Are Super-Long Instagram Captions the New Personal Blog?
07.06.17
Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi

As Instagram has continued to take over the world (i.e. surge in popularity) over the last seven years, a stream of corresponding articles and analyses have covered the purported reasons behind its success. The common consensus seems to be that Instagram’s emphasis on the visual is what sets it apart.

“It is made of pictures, not text, which makes it less political than Twitter or Facebook, and therefore cheerier,” writes The Atlantic. Forbes goes one step further, warning marketers that too much copy will hurt an Instagram’s performance: “People don’t jump on Instagram to read posts; they want to see images. If you have a written message to share, you may not reach as much of your audience as you’d like.” Minus the addition of Instagram stories and some futzing with the feed algorithm, the app has barely changed since it first emerged. Why fix what very clearly isn’t broken?

Lately, though, I’ve noticed a change in how people are using it. Lena Dunham’s Instagram on May 4th is an apt example:

Thank you for all the love & concern that's been pouring in since Tuesday. Although I'm much healthier than I was a year ago, complications arose from my most recent endometriosis surgery. When the healthcare of so many American women, especially our trans sisters, is at-risk- or already nonexistent- I am lucky to be in the position to seek help when I'm in pain. To those in that privileged spot- never forget that we are blessed and can pay it forward by supporting Planned Parenthood and LGBTQ clinics like Callen-Lorde with our 💰 and ⌚️. I also want to remind all the women suffering from chronic illness that we aren't weak- quite the opposite, actually. We do our jobs with skill even when we're struggling. We care for our families even when we can hardly care for ourselves. We serve major face on a red carpet when we feel like lying face down would be more appropriate. I'll always be proud of those Met Gala pics- not just because I felt beautiful, surrounded by art and magic, hugging my best friend tightly, but because they're evidence that women contain steely multitudes. Just that morning @dianafalzone sued Fox after they took her off air for disclosing her endometriosis. But they're the ones who lost when they lost her, because everyone who's anyone knows that if you can battle chronic illness there's nothing you can't take on.

A post shared by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

Her caption is 235 words long. In it, she includes an update on her personal struggle with endometriosis, a politically relevant reminder about the importance of healthcare, a plea for people to donate time and money to organizations like Planned Parenthood, a supportive message for women with chronic illnesses, a shout-out to her Met Gala look and a PSA about Diana Falcone’s lawsuit against Fox.

I actually wouldn’t call this a caption. It’s too long to be a caption! Too informative. Too personal. You know what it reads more like? A blog post. Yes, that’s what I would call it — a blog post, typed into the spot where an Instagram caption usually goes. Lately, I’ve started to wonder if Instagram is the new WordPress.

Dunham is a big proponent of utilizing her Instagram account as a personal blog of sorts. Her Instagram captions are often lengthy and revealing paragraphs. She even co-opted another popular blog post format — the listicle — in an Instagram clapping back at a tabloid’s gross misconstrual of her weight loss:

20 slimdown diet tips! 1. anxiety disorder * 2. resultant constant nausea 3. an election that reveals the true depths of American misogyny 4. constant sweaty dreams of dystopian future 5. abdominal adhesions pinning ovary below uterus * 6. baseless but still harrowing threats to physical safety online and through smail mail 7. watching institutions you love from Planned Parenthood to PBS be threatened by cartoon mustache-twirling villains 8. finally realizing superheroes aren't real (specifically the X-Factor, really thought they'd handle this) 9. marching your ass off 10. a quiet rage that replaces need for food with need for revenge 11. sleeping 19 hours a day 12. realizing that even the liberal media wants dem clicks no matter whut 13. worrying ceaselessly about the health and safety of women you know and women you don't 14. realizing who ya real friends are 15. having to switch from Uber to Lyft (lots of calories burned trying to understand a new app, then even more trying to understand if the conflict was resolved) 16. bladder spasms, urinary frequency and urgency * 17. having your phone number leaked and violent images texted to your phone by randos under names like VERYFATCHUCKYBOY@creepz.com 18. keeping your back arched against the wind 19. um, who the fuck cares? 20. I have no tips I give no tips I don't want to be on this cover cuz it's diametrically opposed to everything I've fought my whole career for and it's not a compliment to me because it's not an achievement thanx * Star indicates a pre-existing condition

A post shared by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

She’s not the only one ignoring the constraints of a typical Instagram caption. I’ve observed this practice more and more lately across a broad spectrum of accounts. Busy Philipps is another Instagram blogging enthusiast:

I could easily imagine the copy underneath this photo appearing in a post on someone’s personal blog with a headline like “A Personal Note, on My 38th Birthday” or “On My Mind Lately” or “An Emotional Year.” Can’t you?

