They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but for Instagram-marketing purposes, that isn’t always enough.  In addition to your visual content, Instagram allows you to write a caption, add a location, tag other users, and share to other social media platforms. It’s wise to take full advantage of these Instagram post building opportunities, so keep reading for a few tips on ways you can complement your visual content before you post.

If done right, you should see results in the form of boosted engagement, follower gains, and more exposure!

(Note: To relate to as many of you as possible, I’ve written this post with brands, influencers, and creatives in mind.  While reading, you might have to interpret the suggestions and apply them to the type of account you have set up.  If you are using Instagram as a personal platform, you should still read through the post to get an idea of the possibilities.  After all, anyone using social media should consider themselves a storyteller!)


WRITE A CAPTION: Use words, emojis, mentions, and hashtags to cement your story in the viewer’s mind.

Your visual content is the most important aspect of your Instagram post, but the caption also plays a crucial role. Captions allow you to expand upon your visuals and further your story-telling (a must for anyone involved in any type of marketing.)

If there are elements of your story that need to be strengthened or were missing in the visual content, you’ll want to include those first in your caption.  The limit for Instagram captions is 2,200 characters, so you’ve got plenty of space to write.  However, note that your caption will be cutoff in the feed after 3-4 lines of text.  Users will be required to click “See More” to read the rest, so be sure to include the most important information at the beginning of your caption. Also, most people scroll through their feeds rather quickly, so the sooner you get to the point, the better.

So what else should you write in the caption? Here are some things to consider:

Include a call-to-action.
Encourage engagement by telling users what exactly you want them to do. Whether you are looking for feedback directly on Instagram or are pointing users to engage with outside content, use the caption to accomplish it.

Examples: ask a question, ask users to tag their friends in the comments, direct users to the link in your bio, direct users to your profile on other social media platforms, etc.

Find creative uses for emojis.
Emojis are more powerful than you might think. Many Instagram users are finding that their engagement significantly increases when they properly use emojis in their captions and comments.

You should always aim to connect with Instagram users on an emotional level. Emojis are the perfect tool to help strengthen the emotional connection you’ve hopefully made with your photo/video content.

Get creative with the ways you use emojis and you’ll stand out from the competition. If you’re stuck, trying replacing some of the words or phrases in your comment or caption with an emoji instead.

Anthony Thompson from Post Planner put it perfectly: “Like great art, emojis demand interpretation — and that can sometimes require a bit of thought. In a way, emojis are a ‘visual brainteaser’.” Challenge users to figure out what you’re saying with emojis and you’ll keep them focused on your content longer.

Mention other users.
Give credit where credit is due.

Take a few moments to think about your content and determine if there is anyone that deserves some credit. Photographers, if your friend recommended the location for your photoshoot-related post, thank them with a mention.  Food bloggers, if you thought the burger you are posting a photo of was delicious, tell the restaurant with a mention.  Brands, if you are sharing a post inspired by a comment from one of your followers, thank/credit them with a mention.  Make sense?

Mentions, also commonly referred to as shoutouts, are a great way to build better relationships on Instagram. You’ll find that by mentioning other users, many of them will be flattered enough to respond with a like, comment, or even a repost.

This is key for influencers and creatives since many brands regularly include user-generated content in their Instagram marketing.  If they like what you posted, you just might find yourself with a big feature. With big features come big follower gains!

Use hashtags wisely.
Hashtags are great tools for gaining exposure, but you have to maintain a healthy balance. Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags on a single post, but using too many hashtags comes across as quite “spammy”. People will take notice and won’t take you as serious.

In the early stages, you might get away with using a higher number of hashtags to get some engagement on your photos, but select hashtags that directly relate to your content and make sense. If you are using ultra-common hashtags that get thousands of posts per day, you’re not doing yourself any favors. The chances someone will discover your post out of the thousands of daily #love posts is slim to none. Put yourself in the mindset of the average Instagram user and think about what they might be searching to find a post like yours.

