How to write effectively for Instagram

Hospitality is about escapism and connection. The same can be said for Instagram, which has evolved to become a matchmaker between hotels and consumers.

Contributed by Jessica Little, hotel marketing agency Imperial Leisure, Singapore

Through the portal of Instagram, users can explore an infinite number of beautiful places. Consumers can certainly afford to be picky, so for brands, distinction is in the detail. Using a sample of 40,000 Instagram posts by hotel brands, we uncovered some key commonalities shared by the top 10% with the highest engagement. What we found was that active words like ‘welcome’ and ‘join’ encourage a response, while transportive language like ‘beautiful’ and ‘paradise’ captures attention at the top of the funnel.

We think of Instagram as an image-based platform, but without captions, an endless feed of filtered photos would be meaningless. What’s the story? Why should I care about this? A consistent and recognizable voice is essential for building a relationship with consumers, setting the emotional tone, and differentiating a brand from others in a crowded marketplace.

Here are four actionable takeaways to drive increased engagement:

Use evocative language: Travel content should always evoke a feeling. A striking image has instant impact; sensory language helps the consumer to imagine themselves in the picture. Use scents, sounds, atmosphere, texture and taste – the sensation of water, the warmth of the sun, the fragrance of jasmine – to transport your audience and prompt pleasant memories of past trips.

Provide the escapism Instagram users crave with words that calm and convey a sense of space, like ‘ocean’ and ‘sky’, or take them out of the realm of the everyday with descriptions like ‘wonder’ and ‘golden’. Inspirational travel is never without an element of fantasy.

Power word: Paradise

Engagement boost: 6%

As seen:

Why it works: The mix of active, uplifting verbs (‘achieve’, ‘celebrate’, ‘explore’, ‘surrender’) and ideas of carefree island living (‘paradise’, ‘balance’, ‘island time’), packaged in two simple yet compelling sentences.

Depending on brand identity, emojis can also enhance messaging. Over 61% of top-performing posts used them to signal mood or tone, and to tie the caption to the image. This modern shorthand can be stylish and witty when used selectively; ideally at the end of the text and with restraint – two characters is a good limit.

Power-moji: ✨

Engagement boost: 9.75%

As seen:

Why it works: The most-used emoji, the ‘sparkles’ add a dash of fun without distraction, lending a subtle playfulness to the character of this heritage brand.

Convey warmth and sincerity: Instagram should serve as an extension of the hospitality experience, embodying the brand and forming a positive and seamless part of the consumer journey. Higher-end brands often balance elevated language, which feels aspirational, but can create a barrier, with plain English that sounds like a person talking to a friend. The concept of luxury is being redefined by consumers to be less buttoned-up, more pared-down and relaxed: mirror this shift in expectations by letting your guests know their needs will be taken care of. The words ‘journey’, ‘wellness’ and ‘together’ all tap into the current traveler mindset, and were found to be significant audience connectors.

Naturally, tone of voice might differ online and offline, but it should always sound human and genuine. Invite users into the world you’ve created for them – just by writing ‘welcome’, brands can see an uplift in engagement (almost one in 10 posts in our study feature this word).

Power word: Join

Engagement boost: 4.23%

As seen:

Why it works: The caption puts the audience at the centre of the Ritz Paris story by inviting them to be a part of it, while using intrigue to pique curiosity.

Focus your message: Though style is individual, there are general principles of effective writing that are always worth practicing. The first is don’t try to communicate too much at once. With the exception of lifestyle brands that have a niche and highly interested following, an excessive amount of detail tends to be disengaging, so write a single message and give it space to be read.

Over 61% of top posts feature short captions (under 250 words) and over 42% have a readability grade of between 8 and 13 on the Flesch-Kincaid Index, making accessibility a necessary trait. There are various online tools that can be used to check this.

As they say, seeing too much is seeing nothing.

As seen:

Why it works: A blissful, sun-drowsy afternoon is cleverly encapsulated in one concise sentence with no embellishment or redundant words. The message exudes confidence and polish.

Stripping back a message makes every word precise and purposeful, demonstrating important virtues like reliability and expertise. Understatement is another technique that will achieve this. The slightest hint of an oversell can arouse suspicion from consumers who are increasingly savvy and, at times, skeptical of brands. Aim for words that are vivid and true to gain trust.

Reflect the moment: The type of content you put out (promotional versus brand) may vary according to seasonal booking patterns. Ideally it will also be tailored to the moment, both in subject and tone. Hoteliers are masters at anticipating what makes people feel good. Do your Instagram captions reflect this?

During long periods of travel inertia in 2020 and early 2021, the words ‘escape’ and ‘new’ spoke to audiences most, lifting engagement by 4.65% and featuring in 7.8% of top posts respectively. ‘Save’ and ‘offer’ also featured heavily, demonstrating that Instagram can be a useful tool for driving conversions as well as brand love.

Power word: Celebrate

Engagement boost: 3%

As seen:

Why it works: In a pause from hotel content, this message of celebration is timely and speaks to the mood of the audience.

Every brand is different and what works for one may not work for another. By all means experiment (that’s the beauty of social media), but do use words to maximum effect – they can be the key to converting a casual Instagram scroller into a hotel guest.