Sometimes the caption slot just doesn’t cut it, though, and users will actually Instagram a photo of text. Selena Gomez took this approach when she posted a screenshot of a heartfelt, lengthy comment she had written on a struggling fan’s Instagram account:

I know I meant lives. I don't care about grammar. I'm sorry I had to share. Every life is worth it.

A post shared by Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) on

While this blog-esque approach to Instagram seems to be increasingly common amongst A-list celebrities (likely as a means of bypassing the typical media process of releasing a comment or opinion via a publicist, in favor of a more direct and therefore more “authentic” mechanism for being heard), I’ve also seen it crop up on a number of low-key (a.k.a. non-celebrity) accounts I follow. Writer Kelly Oxford shared the following on her Instagram to announce her divorce:

The last sentence of her post is particularly resonant in the context of Instagram’s recent, user-generated evolution: “Yes, this is weird. We live in weird times.” I interpret that as Oxford’s acknowledgement that it felt a little weird to be sharing something so detailed and intimate on an app that, up until recently, was reserved for brief and superficial (in the literal, visual-based sense of the word) missives; but also weird in the sense that it wasn’t weird — that, in fact, it felt right to share, in that precise format, on this particular platform.

An Australian dietician I follow, Heidi Sze, seemed to feel similarly when she decided to break the painful news of her impending miscarriage on her Instagram account:

I took this picture last night. And this morning, I wrote the following words 💚 I don’t feel pregnant anymore. I still am. There is still a baby inside of me with a beating heart. But it’s not a strong heartbeat. Instead of 8 & a half weeks old, it looks more like 6 weeks, & if the blood tests come back as I expect them to, my pregnancy hormone levels are decreasing & very soon, I won’t be pregnant anymore. & this January baby won’t be. They say 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. With these odds, I expected I would experience one in my lifetime, as Ben & I dream of having 3 healthy children. I just didn’t think it would be this babe. So now we wait. We wait & see what my body does. We wait & see how we feel. When Ben & I feel wobbly & sad, we find strength in each other & remind ourselves what we know in our bones to be true. That we are blessed. We are blessed to have become pregnant relatively easily, twice, & to have a beautiful healthy daughter. This babe? He wasn’t meant to be in our lives for longer than this short while (I’m sure it was a boy). Though I didn’t expect that, I find great comfort in surrendering to the process of growing & nurturing new life & trusting my body. & when I quieten the noise & worry & comparisons & frustrations & the “why me, why this one?” that so easily flows, I know in my heart that when we get pregnant again, when we make another healthy baby, though different from what we had begun to imagine with this pregnancy, it will be even more perfect. That, above all, I know to be true. I am sharing this news because writing & sharing helps me, it’s how I live. I believe it's valuable to connect with others as we experience tough times. & yet, I am going to be honest & say when it's raw & fresh, I don't love hearing other people’s stories – good or bad. What helps me get through is tuning into my own unique situation & recognising my feelings. Recognising what I know to be true in my heart. Because when I do that, I don’t feel so bad. & in between the waves of sadness & grieving what could have been, I can trust & be thankful, & become excited again.

A post shared by Heidi – Apples Under My Bed (@heidiapples) on

“I am sharing this news because writing & sharing helps me,” she writes in the caption-cum-blog-post. “I believe it’s valuable to connect with others as we experience tough times.” As a longtime follower of Heidi’s relatively under-the-radar Instagram and blog, I was shaken. Her grief was palpable. At the same time, though, I deeply admired her candidness, and given the number of likes (1,111 — far more than her typical posts receive) and comments (322 — many from people sharing similar experiences), it seemed I wasn’t alone.

