For Artists and Creatives on Instagram: Don’t waste your captions.
I am an introvert. In social situations, that means I will be closest to the wall and I will rarely approach new people or be the one to start a conversation. When I walk into a party, I usually observe conversations until someone says something I find interesting. I’m too easily overstimulated and too uncomfortable to be the one searching for what makes each person in a room interesting. So I wait.
On social media, you need to assume that everyone in your audience is like me. We don’t care about you until you show us why we should and you have to invite us into your bubble. It seems a little cold when I word it like that, but really it’s just an effort at energy conservation. Most people don’t have the time or energy to dig into what makes every random person special on the internet. You are that random person, and you have to show them. Starting conversations with your captions is a perfect way to do this.
There are two reasons why you need to start a conversation on social media:
Starting conversations with your posts on Instagram is a great way to reach out to your quiet audience members who just creep in the background until somebody mentions a topic they care about. Why does this matter?
- Conversations= engagement and engagement= more eyes on your work/more followers. Getting meaningful comments on your posts helps show social media platforms that your post is popular and it should be boosted to other users. Basically, you need to get genuine comments that are more than 4 words on your posts.
- Conversations help your audience connect with you and your brand, which builds trust, and trust helps lead to sales.
More engagement, more followers, more trust, and more potential to make money from your craft. Yay, conversations!
Every Social Media Post is an opportunity to start a conversation.
Every caption doesn’t need to be meaningful, deep, profound, or anything like that, but many of your captions should invite people into a simple conversation at the very least. Your goal should be to create space for your audience to connect with you and add their own voice.
First, let’s look at the wrong way to start a conversation. Look at these three sample Instagram captions that an artist might write:
- “Here’s what I’ve been working on in the studio today.”
- “A little update on my progress with this piece.”
- “18”x24 acrylic on canvas. DM to purchase.”
From the three examples above, do you feel like they are an invitation to participate in a conversation? What kinds of responses do these captions ask for? Maybe “looks good,” or “love it.” If you’re lucky, you might get a few emojis, but you’ll likely get silence from most people unless your photo REALLY speaks to them. Captions like this leave hardly any room for conversation. In real life it would look like this:
“Hey, look at my art!”
*Both of you then stare awkwardly in other directions, because the conversation died after 8 words.*
On social media, captions like this put all of the conversational burden on your audience to come up with more questions for you. You’re the creator. You’re the one presenting your work to the world and you’re the one asking for attention, so you must be the one to take on that conversational work to keep things moving.
Now, look at this caption I used on one of my posts from a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting my home state:
“One of my favorite things about living in California has been the hills and mountains around where I live. Every time we take the dog for a walk, we get that good booty burn while working our way upwards. So it’s really funny to be in Minnesota and realize just how flat it really is. There was a “hill” I used to bike down as a kid in my home town and I remembered it being the steepest hill around. Seeing it now, I laughed out loud. It’s cute how much bigger the world is through young eyes.”
And this one:
“I wonder if I’m ever going to be a morning person… That could be nice. *she says as she struggles to hold her eyes open and roll out of bed*”
The first is a story from my past that others might be able to relate to, and the second is a general display of my personality. Neither of these ask a direct question, but they still leave room for more conversation beyond “nice pic”. People may respond with stories from their own childhood, or their mutual hatred for mornings. You can see that neither caption is profoundly meaningful, but they help add another layer of my story as an artist on top of the visuals I post.
Keep in mind:
You are multidimensional and you are not just the art you post. You have so much more to offer your audience than “I just finished up this piece. Check it out!” Ask yourself, what did that piece mean to you? What struggles did you encounter while creating? What inspires you and what weird thing happened to you while you were creating or in life? Most people in your audience won’t actually ask you these questions so you have to do the work for them and present answers from the beginning.
Side note: I also want to challenge you to use your captions to complement your brand without always speaking directly about the content of the photos and videos you’ve posted. Nobody says you have to narrate your visuals in your captions. Let your visuals capture your creativity and let your captions tell the story about you as the artist. Your captions can be completely unrelated to the art in the photo as long as they are still relevant to your brand and you as an artist.
Tips to Start a Meaningful Conversation on Social Media
- Straight up ask a question in your caption: Make it somewhat meaningful and don’t just ask for people to comment on your art. Think about your audience and what they might like to talk about.
- Be vulnerable: When you are a creative person, your struggles and vulnerabilities are inherently connected to your craft. Figure out how your personal struggles can work to elevate your brand and share those stories responsibly and with intention.
- Find meaning in the mundane: Everything in life has the potential to be entertaining. Tomorrow morning, wake up and try to view your life as if someone is narrating it. How would an author describe the way you get out of bed. What idiosyncrasies do you have that you normally don’t notice? Capture small moments from your life and share it with an audience, but be intentional with your tone (funny, thoughtful, quirky, etc.)
- Speak of your origins: There may be millions of artists out there trying to get attention on social media, but we all have a different story to tell. Share your experiences.
- Share your quirks and imperfections: The things we are self-conscious about are often the things that make us delightfully different. A little encouragement to your audience to share their quirks can start a lovely conversation.
Keep it casual:
If you are struggling to find things to talk about, imagine yourself in front of a couple of friends and run through topics they might be interested in talking about. Or, what stories would you tell them about your week? What do you find meaningful in life? What kinds of conversations do you like to be a part of? I keep notes on my phone with ideas for captions and stories to tell. That might be helpful for you as well.
You can also take note of the types of social media accounts you follow and how different captions pull you in. Then you can sort of reverse engineer social interactions.
And remember, every one of your captions should have a purpose, but you don’t have to make 100% of them conversation starters. Sometimes “New items are in my shop, follow the link in my bio” is perfect. Just make sure you are showing your audience why they should want to support you as a creator in posts before that.
Lastly, make time to respond to comments and further the conversation.
If someone takes the time to leave you a comment on social media, try to respond in some way. On Instagram, your comments are rumored to count as engagement as well. This is why I recommend going to your new post about an hour after publishing and responding to all the meaningful comments. Even if this doesn’t help boost your post to new users, it will at the very least show your audience that you are accessible and have a desire to connect with them.
I know that you may not actually want to connect with people and you just want to sell your art–but I’m going to encourage you to fake it a little. Nobody on the other side of the screen can see the annoyed look on your face while you’re typing responses, so just power through!
You’re Not Alone
Many of the artists I work with in my consulting sessions struggle with writing good conversation-starting captions, but I promise it does get easier with time. You don’t have to be a comedian, have perfect grammar, be a storyteller, or have yourself figured out in order to start a conversation on social media. You just have to be you and put yourself out there. One random little story or thought at a time.
When nobody responds to a caption you spent a bunch of time on, don’t get discouraged. Keep doing your thing every day and the persistence will pay off. Or just make time-lapse videos of your art. Those are already engaging. If your visuals can compensate for sub-par captions, then you can still find a lot of success on social media. You don’t have to be great at everything.
Now go start a conversation! Even if it’s just about your favorite paintbrush named George or that time you walked around your high school all day with green oil paint smeared on your neck.
Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post.
P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.