It’s holiday season, so I’m gonna keep this one short.
Imagine someone put a gun to your head, sat you down by a computer, and told you that you had to write something compelling, something captivating that would grab the reader’s attention. There are two catches (not counting the gun to the head, of course). Firstly, you only have a sentence or two to write it in. And second—no one’s planning to read what you write.
That’s kind of what copywriting for Instagram is like.
There’s no way around it—Instagram is not made for writing. It’s all about the photos; the captions are limited and largely an afterthought.
No one goes on to Instagram to read a caption.
So most copywriters will tell you to embrace those limitations. Write short, witty copy that pairs well with the image. Brevity is key.
It’s good advice, but, when I took over our company’s Instagram page, I realized it wouldn’t work for me.
We manufacture photography gear. To represent this, we post photos taken with our gear. Those photos, taken of professional models by professional photographers, are perfect for Instagram.
But, if I were to follow the standard advice, they would have been impossible to write about.
When you ask anyone to explain Instagram, they inevitably use the same phrase. A picture is worth a thousand words. And those were exactly the types of pictures we posted. Pictures that really said it all. And if they were able to say a thousand words, what was I supposed to say in a sentence? I could talk about how well-lit it is, but you can see that. I could talk about what an awesome shot it was, but you can see that. The standard advice—writing something short that paired well with the image—didn’t apply here.
So, instead, I talked expressly about things that weren’t visible at all in the image.
Sometimes it was the story behind the picture. In this image, I talked about the contrast between the frozen beauty of the image and the scorching, disgusting heat the photographer took it in it.
Sometimes it was something inspirational, like in this image.
And sometime I just dug deep inside and wrote. When I couldn’t think of what to write, I stared at the image until it told me a story, until it made me feel something, and then wrote whatever came to mind. Like here.
This advice isn’t a master-tip. Many copywriters on Instagram are writing captions on images that don’t tell a full story. Those images need someone to come along and, with a short sentence, add that missing piece, that final clue, to make the story whole.
But if you’re like me—if you find yourself frustrated writing about images that already say it all—then stop. One of the worst things you can do as a writer is be repetitive. If it says it all, don’t say it again.
Find the words the picture doesn’t say.
Eli Landes is one of those weird writers who just can't get enough. A marketing writer by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time, he spends his spare time working on his novel, writing short fiction, or daydreaming (I mean, researching). His main genre is Jewish fiction, but he's been known to dabble in the weird, the absurd, and the truly dark.