Social media gets a bad rap, but there are moments when its truly redeeming qualities are more than evident. It might be all-consuming and soul-sucking, but it is also a conduit for human connection. I love how people are co-opting Instagram’s platform to further facilitate the latter. As true WordPress blogs are becoming fewer and farther between, Instagram is starting to fill the void. A picture might speak 1,000 words, but it can’t always speak 1,000 feelings, and feelings are 2017’s currency of choice.

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  • M.

    Well, I like it when posts are a little bit more personal. People are shaping different platforms and we are not obligated to follow the description of apps 🙂 I don’t really see a reason to dwell on it. If you don’t like reading you can always focus on pics exclusively, alternatively one can unfollow people who are to honest/outspoken to her liking:)

    • Ai-Ch’ng GB

      I agree with you, M. I’m guilty of commencing a one-liner caption, which then spills-over into more… then ends with a final few words the would have probably sufficed as the original caption, but which (to me) seems overly “sassy/savvy/”Instagrammy” on its own, compared to the mini-essay-ramblings that tend to lurk beneath my photos. As a result, I don’t have any problem with wordy Instagram posts. I adore visuals: so, sometimes, I’ll just look at the pictures of various accounts (“like” them) and not read the attached commentary until later. Or I may never read the commentary. In any case, it is the visual impact of a post that first attracts me; which is why I am not loyal to any particular account (except for family members or close friends) – just particular photos that I adore.

  • Anne Dyer

    I love getting to know your writing style. And I totally agree! The few people I follow who are reformed bloggers or writers in general seem to be posting super long blog like captions. I’m into it.

    • Harling Ross

      thank you, Anne!!

  • Adrianna

    I noticed this trend a while ago when I got into looking at fitness accounts. I was disheartened to see just how many women wrote long captions about “good” fats and “good” carbs and their “past” eating disorders.

    I only use Instagram, so I understand the compulsion. I suddenly felt the urge to include my opinions and longer thoughts when I got rid of my Facebook. I personally don’t have the patience to read a large paragraph of tiny text. I’ll generally unfollow the account.

    • Harling Ross

      interesting point about it coinciding with a lot of people getting rid of facebook. i’m sure that has something to do with it.

    • Bec

      I’ve noticed that lots of fitness people will post selfies with a long caption about body image or something, and then seem to think that they’re really making a difference in the world

      • Adrianna

        Yup. Maybe they’re helping someone, but I realized I had to unfollow almost all of those accounts because they were very triggering.

  • T-Fierce

    Yes! It’s interesting to note the change from the pithy caption to the lengthy post. Another non-celeb I’ve noticed on IG is Caroline Calloway, who uses Instagram specifically for the captions (photos are secondary), gained a pretty large following, and turned it into a book deal. Not entirely sure how I feel about her, but she’s definitely doing something different.

    • Harling Ross

      oh yes Caroline is in a whole other echelon!

  • gracesface

    Nooooo mention of the TheHyperbalist? She was the Queen (in my book) of the loooooooong blog post and now the looooooong Insta caption.

    • Harling Ross

      oh she’s another good one! although i think she’s at the forefront of the next wave: instagram *stories* as blog post

  • kay

    such a good article Harling!!!!!! thank you for writing!!

    • Harling Ross

      <3

  • SELENA GOMEZ DOESN’T CARE ABOUT GRAMMAR. *dead*

  • i feel like lots of influencers are jumping on this train, too… and i hope it doesn’t become the new “instagram best practice” and suddenly everyone is writing novels under their photos. because ultimately, i think that peeps should stay true to their own voices/preferences/whatevers. unless your voice is in all caps, then maybe tone it down.

    i mean, look at Beyoncé! she basically never posts a caption, because she is Beyoncé, and she doesn’t have to (unless she wants to break the internet and finally confirm the twins’ names, or something).

  • Leandra Medine

    Here’s a question: do you or don’t you actually care to read very long captions tho?