From the start, consider what kind of account you’re trying to build and use common sense to decide on a safe number of hashtags to stay authentic. As a photographer, I use a higher number of hashtags, but the ones I use are almost exclusively for Instagram hubs, cities, companies, or contests. I know that these types of hashtags are regularly monitored, so I find it worth it to use these to increase my exposure and chances of being featured.

The last thing I’ll mention in this article regarding hashtags is that they can also be used to add emotional value to your post. Writing creative/unique hashtags can help separate your post from the rest. For example, you could replace #funny on a humorous post with #IThinkIJustPeedALittle to add that extra punch. However, don’t list 15 crazy hashtags and expect users to sit there and read them all.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth blog post on Instagram hashtags in the near future. People are constantly asking for advice on this topic, so I’ll expand upon what I’ve written here and include things like branded hashtags in that one.



ADD LOCATION: Use a location to help local users discover your content.

Adding a location to your post will increase your engagement. Sometimes this increase is significant. Back in 2014, a study on big brand Instagram accounts reported that posts with locations received 79% better engagement than the average. I haven’t seen any updated statistics on this, but that number alone convinced me to put more attention on that aspect of Instagram post building.

If you consider the way that many people use Instagram for exploring their surroundings, the increased engagement makes sense. When I hear about a new restaurant or am looking for something to do in a neighborhood I’ve never been to, I’ll check Instagram to see what content is available already.

Once you click the location on a photo, you can see all of the previous content that has been tagged with that location. If you content stands out, people will take notice and engage with it.

When adding a location, be sure to get as specific as possible. Unless you have enough engagement on your content to reach the top posts of saturated locations such as cities or large neighborhoods, you’ll want to narrow your location down as much as possible.

If you are in New York City…in Manhattan…in a coffee shop…posting a picture of a cup of coffee, you’ll want to use the coffee shop as your location. There’s less competition to get your content seen and not to mention your content is directly related to that location, so it’ll have much more success.

TAG PEOPLE: Help your users discover related accounts and get noticed doing it.

Tagging people is a great way to assist your followers and get noticed by the tagged accounts in the process.

If you took a picture of a person, place, product, etc. and they have an Instagram account, it’s a great idea to tag their accounts directly on top of those objects in your content.  By doing this, you’re helping your users easily navigate to those other accounts to get more information.  If your influence is strong, those tagged accounts will take notice and you may get some opportunities to help them promote content in the future.

For any additional tags, have an apparent reason and don’t go overboard.  Tagging tons of accounts on every post you upload to get noticed makes you, again, look “spammy.” I get tagged almost on a daily basis and quickly form impressions of the users that do it. If someone tags just me in one or two of their photos during a recent trip to Seoul, I’m flattered. However, if they are repeatedly tagging my account in addition to 15 other accounts, it’s hard for me to take them seriously and I just might block them.



SHARE: Expand your post’s reach to other social media platforms.

Here’s another topic that I could (and probably will) write a whole blog post about. Whether or not you share to other platforms really depends on your overall marketing plan. Ideally, you should be posting different types of content on each platform to cater to the types of followers you have there. You don’t want to feed your followers the same content across all platforms, so at least make sure you have enough other content pushed out to each to keep things interesting.

Keep in mind that there are a couple of limitations with sharing to platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Twitter has a limited number of characters, so your caption will most likely get cut off when it’s shared. As for Facebook, I’ve never been happy with the quality of shared photos. However, I do like the fact that people are able to see that your photo was uploaded from Instagram and can navigate to your Instagram profile page.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!  Hopefully this blog post has been helpful and given you some things beyond the visual content to think about during your Instagram post building process.  Let me know in the comments if you have other tips that you’ve found useful before posting to Instagram.

I have a lot of experience operating accounts for brands, hubs, influencers, artists, and more, so I’m doing my best to offload some of my knowledge here on this blog.  If you are interested in consulting for your account(s), feel free to send me an email at to get more information on my services.  For you photographers, don’t forget to keep checking the freebies section of this site for free Lightroom presets.

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