You’ve been toiling with your edits, filters, and sound clips on your latest Instagram reel and you’re almost ready to post… but then you get to the caption field. Time for an existential crisis.
Should you just throw in a few hashtags and call it a day? Or is it time to get poetic with a mini essay? (Don’t forget your third option: just delete the draft and toss your phone in the ocean.) Suddenly, a fun opportunity to share on social media has become an opportunity to question everything.
When it comes to Instagram Reels captions, it’s hard to know how much is too much – will a long caption help or hurt your engagement?
Well, if you liked my story on whether long captions work better on Instagram than short ones, consider this the sequel and buckle upwards.
It’s time to find out the ideal length of an Instagram Reel caption the only way we know how: by spamming my poor, unsuspecting Instagram followers with content and making some sweet sweet notes.
Let the science begin.
Bonus: Download the Free 10-Day Role Challenge, a daily workbook of creative directions to help you get started with Instagram roles, track your growth, and see results across your Instagram profile.
Famous designer Coco Chanel once said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” While minimalistic minimalism may be the best choice for fashion, sometimes on Instagram it seems like more is more.
At least that was the case for mine latest subtitling experiment. By comparing super short captions and long, detailed captions, we found that longer captions overwhelmingly led to higher engagement on Instagram posts.
Our hypothesis is that Instagram Reels would be no different. (Need a crash course on Instagram Reels? Here! You! Go!) After all, with Instagram Posts, longer captions delivered more information, more opportunities to connect with followers, and better SEO.
Presumably, all of these benefits will also apply to Reels. But why imagine when I can spend a weekend creating 10 Instagram rolls and use them as captivating bait to get to the truth? Time to put my caption craft to the test.
To test the ideal length for an Instagram Reels post, I posted five videos with longer (125+ words). i also posted five videos with a short, simple one-line description.
I decided that both the long captioned and short captioned videos had to be quite similar to make sure the content itself wasn’t a factor in any engagement.
Since I recently completed an extensive renovation and am just itching to spend hours talking about it to anyone who dares enough to stop and listen, I decided that before-and-after content was the way to go.
I made a few videos about my bedroom (one with a long caption, one with a short one), one about the bathroom, and so on.
For each video, I picked a different trending sound just to make sure Instagram didn’t think I was being too spammy.
I also wanted to do this to leverage the power of the Instagram Reels algorithm, which tends to boost videos with music clips.
Ten videos went out into the world. When I came back 48 hours later to see how they were doing, I found this.
TLDR: Instagram roles with shorter captions gained more engagement and reach.
While Instagram Messages with longer captions getting higher engagement in our latest experiment, I was surprised to see that shorter captions were more successful when it came to Instagram roles.
|Rolls with long captions||Scrolls with short captions|
I guess I didn’t have to spend all that time making long captions after all. But while those are minutes I’ll never get back, the lessons of my past become the wisdom of my future. (And I’m not at all upset that that absolutely incredible inspirational phrase I just came up with is probably too long and cumbersome to ever use as a caption for a reel.)
What do the results mean?
As with all these experiments, these results should be taken with a grain of salt. I only left my Reels for two days, and they were clearly very focused on one specific topic.
It’s entirely possible that a different type of Reel with a different audience would have gone differently. I didn’t even use hashtags here, so that may have affected my reach as well.
But I think there are some key takeaways here – namely that you’re better off spending your time honing your editing skills than composing the perfect well done.
Reels are for skimming, poles are for deep dives
Roles, like TiKTok, are designed for exploration – so the people who watch them may not be your biggest fans or cousins who feel obligated to follow you back.
That could explain why Posts with long captions fared so much better than Roles with long captions. If your audience is only viewing your content to consume as part of an endless stream of fast-processing video content, a powerful caption won’t add much to the experience.
Tell your story with the content, not the caption
With Reels, it seems best if the caption provides additional material, not a full backstory.
Make sure your video can stand on its own and make sense even without the context of a caption: if someone isn’t reading it, they should still feel like they’ve got all the important information. (Looking for some tips for creating standout Instagram roles? We’ve got you covered.)
Harness the SEO power of captions
Just because captions aren’t the most compelling element of your role doesn’t mean you should just leave that field blank. The caption is an opportunity to enter some strong keywords and hashtags, to increase your chance of being found. Even if no human ever reads your caption, the search index certainly will.
Of course, everyone’s social media account is a unique and special butterfly, so your mileage may vary. The great thing, though, is that it costs you nothing to experiment with how captions (or if captions!) work for you and your personal social media goals. Once you’ve put your heart into creating the perfect Instagram reel, a clever caption is really just the icing on the cake.
Take the pressure off real-time posting with Hootsuite Reels scheduling. Plan, post and see what works and what doesn’t with easy-to-use analytics that help you activate viral mode.
Save time and stress less with simple Reels planning and Hootsuite performance monitoring. Trust us, it’s very simple.