    • Harling Ross

      It REALLY depends for me. If it’s someone I really enjoy following, whose life I feel invested in, I will pause to read a long caption. I don’t feel particularly inclined to stop and read a long caption from a publication, though, so that’s why I’m not sure if the “publishing stories in instagram captions” model really works. For me, the caption has to be coming from a compelling individual perspective (i.e. something truly personal — maybe revealing even?) for me to want to read all the way through.

    • Antoinette

      Really late to the party catching up on articles but I don’t care about long captions. If it’s rubbish and shallow, I move along. Check out bumpbirthandbeyond. I swear they use IG as a blog. They use it to educate women about natural birthing processes and the female body in preparation for, during and post pregnancy.

  • Ashley Steenson

    Am I the only one distracted by the 20+ ampersands? Is there a character limit on comments? (Apologies for the seeming coldness; I’m a Slytherin after all!)

    • Kayla Sweeney

      UGH it’s not just you. And I’m a Ravenclaw.

  • Danielle Cardona Graff

    I think it’s too much, and find it annoying. Over-posting beneath the actual post (the picture), somehow comes across as very needy for attention.

    • Sarah

      I agree, if you’re instagram caption is longer than a tweet it’s too long. I don’t mind reading posts of these lengths when I go to blogs – but I would prefer Instagram to primarily be focused on pictures. There are other platforms for beautifully expressing thoughts through words.

  • Just like with the captions in this piece, I never read posts longer than a few sentences. Next thing you know, Instagrammers will have to add a TL;DR section to their captions.

  • Leah D

    I’ve been thinking this for some time, but blog post sized comments on instagrams are definitely a pet peeve.

  • Amber MB

    This is so good, and timely for me – thanks Harling! I find all this really interesting, and challenging too. I am one of those annoying people who write long Instagram captions – but I’ve realised that this is because of two things: a. how quick and easy it is, and b. what I am trying to say fits into a long caption, whereas were it a blog post it would feel too short. I have a blog – in fact I invest a LOT into creating it and making it beautiful and functional and everything I wanted it to be. I have posted on it twice in six months. Instagram? I post a long caption probably every week or two…

  • Jayne

    I really do hope instagram does not kills blogs, I don’t think it will – I think perhaps a year ago it was a lot easier to believe this possibility but now as there is a lot of negativity surrounding instagram and its algorithm especially with bloggers, I don’t think that many bloggers with forget their blogs entirely for instagram. Everyone is already using the platform as a secondary one to their blog anyway. I value blogs so much, I think the simpleness of just a photograph and a caption is great for instagram but on that platform it should be left at that, blogs can offer so much more. If fashion blogs in particular cease to exist and are reduced to instagram accounts, I think it cheapens it – there is less room for intelligence thought there. x

    jayneemma.co.uk

  • I’ve been pondering this myself, and honestly, it’s a natural progression. If people’s online audiences and networks are moving away from one platform and onto another, then their content should move too. It will have to change form to suit the new platform but it will move, because people aren’t visiting personal websites in the numbers they used to. If a new platform comes along that solves the problem – some combination of Instagram + Website/blog…

  • Stockholmless

    I haven’t read the article yet but I just want to say that I hold my pencil just like the girl in the photo! It’s so wrong but it feels so right!

    • Stockholmless

      Just finished. This was very great! Especially this:

      “Social media gets a bad rap, but there are moments when its truly redeeming qualities are more than evident. It might be all-consuming and soul-sucking, but it is also a conduit for human connection.”

      I think perhaps social media (including blogs) gets a bad rap because it is such a feminine medium of expression, and therefore a conduit for feminine connection. Not just that it’s feminine, literally, more women than men blog and I’m sure that holds true for this lengthy caption phenomenon. Like so much of what we do, social media is just a lesser than more masculine, serious forms of expression and labor.

  • Personally I’m very guilty of this. I use instagram as a way to connect with other people who have narcolepsy and to show them that they aren’t alone in their experiences, so I try to be pretty open about how I’m feeling. Since I have a lot of feelings, the captions get pretty long! But I think it is important and instagram is such an important place for the “spoonie” (chronic/invisible illness) community.

    I even wrote a long blog post about the reasons social media can actually be helpful in this way because I feel like people are often beating it up! http://www.falling-asleep.com/social-media-therapy-chronic-illness.

