May 14, 2019

Copy That: When to Use Short vs. Long Captions

You’ve spent hours on photography, graphic design, or videography. You’ve painstakingly edited your visuals to match your brand’s tone and stand out in the feed. By the time you’re ready to post, it’s easy to wonder: “Does the caption really make a difference?”

Yes—and caption length matters too!

With a 63,206 character limit on Facebook and a 2,200 character limit on Instagram, there is ample room to play. Even Twitter’s 280 characters leave room for multiple sentences. Some would argue that with our society’s fleeting attention spans, shorter is better. But others believe in using that real estate to share more brand information and tell stories. So who’s right? According to data and trends, there’s a time and a place for both.

Short Copy

When it comes to Facebook and Twitter, shorter caption copy is almost always better. A strong visual will speak for itself, but is most powerful when paired with a short caption that either reiterates the message, adds more detail, or invites the audience to engage. This is effective on product-specific posts but also on brand building posts.

According to a study by Jeff Bullas, Facebook posts with 80 characters or less receive 66 percent more engagement. In this example from Merck Manual Professional (US)*, the short caption gives the post timely context.

As we’ve seen from pages like Humans of New York, long captions can be successful on Facebook, but users have may not have the same patience when it comes to a brand’s post (especially if it’s a paid ad).

In 2017, Twitter rolled out 280-character tweets, which doubled its previous limit of 140 characters. Since then, studies have shown that longer tweets garner higher engagement in terms of retweets and likes than shorter ones. Our opinion? Both can be successful in different situations.

This shorter tweet from Giant Food* offers product information in a digestible way and uses just two simple hashtags: one for the grocery store, and one for the product.

However, using up those 280 characters can be a great strategy too. In this tweet, Aroma Espresso Bar introduces a new menu item and, using a longer caption, provides details about the ingredients. With longer tweets like this one, it’s important to hook users with the first few words—if you can do that, they’ll likely read the entire thing.

On Instagram, if a post is relying on the caption for crucial information, the Instagram team recommends captions under 125 characters. This way, nothing will be hidden beneath the “See More” fold. That being said, Instagram is also the place where long copy can shine.

Long Copy

There’s been a growing trend of celebrities and influencers opening up about their lives using Instagram captions, treating the platform almost like a personal blog. In contrast to their perfect pictures, influencers’ captions have become a space for authenticity and storytelling. Because influencers’ audiences have chosen to tap the “follow” button, they’re more open to reading long-form captions—even if it’s a sponsored post. Long captions about brand partnerships give influencers the space to talk about how a product or service fits into their lifestyle.

Influencer Carly Wadel speaks openly and candidly about her experience with new motherhood in this post, making her mention of @peanut more sincere.

The long caption strategy isn’t just limited to influencers. This post from Calvin Klein is a great example of how brands can tell real human stories too. As a part of its #MYTRUTH campaign, Calvin Klein shares images of ambassadors paired with powerful quotes.

Another consideration for Instagram caption length is your hashtag strategy. Many brands and influencers add a series of relevant hashtags below the fold or in the first comment to make posts more searchable, but don’t go too crazy—according to TrackMaven, posts with just nine hashtags receive the most engagement.

Of course, the best caption strategy is the one that’s most effective. Using this article as a guide, keep testing different caption lengths and styles to find out what’s best for your brand.

*Likeable client

Tags: Best Practices, Niche Networks, Strategy

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