Experiment: do long captions get more engagement on Instagram?
Since Instagram was designed as a visual medium, it’s hard to know how important the subtitles actually are.
Sure, you can write up to 2,200 characters in your caption … but should you?
After all, a great caption doesn’t just describe what’s going on in the photo. It’s your chance to express yourself to your followers and (hopefully) encourage engagement in the process.
Does the algorithm reward verbose contributions? Do people like to make themselves comfortable and lose themselves in a good caption? … Or does a long label encourage the followers to keep scrolling?
Only one way to find out: to sacrifice my personal account to the insta-gods for a series of elaborate and public experiments! (I assume my Pulitzer will be in the mail?)
Let us do this.
Bonus: Download a free checklist This shows the exact steps a lifestyle photographer took on Instagram to grow from 0 to 600,000 followers, without a budget and without expensive equipment.
Hypothesis: Instagram posts with longer captions get more engagement
There are a lot of people who are smarter than me who suspect that longer subtitles are more engaging. I know this because I asked Brayden Cohen, who is a member of the Hootsuite social marketing team and who manages @hootsuite’s Instagram account.
“Overall, I think longer captions provide better engagement on Instagram. There is only so much information, copies, and context to put in an image, ”says Brayden.
In his experience, longer subtitles offer an opportunity to be more creative and provide clarity. Having longer subtitles will give your audience more information on a topic. This is especially helpful as it is difficult to add links on Instagram.
“Sometimes all you have is your Instagram caption to grab your audience’s attention and provide them with valuable content,” he adds.
Maximizing the length of the Instagram captions your audience prefers is critical to maximizing your reach. Instagram’s algorithm is likely to position posts with the most likes and comments at the top of your followers’ feeds. So give your existing audience the best chance of growing your audience what they want! Which is … longer subtitles! Probably! We’ll find out in a moment.
To see if long subtitles have more likes and comments than short subtitles, I posted three pairs of thematically themed shots in my personal Instagram account. Each photo pair contained similar visual content so I could compare engagements as fairly as possible.
That meant I posted two photos of cherry blossoms, two landscape shots, and two selfies (with what could be generously called a “statement” sweater). One photo in each pair has a short caption and the other has a long caption.
For the purposes of this experiment, I followed Brayden’s definition of “long”: “I would say that subtitles with more than three line breaks are considered long in my books. Any label that requires you to click “More” is considered long for me too, ”he told me.
This seems to be in line with other social media experts’ perceptions of a “long” caption, so I made sure that all of my words are between 90 and 130 words.
I decided that the “short” subtitles would only be a few words: a sentence, no longer than a line.
Here is a breakdown of all the lengths and numbers of characters for those who earn points at home:
|SUBJECT OF THE PHOTO||LONG CAPTION LENGTH||SHORT CAPTION LENGTH|
|Cherry blossoms||95 words (470 characters)||4 words (27 characters)|
|landscape||115 words (605 characters)||2 words (12 characters)|
|Cool sweaters||129 words (703 characters)||11 words (65 characters)|
I put my captions together, scheduled my posts on Hootsuite to appear over the course of a weekend, and sat back to wait for the likes and comments to come in.
(And as scientists usually reveal in professional experiments: Likes from my mother are not included in the final bill.)
I saved the posts to my Insta feed for a couple of weeks then signed up for Hootsuite Analytics for the big reveal.
In any case here – sweater against sweater, landscape against landscape and cherry blossoms against cherry blossoms – The photo with the longer lettering garnered more comments.
In addition, the photo with the longer label received more likes in two of the three cases.
For my cherry blossom photos, I used my long caption to “clap” myself to those who make fun of cherry blossom photos. I know a bold attitude that was rewarded by many supportive comments.
My shorter caption received a decent number of likes – but there was radio silence in the comments section.
For my second comparison round, I used two landscape photos. My longer caption was a personal reflection on the amount of walks I took during the pandemic: I also recommended a particular park and asked others to share their favorites. I received a handful of comments in return and everyone was very personal and responsive to what I had written – I felt seen!
In the meantime, my beach photo with short captions got a few more likes, but only one comment … that asked me if I was doing some kind of A / B test. (I feel seen again … but not good this time, oops.)
Two great sweaters (to Fashion Brand Company and OkayOk!), Two very different subtitle lengths. Although I definitely felt the love of my followers for these two posts, the long post with the egg sweater was the clear winner here with 50 additional likes and 20 additional comments.
Of course, there are a number of factors that go into whether someone likes or comments on a post – maybe people in general prefer eggs to sprinkles? – so take all of this with a grain of salt.
That being said, there is definitely a pattern of engagement here in all of these photos that correlates with the longer captions.
Here are the results, sorted by likes:
And sorted by comments:
What do the results mean?
TL; DR: Longer subtitles encourage engagement, especially when it comes to commentary.
While this was obviously not a perfect experiment, by looking at the results from pairs of photos on similar subjects, I was able to compare apples to apples. And I’ve found that in every pair The posts with longer subtitles garnered more likes and many more comments than short subtitles.
(The other important lesson I learned is that people really love my sweater collection. So yeah, I would say this experiment was definitely worth it.)
There are many best practices for writing engaging Instagram posts of any length, but I think longer posts give you more opportunities to show authenticity or ask questions.
A lengthy letter, even if I didn’t explicitly create a CTA for comments, seemed to inspire people to tune in and respond. Maybe it was just that I took the time to compose 250 words, which led people to take the time to read: I really must have something to say when I have spent the time and energy to to say it!
As with all of these experiments, it’s a very small sample size … and each brand is unique! So don’t take my word for it. In your next few posts, try some longer captions, analyze the results, and learn from what you see.
You have nothing to lose experimenting with your subtitle length (unless you’re Caroline Calloway, I assume).
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