• Lisa DiVirgilio Arnold

A crash course on writing effective social media captions

If you’ve ever posted on social media for your business, you’ve probably had this question before: What’s the best caption to use?

Here at Small Town Startup, we get a little nervous around the word “best” only because it seems to be more relative to each social media account. Your best post length, use of words and tone will be unique to your business. However, when we look at social media as a whole, there are some great guidelines for you to build from.

Let’s talk about length

On Facebook, several studies show that post captions between 40 to 80 characters perform best. In other words, the sentence you just read is a best-performing caption length.

When we talk about Facebook ads, the best length gets even shorter: five words. That’s right, just five words.

Again, this may not be exactly what will perform best for your brand, but as a whole, it is currently what is performing best across Facebook.

Now that you know the best lengths overall, you can experiment. And boy, will you have the space to play. Here are the character limits currently for Facebook posting and advertisement types:

  • Facebook Posts: 63,206 characters

  • Facebook Ads image/ video: body text – 125 characters

  • Facebook Ads (link) image/ video: headline – 25 characters

  • Facebook Ads (link) image/ video: link description – 30 characters

  • Facebook Ads (all types) – no image can be more than 20% text

When we dive into Instagram, you’ll notice a quick drop in caption character limits: just 2,200 max for an Instagram post. That’s A-Ok with us, since a study by Social Report found that captions less than 125 characters do best.

That caption limit doesn’t necessarily include hashtags. Many brands add multiple hashtags either to their caption or the first comment of their post. Best practices range anywhere from four to nine hashtags being ideal. Again, if you have found a formula that works with more or less hashtags, that’s just fine, too! This will be unique to your business.

Wondering how wordy you can get on Instagram? Here are the limits:

  • Instagram Caption Character Limit: 2,200 characters

  • Instagram Hashtag Limit: 30 hashtags

  • Instagram Ads image/ video: text – 2 rows of text

  • Instagram Ads (all types) – no image can be more than 20% text

On Twitter, the social media platform king of getting you to the point, you can use up to 280 characters per tweet. The most popular tweets typically fall between 70 to 100 characters.

Alright, now that you know what you’re working with, let’s talk about a few social-specific planning and copywriting tips. I’m going to throw a bit of strategy in here, too.

Write first, take pictures second

Do you often find yourself wondering what to post each day? If that’s you, you’re likely to open up your Camera Roll and scroll through to find the perfect picture. Then, you’ll sit for a minute while you develop the caption.

Did you know this is the complete opposite way brands best-in-class do it?

That’s right - they start with their copy first. Each month (or quarter, or whatever planning period they have), a social media manager will be given a list of priorities for the brand. From there, they’ll write the copy to drive those priorities across their audiences. Want to sell more lattes this month? Well, that’ll likely be heavily focused on in the captions first.

Then, once you have a good mix of what you want customers to hear, you’ll take pictures that play well with your captions. This way, you’re always driving home and instilling the right message consistently. Once you start doing this, you’ll notice your social media posting schedule will be easier to handle because you’ve prepped ahead of time.

Of course, things happen. You should always leave room in your calendar for a fun pop-up announcement or unexpected surprise. The way to do this is to make sure a majority of your captions are evergreen. For the most part, what works on Tuesday should work on Thursday. If it’s a caption for a specific event, make sure it’s editable to seem genuine. For example if it’s storming, leaving room to put that in so those reading your post will be able to more quickly relate to it even if you wrote it a month ago.

Use regional or national trends

Despite having a small business in a small town, your customers are aware of what’s going on around them outside city limits. A brand that can capture things happening outside of their hometown will be more relatable and have a tourism draw.

You can keep an eye on Twitter’s trending topics to see what people are talking about right now or check out Google Trends search to see what folks are searching for lately.

If you can, make sure that one to two of your posts per week relate back to what’s happening in the world around you. Your goal on social media isn’t just to sell, sell, sell. It’s to build community around you. Be relatable and part of their lives.

Use powerful words

Did you know the five most persuasive words in the English language are:

  • New

  • You

  • Free

  • Instantly

  • Because

Don’t abuse power words, but use them to your advantage. Sprinkling them into your content throughout the month is a great way to boost your engagement and reach. Typically, you’ll want to start off a caption with the power word of choice so you don’t bury their meaning in a ton of text.

Do what the pros do

There are proven copywriting formulas that the best of the best use often. Here are just a few to test out in your captions.

Before / Bridge / After

This shows a reader what their life is like now, then you’ll guide them (using the bridge between before and after) to what their life will be like after they use your product. Before and afters are so popular, there are several dozen hashtags on Instagram that have millions of photos attached to each of them talking about transformations

Example: Before I read Small Town Startup’s guide on caption copywriting, I was exhausted just thinking about posting on social media. I hated figuring out what to write. As I began reading the guide, I realized a few things I could change immediately to make posting content easier. After a few weeks of testing some of the tips, I am noticing a higher rate of engagement on my posts.

If / Then

This one is pretty easy. If you have this problem, then here’s the solution (which is hopefully what your business offers!). While similar to Before / Bridge / After, this is quicker and more to the point.

Example: If you’re having trouble coming up with engaging captions on social media, then check out Small Town Startup’s latest crash course on writing for social media. It’ll help you write captions easier, create content faster and drive your key messages more consistently.


When you give a reader a scenario that makes them feel like they are standing at a crossroads and have to choose which way to go, they are likely to be interested in what you have to say. The hope is that your content will help them make the decision with less risk or more confidently.

If you do this copywriting tactic, make sure that your content helps them and does not confuse them.

Example: Mike didn’t know what he was going to do. His Facebook page was nearly dead and his business didn’t have much of an online presence. He had a few options: He could dive into other forms of marketing and advertising such as billboards or newspaper ads and forget social media, or he could hire Small Town Startup to help manage his social media and online presence. He decided to hire Small Town Startup on a 90-day basis to fully manage and run his social media. In those first 90 days, his Facebook following increased by 80 percent and his post engagement rose by more than 300 percent! More and more people come into Mike’s shop now reporting they found him on social media.

(This is a true story, but names have been changed to protect the wildly successful.)

You’ll note these copywriting tactics almost always result longer captions than what is the aggregated best. Again, this is why it’s so important for you to not fear experimenting with your brand. You will not know what will work until you try it.

Looking for someone to do a quick audit on your social media to see where you can improve? Reach out to us now!

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