories).
I have an imaginary follower called Sarah who I write for. She’s exactly the type of person who might follow my account (she’s quite a lot like me, as imaginary friends often are).
Assume no knowledge
Your caption should make sense even if someone has never visited your account or seen your work before. And keep reintroducing yourself. Regularly remind people what you are all about, chances are it’s the first time they’ve heard about it.
Read out loud
This is a proper radio journalist’s move. To be sure that what you have written makes sense, and importantly sounds like something you would actually say, read it back to yourself out loud.
Another similar trick. The Instagram specialist Sara Tasker says that if you want to strike the right tone you should write as though it is a text message, click here to read some of her thoughts on how to write.
Mostly, short is good
In general, keep your captions short and sweet. Do you sit and read paragraph after paragraph of text on Instagram posts? I’m guessing probably not. Make your point quickly.
Rules are made to be broken, and there is definitely a time and a place for longer more in-depth captions that reveal more about you, but save it for when it really counts.
Not the budget, bargain basement kind of value, the kind of value that makes something worth reading. Do your words bring added value? Do they help the reader feel involved in something, or less alone? Are you making them laugh, or telling them something new?
I try to make this the cornerstone of everything I do, and so I try and share my experiences and what I am learning about social media. What knowledge and expertise can you share? You need to give people a reason to follow you, what can you offer them (not the other way around)?
Who doesn’t like to be asked for the benefit of their wisdom and experience? We all love giving a recommendation and we all love getting one. Ask for help and people will respond.
If you are struggling to know what to chat about, just think about what’s going on in everyone’s life right now. Is it holiday season, or are the leaves starting fall from the trees? Are we all stretched because it’s the run up to Christmas? Write about that.
Successfully writing for social media doesn’t begin and end with your caption or tweet or blog post. It’s about thinking just as much about what you are writing on other people’s content. Respond thoughtfully to other’s posts and reply thoughtfully to comments on your posts.
You are interesting
Just in case you aren’t sure, you are interesting.
Appearing in photos was a big hurdle for me on Instagram, but I realise that others feel just as exposed and embarrassed about what they write. Who’s going to want to read about my life and what I think? Well, you are interesting, and sometimes (often!) the most seemingly mundane subjects can get the biggest response. One of my most commented upon posts was about my favourite mug, go figure? Practice, share as much as you can, and you will soon find out what resonates with your followers.
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