    Ultimately I try not to subject everyone in my life to my ranting though, I have a seperate account for my personal stuff and those are all just a few words per caption!

    • Harling Ross

      That’s so cool. Would you be open to talking w/ me about this? Would love to know more.

      • Yeah definitely! What’s the best way to get in contact?

        • Harling Ross

          DM me on instagram (@harlingross) and we can exchange emails there! <3

  • Mira Sheridan

    In Russia all the ppl, who want to gain followers, turn their IG-accounts into blogs, personal or business, and write long interesting/useful/hilarious captions (how to promote your instagram, life-sex-finance couches, stylists, how to write good and interesting texts in instagram, etc, etc, etc)

    • Harling Ross

      wow that’s so interesting

  • Rilee Jefferson

    Wow! Harling, you are becoming one of my favorite writers on here!!

  • Abbey Dandy

    Even reading this article I couldn’t bare to get through any of the picture captions.

  • I’ve noticed it as a replacement for blogging for folks. A blog post takes photo editing and writing a piece that nominally has a through line. But the urge to say more than the photo can hold (or than we really need to know) can be hard to resist #guiltyascharged #secretlyannoyedwiththehashtagenovel

  • I have noticed this trend recently and it depends on the person and definitely the caption whether I like it or not. The examples above are really interesting, sincere and easy to read (well, not sure about the Selena one), but I imagine every post on these people’s instas isn’t like this. I like a balance – long and personal – then short and sweet. Not everything merits an essay, and it’s good to know when the photograph can’t express the whole moment.

    http://www.shessobright.com

  • Pandora Sykes

    Since I shut down my blog, I 100% use Instagram captions in a more long-form way. And as for it “not reaching the audience” you want, Forbes – you’re just wrong. Instagram reaches people way more, in my experience, than Twitter, WordPress, print, or anything. People are still so engaged with Instagram.

  • I actually don’t mind people writing longer captions under their IG photos.

    It makes the social network more “social”. Just gotta know that most people won’t necessarily always read them. And those who do are your most avid fans/followers.

    Meg @ its.meg-ramsay.com

  • Stacey

    A: Yes.
    I’ve been a mum for 3.5 years and during this time have noticed that some of the other mums that I follow on instagram have used it as a blog and a way to connect with other mums, and for their want to “keep it real”. e.g. jetsetmama
    I enjoy reading the long posts and if I’m not keen, I keep scrolling 🖒

  • streats

    I started doing this a couple of years ago when I went on a 3-week roadtrip down the East Coast of the US. Previously when I travelled, I’d take my DSLR camera, take hundreds of photos, and then painstakingly edit and upload them to Facebook with captions of a few words each. I couldn’t face doing all that again, but mostly I found that posting, say, one good photo of a meaningful moment of that day, and pouring out all of my thoughts about that event/place/experience, felt a lot more interesting – both to me and to anyone looking at them – than posting 50 photos a day of everything I saw and did. I also liked the fact that it was realtime, rather than everything at once at the end of my trip, and lots of friends and followers, including acquaintances I hadn’t spoken to in years, commented that they loved following the trip. Then last summer when I spent 7 weeks as a camp counselor in the US, I did a similar thing, and again it was a great way for me to document contained moments in a way that suited me – quality over quantity, saying a lot with very little. I’ve kind of stuck to that format ever since, and have started using Instagram a lot more than any other platform, for posting. These days my posts are probably 90% focused on my pursuit of an environmentally low-impact lifestyle, and I did consider starting a blog about that, but I figured Instagram is just as good; I rarely actually read blogs anymore unless they’re alerting me to their posts on social media, so why not cut out the middleman and just write directly on social media? It makes a lot of sense. And even if you’re not posting on a certain topic, I think people find it refreshing when people share more than a few words. People have said a lot that they enjoy how thoughtful my posts are – even my teenage niece said she really likes them and how I write a lot, which I think proves how successful they can be!

  • LD

    I like Instagram specifically because it’s for photos. I don’t read past the first line of a caption. The longer the captions get, including the numerous hashtags, the less likely I am to keep following a person or company.